The NHL’s regular season is winding down, some teams are jockeying for playoff positioning, while others are battling for home-ice advantage or trying to edge their way into the Spring tournament for the Stanley Cup. For the Montreal Canadiens, who this season have suffered the most man-games lost in NHL history, their season will mercifully come to an end after the regular season. At that point, Habs fans will patiently await the results of the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery to see if they can win and have the first overall selection for the first time since the 1980 Draft.
That all being said, there are still some important storylines playing out in Montreal beyond the race to the bottom of the standings or the development of the young core group. The return of Carey Price from injury has been the one consistent issue all season, and now, that may actually happen.
But what does his return mean for the Canadiens, their fans and for Price himself?
Carey Price Nearing a Return to Canadiens
Price’s selection at fifth overall in the 2005 Draft surprised many, but then-Canadiens general manager (GM) Bob Gainey saw greatness in him, famously calling him a thoroughbred during a 2009 season in-review press conference. History has since proven him correct. Price has been the NHL’s premier goaltender, having won all the awards and accolades possible, except for a Cup.
A major hurdle for Price’s return to the lineup will be the salary cap, as having a $10.5 million cap hit could complicate matters for most teams. However, in Montreal, that issue has been put to rest.
GM Kent Hughes didn’t have to make any difficult decisions on which contracts needed to be sent down to American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Laval Rocket as the recent unfortunate injuries to Jonathan Drouin and Justin Barron will now provide more than enough space under the long term injury reserve (LTIR) cap relief to have Price return to the lineup.
Price is a Competitor
Some may think that it would be better for Price to just sit out the rest of the season and continue to rehab and train to be better prepared for next season, but that isn’t in the DNA of an athlete that has trained his entire life to play and become the best at his chosen craft. He is a competitor and will continue to try and play even if the games have no chance of giving him another chance at winning.
He has arguably been the NHL’s best goaltender for the last decade and is also one of the greatest goaltenders in Montreal franchise history. Having won the Vezina, Hart, Ted Lindsay and Jennings Trophies as well as being named to the NHL All-Star Game on multiple occasions. Also, he is currently at 360 wins in his career in a Montreal sweater, which is the franchise record for most wins as a Canadien, surpassing the previous record of 314 held by the legendary Jacques Plante.
For Price, to come back now is more for himself. It would be to prove he can still play at the highest level, and more importantly, to prove he can play without pain, which would allow him the confidence that he can complete the final four seasons of his contract, which expires in 2026.
Fans should also know that even if he only returns for a few NHL games, there is still the 2022 World Hockey Championship to be held in May this year. If he were to return to play, it is very possible he could join Team Canada to continue playing, and possibly demonstrate his ability to carry a team to a championship and help his confidence as well as possibly assuage the fears of an entire fan base that his best seasons are behind him.
Impact on the Canadiens
The first and most pressing impact for fans is that his return to play could mean moving out of the bottom of the NHL standings, which in turn, lowers the percentages in the lottery for Montreal to win the top pick. The second is that it could provide Price and the team an opportunity to make a decision about his future that wouldn’t include retirement but a choice on if he is to remain in Montreal.
To be clear, with the full no-movement clause (NMC) on his contract, Price will be the one that decides if he is to stay or leave. With Hughes declaring he wants a team capable of being competitive as soon as next season, Price remaining on the roster to complete the goaltending tandem with a healthy Jake Allen would go a long way in making that a possibility.
Price will have to decide if he wants to remain in Montreal to be a part of whatever Hughes and executive vice-president Jeff Gorton are building. Does he want to remain as a core leader on a team that will no longer have his close friend Shea Weber and, once his trade request is finally met, Jeff Petry on the team? Is having head coach Martin St. Louis and the young core enough to entice him to stay? It is a decision that he will need to finalize before Hughes can make any trade or major decisions about the cap implications, as any deal that involves the Habs retaining salary or taking back a large contract will have a direct impact on the Canadiens’ ability to spend trade capital to fill other holes in the lineup, as well as impact any planned spending in the free agency market.
Returning to play also means that if Price does indeed want to have a fresh start somewhere else, it would be far easier to convince GMs that he would be worth trading for. Even if the return in a deal for the Habs would mean taking far less value than the value provided by his impact on the team in leadership and performance than the veteran 34-year-old star goaltender could provide.
Price’s return to end this season, even for only a few games, will have a serious impact on not only the decision the Canadiens have to make as a franchise, but more importantly, it will impact him directly. Returning would go a long way in not only justifying his choice to seek treatment in the NHL’s Player Assistance Program but also the year of hard work rehabbing his knee. As a professional hockey player, it would be important for him to return to where he feels most at ease professionally, wearing the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge in front of the home team’s net at the Bell Center in Montreal.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.