A Canadiens Rebuild Requires a Carey Price Trade

There’s a new sheriff in town as Jeff Gorton arrives as the newly hired executive vice-president of hockey operations. Team owner Geoff Molson made it clear in his press conference on Nov 29 that Gorton, along with whomever is hired to be the general manager (GM) will work in tandem. However, as Gorton is the higher placed executive, who will also have a hand in selecting the new GM, it’s obvious that the buck stops with him on all hockey decisions.

Molson also mentioned that no plan is off the table; that includes one where the Montreal Canadiens could choose to begin a full rebuild. When asked about a rebuild, Molson stated;

“I’m not afraid of that word, I think our fans wouldn’t be afraid of that word either.”

Montreal Canadiens Team Owner Geoff Molson

Carey Price

If that is a possibility, where does this leave the one true star on the roster, Carey Price? He is currently on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) list for his knee and mental health. Price is back on the ice on his own progressing at his own time as his current timeline for return is still listed as indefinitely. Despite all of these issues, he could still be an intriguing trade chip for Gorton. Price holds the franchise record for most wins as a starting goaltender, he has won every individual award a goaltender could possibly win and has been the franchise cornerstone since his arrival to the NHL in the 2007-08 season.

Goaltender Carey Price
MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 12: Goaltender Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens salutes the fans after setting a franchise record with 315 victories surpassing Jacques Plante during the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on March 12, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

If a rebuild is chosen as the plan moving forward, it would mean several seasons before the Canadiens could hope to compete for a Stanley Cup again. At the age of 34, is that something Price would be willing to wait for? Could the 34-year-old be able to wait? Is it fair to ask a player who has won everything in the NHL except for a Stanley Cup to wait patiently for a possible chance down the line?

Unfortunately, the 2021 Stanley Cup Final was likely the only opportunity Price had to win a championship in a Canadiens uniform and solidify himself as one of the greatest goaltenders in franchise history, and something that would have guaranteed his number to be retired to go along with what will most assuredly be a Hockey Hall of Fame induction. Honestly, after everything he has provided the city, franchise and fans, he is owed an opportunity to win the Cup, even if it isn’t in Montreal.  

Interest in Price

There is interest around the league in Price. Of course, his age, at 34 years old is a concern, as would be his injury history, the fact he has yet to play this season and most of all, his $10.5 million per season contract that goes until the 2025-26 season when he is 38 years old.

Despite all of that, he is still perceived as one of the elite goaltenders in the world. When healthy, he can carry his team, last season’s run to the Cup Final led by Price proves that theory. This may be partly the reason as to why he is still penciled in as Team Canada’s 2022 Olympic Starter

Among NHL circles, Pierre LeBrun mentions that there is interest in the Canadiens’ star goaltender:

“Where does a 34-year-old future Hall of Famer fit in the plans of a rebuild, if that’s what Jeff Gorton plans to do. They’re teams around the league, some contenders, I can tell you already that are intrigued to find out where that all goes.”

-Pierre LeBrun

Clearly, any contender that would show interest in Price would need to see him in action this season, be it at the Olympics or in the NHL, to reassure themselves that he has returned to health. Additionally, he would be willing to waive his No Movement Clause (NMC) as anyone acquiring him would be committing to five more seasons knowing that it is highly possible he might not be able to retain his ability to impact a team as he nears the end of his contract.

Related: Gorton’s Past Points to a Bright Future

A Fit for Price

For the Canadiens, if they choose to rebuild, moving Price’s contract will be vital. It will be done to clear cap space, but also to create a distinct break in the team’s eras. His departure also opens the door to the future graduation of Cayden Primeau from the American Hockey League to play in a tandem with Jake Allen. But most of all, it would ensure the team is weakened for the season allowing it to fall in the standings naturally, gaining a higher draft pick for the next Entry Draft.

Price deserves a chance to win, he also deserves to play closer to home, and Edmonton is much closer to his Anahim Lake, BC home

Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche are looking to take that next step. Last season’s playoffs saw the President’s Trophy winners as the top regular-season team falter in the playoffs. They were eliminated in the West Division Final by the Vegas Golden Knights. They are now a young team with almost all the right pieces, on the cusp of becoming a true contending team. But lack a proven playoff performer in net.

As a team against the cap, adding Price would be tricky and would involve the Canadiens taking on salary as well as retaining some of Price’s cap hit. Colorado is a team that could benefit from an upgrade in net as well as some help defensively in their bottom-six forward group. Since the departure of Joonas Donskoi in the expansion draft to the Seattle Kraken, they have relied heavily on their young prospects such as Alex Newhook. The Avalanche also have something the Canadiens need, puck-moving defensemen. With Samuel Girard rumored to be on the trade block, and Gorton needing to modernize the Habs’ blue line with puck movers, this is a plausible framework.

Colorado Avalanche's Samuel Girard
Colorado Avalanche’s Samuel Girard (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

The Canadiens could offer Colorado both Price and Artturi Lehkonen to address their needs. However, Gorton would need to retain salary on both players to make this deal happen, also, he would likely need to take on another contract, likely a goaltender’s to help Colorado with the roster numbers as well as to even out the cap hits being exchanged  

Edmonton Oilers

One team on the cusp of true Stanley Cup contention is the Edmonton Oilers. They have nearly everything to be able to win now, star forwards, quality defense and some good young talent on cheaper entry-level contracts. One thing they lack is quality goaltending. On paper, it makes sense, but the salary cap is a major stumbling block.

The Oilers do have the assets for Price, but even with all the LTIR space used, after taking on all of Duncan Keith’s cap hit, they are hard against the cap ceiling. Any deal with the Oilers would mean the Canadiens would need to retain salary. Also, any deal would mean Mikko Koskinen and another contract, perhaps Cody Ceci would be involved. The recent play of Evan Bouchard makes Ceci expendable but useful to the Canadiens in the short term to fill a position on the right side of the blue line.

It’s clear, based on Montreal’s team needs, that a center prospect like Dylan Holloway would be required. His familiarity with Cole Caufield from their time together with the Wisconsin Badgers Hockey program would also help build chemistry for a future line. There will need to be some work on the cap structure but the bones of a mutually beneficial deal are there.

Dylan Holloway University of Wisconsin
Edmonton Oilers 2020 First round selection Dylan Holloway in game action with the University of Wisconsin (Greg Anderson/UW Athletics)

If a rebuild is the decision Gorton makes, he will likely focus on building a blue line with mobility and speed to play a more up-tempo style of hockey that keeps possession and defends best by playing in the offensive zone. To do this, he will need to make way on the roster by moving out some of the old guard, which includes Price. In his case, even if the return doesn’t end up equaling his actual value, any trade will eventually be more about providing a player who gave so much of himself to the city of Montreal and the Canadiens franchise an opportunity to complete his trophy case with a Stanley Cup, even if it is to be in another city. It’s the least that can be done for a future Hall of Fame goaltender.

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