As far as the 2021-22 season is concerned, the Montreal Canadiens need goalie Carey Price like someone on death row needs a last meal. It doesn’t change anything, not really, but it at least would represent the slightest bit of good, having been dealt a bad hand.
That having been said, this isn’t just about 2021-22. The team’s success depends on the star goalie’s long-term health, with the Canadiens having recently provided an update on Price’s condition. Even though he’s progressing, he won’t be skating soon, the latest valley in his up-and-down recovery, which has seen several setbacks.
Habs Have Little to Lose Playing Price
Few would blame the Canadiens for simply shutting Price down the rest of the way. There’s literally no chance of them making the playoffs, after all… even if they were to run the table and win every remaining game. However, by the same token, there’s no chance of them risking a shot at a high draft pick based on the first-half hole they dug for themselves (with injuries admittedly playing a part, the injury to Price himself, for example).
In other words, the Canadiens have little to lose playing Price. In fact, they have a lot more to gain, most notably a decent assessment of where his game’s at, which would be very valuable insight heading into the offseason. Keep in mind, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun has reported the Canadiens are planning on making a splash in free agency this coming summer.
On one hand, a healthy Price would reinforce the notion that the rebuild should be accelerated. Price is going to be 35. You may not be able to wait for, say, 2025 to roll around for the Habs to contend again. That is, if you intend on keeping Price in the fold. You may also explore trade options for Price.
Trading Price wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. It remains to be seen if it can actually be done, with Price having infamously waived his no-movement clause to be exposed at the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, without the Seattle Kraken biting. However, on the off chance the Canadiens can orchestrate a trade, it would free themselves up to sign a replacement goalie via free agency on the cheap (relatively speaking, taking Price’s $10.5 million cap hit into account).
Potential free-agent replacements include Jack Campbell, Darcy Kuemper, Marc-Andre Fleury and, coincidentally, Jaroslav Halak. None are necessarily home runs for various reasons, but neither is Price at this point in his career, all due respect to all he’s accomplished, especially last summer, as he led the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final. What each of the above four names would be is cheaper, though.
Price’s Personal Goal to Return
In any case, call a spade a spade. While trading Price would be impossible if he were still injured, doing so would be difficult in the best of times. So, at the very least, Price returning this season would provide the Canadiens and their fans some hope, with Price himself having said it’s a personal goal of his.
True, with five straight wins under interim head coach Martin St. Louis, there’s already some optimism in the air. However, if possible, why not extend it throughout the lineup, with goaltending representing a huge question mark?
The difference between now and six years ago, when Price was limited to 12 games during the 2015-16 season, is clear, or at least it should be. Six years have passed. Price is no longer in his 20s and a recovery, while very much unguaranteed back then, is much less certain now. In that respect, no, don’t rush Price back. However, no one should hold him back either.
Price still represented the future of the team in 2016. With four seasons left on his latest deal after this campaign, that’s technically still true, but that future would be a whole lot brighter with him as healthy as possible, one way or another. Under ideal circumstances, the Canadiens would simply have the peace of mind knowing Price is healthy entering the offseason, even if only because he’s a member of the team and they care about his wellbeing, after all he’s gone through in the recent past.
Same for the fans.
There’s a very real possibility Price doesn’t play a game this year, but that’s not something for which anyone should hope. Him being healthy enough to play would be a good thing, in which case he logically should. It won’t make a difference this season, but that’s in part why it’s something to aim for, because for 2022-23 and beyond a healthy Price makes all the difference in the world.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.