Canadiens’ Decision to Expose Carey Price Has Upsides and Downsides

The National Hockey League expansion draft will take place on Wednesday night at 8:00 P.M. ET. The Seattle Kraken front office will be selecting the players who’ll form the team’s roster for its inaugural season. The lists of protected and exposed players have been released, and the other teams have begun to hope that the best of those exposed are passed over.

The Montréal Canadiens are in a particularly precarious situation, given that goaltender Carey Price has waived his no-movement clause and general manager Marc Bergevin has protected Jake Allen in favour of Price. Whether the Kraken select Price has the potential to change the Canadiens immediate future and cause a setback in the progress they made this past season. If Seattle selects Price, it’ll force Bergevin to make a move for or sign a goalie quickly, which will likely impact the Canadiens’ rebuild (if you can still call it that). If Price isn’t the selection, they can continue along the development path they started this season.

Price and Bergevin United on Decision to Expose Netminder

When the news broke on Saturday that Price had waived his no-movement clause, Canadiens’ fans held their collective breaths as they realized that would mean the franchise goaltender would likely be left exposed in the expansion draft. The nightmare became reality when the official lists were released Sunday morning. Quasi-existential questions began to circulate across social media. Why would Bergevin leave the Canadiens’ best player and their franchise-leading goaltender out in the open? Why was Bergevin trying to reset all the progress the Habs made this season? Did he forget how important Price was to the success of this team?

Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

After the initial dust settled, however, it was revealed that Price himself was the mastermind behind the decision not to protect him. By waiving his no-movement clause and leaving him exposed, the Canadiens were able to use the one allocated slot for a goalie on backup Jake Allen. The decision was grounded in the reveal that Price suffered a knee injury that likely will mean he’ll miss the start of next season. With this knowledge in the back pocket, it’s extremely likely that Bergevin has created a win-win scenario for the Canadiens.

The Win-Win Scenario

I. The Kraken Don’t Select Carey Price

Even though Price is considered among the best goaltenders in the league and can single-handedly change the fortunes of a team, there’s a not-insignificant chance the Kraken don’t take him. Price’s contract is the most expensive ever given to a goalie in league history and carries a cap hit of $10.5 million over the next five years. On top of that, he’s owed an $11 million signing bonus to start next season. Kraken GM Ron Francis has said he understands how valuable cap space is, and Price’s contract eats up a lot of it.

On top of that, Price’s injury history raises major concerns for Kraken management and coaches. Price is scheduled to have a doctor’s visit this week to examine his knee. Multiple insiders including TSN’s Pierre LeBrun have reported that Price may need surgery, which will keep him out for the start of next season. These factors may scare Francis and the Kraken away from Price, which means the Habs could keep their franchise goalie.

II. The Kraken Select Carey Price

The NHL salary cap is scheduled to remain firm at $81.5 million for the next four seasons. Much of the cap’s static nature is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the millions in revenue the league lost as a result of a lack of fans and multiple abbreviated seasons. It’s safe to say that Francis’ attitude toward cap space is shared by each of his 31 counterparts, including Bergevin. Given the details of Price’s contract, my guess is that Bergevin wouldn’t be terribly upset to free up that much space. With it, he could continue his hot streak of trades and signings to further bolster a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final this season.

Habs Don’t Have a Suitable In-House Backup if Price Is Selected

Even though exposing Price may be a calculated risk with multiple upsides, there is also a glaring problem for Montréal to address if he’s chosen Wednesday. Of the Canadiens’ in-house netminders, none have proven themselves as a stable backup to Jake Allen as of yet. Cayden Primeau has limited NHL experience; in total, he’s played six career games across parts of two seasons. The statistics in such a limited number of games is almost irrelevant, but in four games this season he posted a 2-3-1 record with a 4.16 goals against average (GAA) and an .849 save percentage (SV%).

Cayden Primeau Montreal Canadiens
Cayden Primeau, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Primeau is widely regarded as the goalie of the future for the Canadiens, but the 2017 seventh-round selection requires a few more years of consistent play before he’s ready for a starting job in the NHL. He spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League, first alternating starts with Charlie Lindgren and then taking over the starting role with Michael McNiven as his backup.

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McNiven, meanwhile, doesn’t have any NHL experience and has served as the Rocket’s backup netminder since being signed to an entry-level deal in 2015-16. He owns a career 2.87 GAA and a .895 SV% in four AHL seasons. If the Kraken take Price, the Canadiens will have a large hole to fill, as they’d likely wish to avoid overworking Jake Allen like they’ve done Price over the past few seasons.

Bergevin’s decision to expose Price in the expansion draft is arguably the boldest one he’s made as GM of the Habs. It’s a risky, calculated gamble that could pay dividends regardless of the outcome. However, there are also considerations to be made afterward if Price is poached. The Canadiens would have extra cap space to sign a goaltender to replace him, but they’d also lose the player who’s defined their franchise for the past 14 years.

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