Friday, June 18, 2010

For what it's worth

I know a lot of you don't want to hear this right now. You don't want to know anything other than how the Habs are doomed because Pierre Gauthier foolishly traded Jaroslav Halak away for, in the words of the esteemed Justin Trudeau, "two hockey sticks and a bag of magic beans."

But I just wanted to give my take on the guy Gauthier chose to keep, the one who will be your starting goaltender in the fall, whether you like it or not.

Carey Price has undergone an incredible transformation in the past 13-odd months, at least in my eyes. Think back to the petulant kid who was pulling his Patrick Roy impression as he received mock cheers from the Bell Centre "faithful" for making a routine stop in the final game of a sweep at the hands of the hated Boston Bruins. That night, Bob Gainey warned those fans - or "bullies" as he called them - to be careful who they booed out of town.

The next day, as player after player was fed to the Montreal media for what would be the last time for many of them, Price was the big story. He was the one everyone wanted to talk to. Gainey came out and famously referred to Price as a "thoroughbred" in defending his decision to stick with him throughout the playoffs. 

Ultimately, Price didn't come out for what we reporters call a "scrum," he had a press conference all to himself, broadcast live to Habs nation. A ball cap pulled down near his eyes, Price was barely audible as he tried to explain his feelings, tried to say how badly it hurt to be made the scapegoat for a season that spiraled out of control, attempted to convince people he still wanted to be in Montreal.

But despite his greatest efforts, Price came off as a spoiled, pouty kid that day. His public image was never lower, and the theory was born that he will never, ever succeed in the pressure cooker that is Montreal.

A year later, at the same getaway day event after the Canadiens elimination from the Eastern Conference final, a ride that was orchestrated by his fellow goalie Halak, there was no press conference organized for Price. His media availability was not broadcast live to the nation. He was not wearing a baseball cap.

Price spoke for the better part of 45 minutes to wave after wave of reporters and did it with a smile on his face. He talked one hell of a game. He was candid about the infamous incident with Andrei Markov following, ironically enough, an overtime loss to Halak's new team, the St Louis Blues. He said that was a wake up call that came about a year too late. He admitted that starting in the all-star game, being on the cover of ESPN Magazine, being anointed the goalie of the future for the most glorious brand in professional hockey got to his head. He felt he'd made it, and he "plateaued," as he called it.

While he was busy plateauing, Halak was busy working. Working to continue proving his value, and working to pass Price on the Habs depth chart. When Markov called him out for what was perceived to be a soft goal in overtime and for his work ethic in general, Price said it clicked.

"When I was sitting on the bench there was a decision that I made, if things weren't going to work out it wasn't going to be from a lack of effort," Price said about a million times that day. "I put a lot of effort into the last two months as far as being supportive and just working hard in general."

I remember talking to Price for a long while in Washington after practice prior to Game 2. My story that day was on Halak and his ascension to these heights, but of course, Halak wasn't available to speak to reporters. So I spoke to Price about Halak. You would think it would be an awkward conversation, but it surprisingly wasn't at all, simply because Price was so comfortable in his skin and with the situation. But the one thing that was abundantly clear in that conversation was that Price's comfort level with the situation had an expiry date.

But still, his attitude was refreshing because this was the same guy who often threw his teammates under the bus following a bad game, particularly doing so on the ice when he felt his defencemen let him down. Price had some help in changing that ugly side of his personality, particularly from Hal Gill. Renaud Lavoie of RDS wrote a great little profile on Gill just before the playoffs, or just before writing nice little profiles on Gill became mandatory for the entire working hockey media. In it, he talks about how Gill pulled Price aside and explained to him that for all the times his defencemen made him look bad, there were just as many times that his defencemen made him look good as well.

It was just one example of the continued growth of Carey Price, a maturing process I felt I saw first hand in how he dealt with being knocked down a peg, something he probably needed. And you know what? How many of us at the age of 22 didn't have some growing up to  do? I know I did.

So you can count me among what appears to be a minority of people who believes that Price has the mental fortitude to survive in this market. Actually, I believe he will thrive here.

Why? Because I, like Gainey, feel he's a pretty good goalie who's trying to find his way. On top of his athleticism and his much, much improved physical conditioning, I feel Price is a goalie who has a style and stature that will stand the test of time. When he's on top of things pucks just hit him and he makes very difficult saves look unspectacular. He hasn't been like that in some time, but I'm convinced he will be again.

Also, Price's large frame will not be prone to the whims of the NHL competition committee. Remember back when Jose Theodore was really good? When he was winning Hart and Vezina Trophies? Then, suddenly, he wasn't. Coincidentally, that coincided with the season where the NHL first cracked down on goalie equipment, something the league is seemingly going to do again next season

A fellow reporter pointed out to me during the playoffs that a crackdown like this could hurt Halak in a big way. At only 5-foot-10, Halak's pads come up to about his mid thigh, so when he's in his butterfly the excess padding helps to cover his 5-hole. If that excess is taken away, will Halak's game suffer? Possibly, and possibly not. But it would probably affect Price a lot less than it will Halak.

But really, I have very little doubt that Halak will be a huge success in St. Louis, because even if the equipment thing throws him for a loop I'm confident he'll just work that much harder to get past it and adjust. That's just what he does. 

But no matter what anybody says or thinks - myself included - absolutely no one has any idea what Price will be two years from now, let alone four or five years down the road.

I think he'll be great, probably better than Halak. But he might not. I just feel Price should be given a chance to at least go down that road before he's placed before the jury.


Natedawg said...

Great Stuff Arpon.

pfhabs said...

absolutely agree with your piece.

Anonymous said...

Give him a chance. I'm all for it. And, Jean-Sébastien Giguère said the same thing to RDS this afternoon : "I don't think the fans in Montreal gave Price a chance yet". Adding that himself would have had a hard time at 20-21-22 in this Montreal market.

