The question is worth asking, I suppose, simply because it's become clear that both Halak and Price want the number one job, and right now (stressing the words "right" and "now") Halak is lighting the world on fire.
I have two problems with this, the first of which was summed up quite nicely today over at Lions in Winter. Even if every team in the NHL would show some degree of interest in Price (which is obviously an exaggeration meant to prove a point. Somehow, I don't think Vancouver or Phoenix or Boston or Pittsburgh or several others would have any interest in a new goalie), it would be practically impossible for Bob Gainey to get a strong return for him, at least not as strong as Price's actual potential. I can't see a rival GM overpaying for potential. What I do see is a bunch of GMs smelling some blood in the water and swooping in trying to steal a future franchise goalie when his value is at its lowest point.
But my other annoyance with the notion of trading away Price is that Halak is actually doing Gainey a big favour by forcing his way into the Habs net. See, when the season began, I figured Price might play himself into a big, fat contract at season's end. One that would be on par with several other players coming out of entry level deals who broke the bank on the second contracts like Paul Stastny and Anze Kopitar, among others. Which is why I thought Gainey should sign Price to an extension prior to the season to avoid that scenario from playing itself out.
While Price has not played poorly, he has not been extraordinary either. His numbers (.913 save percentage, 2.73 goals against average) are good, not great, but those numbers have been overshadowed thus far by Price's penchant for giving up bad goals. He appears to have concentration issues, which I feel has to be the most correctable fault a player can have. A lot of young people in many walks of life have trouble concentrating at the age of 22, yet that doesn't excuse Price for failing to address what has been a recurring issue for him since he's been in Montreal.
But my point here is not to pick apart Price's game, firstly because I don't know nearly enough about goaltending to do it, but most importantly because it is irrelevant to what I'm trying to point out. And that is with every game Halak plays, he takes some contract negotiating leverage away from Price. The more Halak wins, the more he plays, the less it will cost to re-sign Price in the off-season. At least in theory.
Of course, there is the issue of what kind of contract Halak will seek in the offseason, but I honestly don't think that is of any concern to Gainey. Let's say Halak is kept past the trade deadline, even though I don't think that will happen, and let's also say that he gets the lion's share of the games the rest of the way. If Halak leads Montreal to a playoff berth and maybe even makes things interesting in the first round or - now don't laugh - somehow manages to get Montreal into the second round, then his value will shoot through the roof. Price, meanwhile, will have trouble making too many demands as to the kind of money he's seeking. Perhaps Price chooses to go for a shorter term, say two or three years, but it probably wouldn't be for huge dollars.
All the while, Halak is still a restricted free agent, one that could potentially attract an offer sheet from a rival club, but one that would more likely be traded either at the draft or in the offseason à la Phil Kessel, though obviously the return would not be anywhere close to what Brian Burke and the Leafs gave up. Still, Gainey could hold a pretty serious auction for Halak and land either a package of draft picks and prospects, or maybe even an NHL player or two.
Now, if Price is making a reasonable amount of money, say $3 million next season, then re-signing Tomas Plekanec suddenly becomes a far easier proposition. Already, we're starting to see Plekanec come back to earth a little bit, though he is still having a phenomenal season at nearly a point a game. But all that attention from opposing coaches and that excessive ice time in penalty killing situations appears to be catching up to him, just a little bit. Still, his versatility and relative consistency over his career (not counting last year) puts him among the top two centres available on the free agent market alongside Patrick Marleau, who isn't even playing centre right now.
If Plekanec is allowed to hit the market on July 1, he could really cash in, as I've already stated. But if Halak keeps this up and Price keeps being merely above average, then perhaps Gainey could find himself in a win-win situation next year with both Price and Plekanec in the lineup and with some nice new assets in the system thanks to Halak.