I wouldn't blame you if you did. For the amount of times I've used this space to defend Carey Price in the face of seemingly undeniable evidence that he is ever so obviously destined to be a bust, it could seem like I'm on Price's payroll.
But I'm not. Trust me.
However, from time to time I read things that inspire me to try and interject a little dose of perspective on things. Today, it happened twice.
The first was Richard Labbe's piece in La Presse where he claims an enormous number of hockey people have told him Price does not have the mental makeup to succeed in Montreal. This is a theory that has gained pretty widespread approval, though I'm not quite sure why. Because the kid likes to party? Because he's shown his frustration from time to time?
I'm not sure what kind of person it takes to succeed in Montreal. Yes, people love hockey here. Yes, people have high standards here. But do the Nashville Predators as an organization tolerate losing more than the Canadiens do? Don't all athletes making millions of dollars have an inherent pressure to perform? I suppose a player for the Canadiens needs to enjoy that "spice" of Montreal, as Bob Gainey put it, but I refuse to believe it takes someone with superhuman powers to overcome the pressure from the fans and media here.
Then, refreshingly, I was reading a blog post from Robert L of Habs Eyes on the Prize on how fans need to cut Price some slack, how he's going through the same growing pains everyone does, how he shouldn't be branded for the rest of his career just because of a few transgressions early on. It was refreshing.
But then I read a comment in response to the blog, and it led me right back on this path to writing in the wee hours of the morning about just what Price has accomplished thus far, no matter what people may perceive or think.
I know everyone has heard the comparisons of where Price stands with some of the greats of the game in terms of his age and what he's done. I'm also aware it gets tiresome. But the reason it is brought up so often is because it needs to be said.
Here are Price's career numbers at age 22 (he turns 23 on August 16):
134 GP, 60-48-18, 2.73 GAA, .912 SP
Here are the career numbers of some of the league's other top goalies at the same age, in no particular order:
Martin Brodeur - 91 GP, 48-23-14, 2.45 GAA, .909 SP
Roberto Luongo - 129 GP, 35-57-12, 2.74, .915
Ryan Miller - 15 GP, 6-8-1, 2.63, .902
Tomas Vokoun - 38 GP, 12-18-4, 3.04, .905
Cam Ward - 88 GP, 44-29-8, 3.12, .892
Marc-Andre Fleury - 138 GP, 57-57-17, 3.10, .901
The list is a short one (it is by no means exhaustive) largely because many of the best goalies in the NHL today hadn't even made the NHL at age 22. They include Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom, Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, Jonas Hiller, Pekka Rinne, Dan Ellis and many, many others.
The point here is clear, that Price has gained a lot of valuable experience before many goalies even made the league, and among those who did Price measures up pretty darn well.
Some might respond that bringing Price to the NHL so early was a mistake, and it's a fair argument to make. Gainey never hid the fact his management, or mis-management, of Price was based on his desire to get the goalie this experience that will serve him well in the future. Gainey did so seemingly to the detriment of the team, and definitely to the detriment of Jaroslav Halak.
But in Boston we see a perfect comparison to Price, the one that took the more conventional route of learning in the minors and paying his dues before earning his starter's position. Tuukka Rask just completed his first full season in the NHL, even though he's five months older than Price, and he was dominant. You see a 22-12-5 record with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage and you say, "See? Price should have waited." Except who knows how Rask will respond to being the clear starter? Does anyone have any idea how he reacts to adversity? Has his head gotten used to being heaped with praise?
Perhaps, but perhaps not. I would say that the most valuable "experience" Price has gained came this season when he was knocked down a peg and saw his own mortality, for lack of a better term. He said it himself after the season that he got a wake up call watching Halak take his job and realized that he had stopped improving. Of course, talk is easy. Now that talk needs to be put into action.
Except while everyone is hoping Price shows a miraculously dramatic improvement this coming season, the fact is he doesn't have that far to go.
Yes, his won-loss record was atrocious at 13-20-5, and for whatever reason the Canadiens became a horrible team whenever Price was manning the net. A lot of people have some cockamamie explanations for why that was the case, like, for instance, Price didn't work as hard as Halak so his teammates didn't work for him. But his won-loss record needs to be looked at in the proper perspective.
The goalie stats at Behind the Net show that Price was really put behind the eight ball by his teammates more often than not. For starters, Price received just about the worst offensive support in the NHL among goalies who played at least 20 games. Only three goalies - Brian Boucher, Tim Thomas and Chris Osgood - were on the ice for fewer 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes of ice time than Price's 1.87. Now, it's not as if the Habs were lighting it up for Halak seeing as he's at 2.30, but still, that's better than 19 other goalies. Price's goal support was better than only three.
When a team is leading, especially the Jacques Martin-coached Canadiens, they have a tendency to shore up defensively. When you're trailing, or even tied, risks need to be taken and that subjects your goalie to higher quality scoring opportunities. It's true that Price appeared to rarely bail his teammates out when those chances came, but it's also true he saw an inordinate number of them.
The biggest statistical difference between Price and Halak came on the penalty kill. Price allowed over a full goal more than Halak for every 60 minutes they each played while down a man. Price was at 5.99 goals against per 60 shorthanded minutes, while Halak was at 4.96. But even here, there's an odd discrepancy to how their teammates played in front of each goalie. Price spent 5.87 minutes on the penalty kill for every 60 minutes of ice time, while Halak was only at 5.37 shorthanded minutes.
While half a minute doesn't explain the wide gap in goals against, consider that Price's shorthanded minutes were seventh highest among goalies that played 20 games, yet his goals against was only 26th highest among that same subset. Halak, meanwhile, was 25th in the league in terms of shorthanded minutes and 42nd highest in goals against (or 12th best, depending on your perspective).
I don't profess to know why the Canadiens were such a wildly different team with Price in goal, nor am I able to figure out in any concrete way how many wins the lack of goal support and increased penalty-killing time may have cost him.
But I do know that Price will only be 23 when training camp begins, and while he has a lot to prove, he also has a lot to be proud of. In closing, I ask you this: Do you think Columbus fans should give up on Steve Mason just because he had a poor second season in the NHL at age 21?
Didn't think so.