For my part, I was happy, I wanted my Price to say and I got my wish.

Sliver24 said...

I'm with you on Price. THANK GOD they didn't trade him and keep Halak. Don't get me wrong, I love Halak and have a ton of respect for him, but I'm still convinced Price will one day be an top-three goaltender in the league.

Incidentally, if someone gave me a million bucks and set me loose in Montreal when I was 20 I would have made a real big mess. From what I remember, I sometimes did a decent job of it, even without all the money ;)

PS. I think pfhabs' account has been hacked. Sure, the lack of capital letters is consistent, but there wasn't a single negative comment in the post, and Arpon even used the word 'Gainey' more than once!

V said...

Amen Arpon. Could not agree more. Great article.

Marc Antoine Godin said...

Hey Arpon

Carey was talking in length about how he has plateaued, he was humble and I too fell under the charm.

But then I remembered those two penalties he had taken against Washington. Accelerated maturing process?

He said all the right things at the post-mortem, and his teammates too. But I prefer to reserve my judgment until, say, December before announcing that Carey 2.0 has finally arrived.

Anonymous said...

I think Price ill be fine. He needs a solid back-up behind him to really help him along. On another note something I read about Lars Eller, our management and scouting staff coming from idiots calling this the worst trade in Canadiens history.

Anvilcloud said...

You've done a fine job covering The Trade, and I think as well as hope that you are correct.

Dann said...

Good job Arpon, this situation played out exactly the way you said it would all season. Now to sign Price for cheap.

Anonymous said...

You are absoulutely right, as was Gainey when he said, " Be careful who you Boo out of Montreal". That plan just backfired on all those bullies.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you.
Nice article.

Anonymous said...

Totally agreed, I've watched Price grow ever since the sweep. I really disliked the bullying on price he got.

Hasn't giving a chance, must have help for Price to be talked from his childhood hero, Patrick Roy. That he said, I went through the same thing.

If given to those words, I guess Price has became Roy without us seeing it.

pfhabs said...


-I was commenting on Arpon's article not CH management

-There is enough stupidity in the little cabal that Boivin runs that it will raise up again in Milburyesque fashion and dazzle us all with another Gomez folly; 59 points $7.357 million- wonderful !

-BTW my assumption is that this is only round one in payment for the overpayments made last July

-That science experiment is just starting to lose its sheen

-Feel better S24 ? :)

Lyse said...

Great article.

Makes me want to believe in Carey Price too. But then again, who knows how Jaro will turn out in St-Louis. Nothing's ever assured in life...

Only time will tell.

Kamal Panesar said...

Well said, Arpon and I'm in complete agreement.

Dispite Price's weak win/loss record this year, he actually played a lot of good hockey.

It never ceases to amaze me at how short people's memory's can be in forgetting how little offensive support Price got in front of him versus Halak this past year.

There were a ton of games where he played well but they still lost 1-0 or 2-1.

As much as goaltending was the talk of the year it was actually the Habs one greatest source of strength.

The fact that this team had an anemic offense and lead footed defense was not then and is still not now being discussed.

Good to see that some in the media are trying to show some truth through the sea of emotions.

Price is not that far behind Halak now and goalies, as a rule, don't tend to hit their stride till their mid-twenties.

Halak is there and Price will be too in a few years, or at least I think he will.

Only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Hey arpon, no offence but in your eyes the Habs can do no wrong

This was an 8 th place team that squeaked into the playoffs

The main reason for their success was Halak

The Team was terrible five on five all year

The D is old and slow

The forwartds can't generate an offence

Now tell me why I should be optimistic

Anonymous said...

Nicely said and I completely agree and have thought all along that Price will be fine. He has the pedigree to be one of the greats and Hab fans should do the opposite of their natural instincts and BE PATIENT! All the best for Jaro for sure, but only one goalie can occupy the net and I know they chose the right the process picking up two needed prospects for a goalie they would likely never be able to sign anyway.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy you wrote this article, this needed to be written for people to know the struggle Carey went through this year. He handled it with such maturity for a 22 year old. This video really depicts his past season, it's going to be an uphill battle next season, I know he has the skill, I just hope he can handle the extreme pressure.

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone has the guts to stand up for Price and to help remind everything that he is still a young goalie. Yes, I admit I'm more of a Price fan than a Halak one, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate and respect what a great goalie Halak is. Sometimes it's the luck of the draw how players play season to season, so before all you Price haters continue to rag on him, give him a chance, after all you want the Canadiens to succeed, don't you?

Anonymous said...

I think Price will turn out to be a great goalie . He is maturing and is a huge goaltender who has been very successful in the juniors and the AHL . Also he can only get better as he matures and Montreal had an awful lot of injuries especially defense men . A lot of the games that Price lost were one goal games and a few adjustments he will be great. If they traded him and he went somewhere else he surely would have made the Habs look bad and excelled. Thats why they kept him and now he is number one and doesn't have to sit on the bench watching the game . A vote of confidence goes a long way towards success .

Anonymous said...

Well put.

However, thus far Halak has proved to be the better goalie.

St. L is in for a treat.


Anonymous said...

We're stuck with Price, so it no longer matters how far Halak took the Habs.
Are the Habs better now than they were on the last day of the season? Clearly not.
Was it the new and improved Price that was on display when he took two unsportmanlike penalties against Washington?

Anonymous said...

Who's this Halak guy, and why do people thing he was the only thing going in Montreal. Are you people forgetting about a guy who's name I can't spell who scored 13 goals (tops in the NHL). Just need to improve our D a bit and Price will be King again.

Anonymous said...

Agree with everything, except you don't seem to understand the meaning of the word "esteemed".

Otherwise great piece, as usual.