In what has been an especially successful Montreal Canadiens season up to now, the Habs are relatively rife with All-Star Game-caliber players. Despite being named the lone representative of the team at the actual event on the weekend of Jan. 26, goaltender Carey Price is not one of them, though. Defenseman Jeff Petry has gotten shafted as a result.
Petry vs. Price
It of course used to be that Price would be a near-default pick. Price’s past accolades allow the all-star goalie to get in on reputation alone. As Price has posted a mediocre .904 save percentage though, you have to question the league’s decision not to go with literally anybody else, with Petry making the most convincing case.
Think about it: Petry’s posting offensive career-highs for the second straight season with Shea Weber out. Petry’s stepped up and delivered big in the undisputed No. 1 defenseman’s absence. Of special significance, Petry’s continued to produce since Weber’s return in late November. In the 16 games Weber’s played this season, Petry’s scored 12 points. That includes six goals. More to the point, Weber’s “only” scored five goals and six assists.
Once that shock to the system wears off, you might be able to tell yourself how it’s unfair to compare the two. Weber has had to get back in game shape effectively on the fly. That’s obviously true, but, considering Weber has still been able to score 11 points in 16 games, which is a 56-point pace, it drives the point home: Petry’s just been that good.
Indeed, with 29 points in 40 games so far, Petry is poised to at least flirt with a 60-point high-water mark just one season after scoring over 40 for the first time. Weber’s never reached it himself, making the hypothetical accomplishment all the more impressive.
Petry vs. Weber
Now, to be clear, no one is suggesting Petry is more valuable to the Canadiens than Weber. Even if a premium has been placed on puck-moving defenseman relative to robust, stay-at-home types, Weber’s leadership, physicality and presence in front of Price more than re-enlarge any gap that may have narrowed between him and Petry over the last few years.
So, if the NHL absolutely had to select a Hab based on reputation alone, Weber could have fit the bill, and, with the revelation that Weber can still be voted in, so be it. Even if not having the option to vote Petry in is still mind-boggling, it at least makes some sense. Going with Price as the initial choice is nevertheless a slap in the face to half the rest of the roster though, with Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar each enjoying breakout campaigns.
Even Brendan Gallagher is on pace to match the career-high 31 goals he scored last year with a team-leading 15 through 40 games. You’re telling me NHL Hockey Operations thinks a struggling goalie who’s already been named to the event a handful of times and been nursing a lower-body injury for seven weeks wants to go to this thing more? Let alone at all?
The Case for Price… Staying Home
The All-Star Game gets a bad reputation for a variety of reasons and it makes little sense to pile on after the NHL has gone to great lengths to rebrand it with moderate success over the last few years. Nevertheless, there’s a decent chance all that will result from this will be another Alexander Ovechkin situation and the bad press that comes with it. Logically speaking, considering Price’s injury history, Habs fans and the organization itself may very well applaud such a hypothetical decision on the goalie’s part. Even with the mandatory one-game suspension.
It’s hard to argue, with exception to Price, that the players who made the Atlantic Division team don’t deserve to be there. And, to be fair, Price is far from a bad goalie. Since Nov. 24, he’s gone 8-5 with a save percentage of .916. But the All-Star Game is meant to reward all-star-caliber half-seasons, not decent stretches of a month or so.
Even if you want to argue the All-Star Game should be more forgiving with players who have been there before, because they’re still typically the ones fans want to see, two things:
- It would mean newcomers like Elias Pettersson and Mikko Rantanen would never get in until someone from the old guard retires. Hell, it would mean Price would never have been named to the All-Star Game for a first time and that players like Roberto Luongo would still be representing the division.
- The statistical mediocrity isn’t a new development for Price. He went 16-26-7 last season with a 3.11 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. The season before that he earned a save percentage below .900 for a stretch that lasted a third of the campaign and culminated in then-head coach Michel Therrien’s firing.
In many respects, Price is still the Canadiens’ most valuable player right now. Many nights the strength of his play isn’t reflected in the final score or his stats. Sometimes, that’s on the defensive corps, which includes Petry. However, in an offensive showcase like the All-Star Game, Price won’t exactly be given a chance to shine. Petry would.
Ultimately, in spite of the effort Price puts in, it’s the exact same thing as voting in a forward who, dominant as he may be on the ice, fails to post decent offensive totals. He may be getting all the shots on goal in the world, but, if they’re not going in, he’s not getting in the All-Star Game.
The NHL Gets It Wrong
It’s hard to imagine the exact thought process that went into a decision like this, but it possibly went something like this: Those in charge of making the decisions ran out of real estate in terms of spots up front and on defense. They probably figured Price in nets just makes sense, as he’s someone fans want to see, however misguided that decision is, especially when it comes to actual Habs fans. Few want to see Price get lit up. Fewer still want to see him re-aggravate an injury.
However, when Petry is fourth in scoring among defensemen in the Atlantic and third in goals, it makes one wonder why the league couldn’t try to fit him in. For the future, the easy solution would be to just forget positional requirements when it comes to skaters altogether. After all, there is so little actual defense played in the game. Also, forget this nonsense about at least one player per team being allowed to play. Name the most-deserving players, regardless of their respective teams.
Under those rules, maybe Petry doesn’t get in. At least he’d have an actual case, though. Price, as much as he means to the Canadiens, doesn’t. Not this year. It’s not like it’s Price’s fault either. Price is just as much a victim of circumstance as Petry. And there are many other snubs too to be clear…. all in the name of trying to be fair and ensure each team gets at least one player in.
However, if Weber doesn’t get voted in, there’s a chance the Habs won’t be at all, if Price opts out in favor of a one-game suspension. Worse yet, a fair portion of Habs fans may like that idea over the alternative, having two of their players fresh off being injured playing in an exhibition game. That shouldn’t be what the league was going for here. It can’t be what the NHL All-Star Game represents, when many fans prefer not to see their team represented at all.