If you haven’t heard, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price once won the Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies in a single season. He’s also consistently regarded by his peers as one of the top goalies on Earth, even after having exited his prime, a distinction justified by his Conn Smythe Trophy-caliber run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
So, as the face of the franchise for over a decade, the top dog on the team for all intents and purposes, being the underdog for an award for which he’s up may not come naturally to the guy. And, yet, Price is likely far from the front-runner for the 2022 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for which he was just named a finalist.
Price Is Perseverance Personified
Still, there’s no denying his 2021-22 certainly embodies what the award represents perfectly: perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. As a result his case to win is at least solid. Granted, he wouldn’t have been named a finalist if it weren’t.
Consider how Price returned to action following a near-season-long absence only to win his 700th career start, which could conceivably go down as his final game. While Price retiring is far from official at this juncture, it’s at least a possibility, something no one could have foreseen just a summer ago as he almost led the Canadiens to the promised land.
Then 2021-22 happened. Price missed all of training camp recovering from off-season knee surgery. He then entered the NHL’s player assistance program, which required a minimum of 30 days away from the game. Even past the point he was eligible to return, he still needed to rehabilitate the knee. Price suffered a few setbacks, eventually addressing the media, saying it was his goal in late January 2022 to play this season.
It took two and a half more months for Price to reach that goal in mid-April. Truth be told, there may have been one or two doubters as to the level of common sense the Canadiens shared at the head of the organization, playing their No. 1 goalie when the team’s non-playoff fate had already been decided and the Habs were more so in the running for the first-overall draft pick than anything else. But, if only to assess where Price’s game was prior to the offseason, it was downright logical.
Regardless, the bottom line is Price wanted to come back this season. There doesn’t need to be any additional justification beyond that, based on what he means to the franchise and his league-wide reputation. So, no one would really bat an eyelash if his picture were to go next to either one of the qualifiers of the Masterton in the dictionary.
Price vs. Hayes vs. Chara
Even so, Price is going up against Kevin Hayes, who had to deal with the untimely death of his brother, ex-NHLer Jimmy. The Philadelphia Flyers forward was also limited to 48 games due to various ailments, including an infection, still scoring 31 points. Meanwhile, Zdeno Chara, at 45 years old (not a typo), set the record for NHL games played by a defenseman with the New York Islanders in his 24th NHL season (also not a typo). When you’ve played more years in the NHL as most rookies tend to be old, you’ve had a really long career. When one of those rookies is Calder Memorial Trophy finalist Michael Bunting and you’ve played just two fewer years than his 26 on this planet, well write your own joke here.
So, all that to say, there’s a realistic chance Price fails to become the sixth Hab to win the Masterton. The last was of course Max Pacioretty in 2012 (coincidentally due to his recovery from a broken neck suffered at the hands of Chara). That was Chara’s game though, not to excuse the act. He’s being recognized for his longevity, which is fine (although he may fall well short of meeting the sportsmanship criterion).
It kind of depends on how long the memories of voters, i.e., writers of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, are. However, it should be noted there’s nothing that states voters must consider players’ complete bodies of work, let alone one (massive) error in judgment from a decade ago. The focus is on right now.
After all a decade ago, Price was still struggling to establish himself as a consistent No. 1 and ironically did not yet suffer the first of his knee injuries that would come to define his most dominant years as an NHL goalie. What if, eh?
If this is the end of Price’s playing days, a victory here would be a fitting way to go out. However, ditto for Chara, who’s on a one-year deal with the Islanders right now and, yeah, 45 (still not a typo). Furthermore, there’s no diminishing the loss the Hayes family suffered. Everyone is incredibly deserving of recognition.
So, from Price’s perspective nothing is guaranteed. Far from it, but that includes both a Masterton win and his hypothetical retirement. Based on how badly Price wanted to play this season (and ultimately did), you get the sense he’ll exhaust all options before finally calling it quits, if that’s what he ultimately decides to do.
Keep in mind, even if Price is an underdog right now, he would most definitely be a favorite were he to return next season and play like he did just one summer ago. Now that would be something else… well, vintage Price at least.
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.