The Montreal Canadiens will look drastically different in 2022-23 with or without their No. 1 goalie Carey Price. And that says a lot, considering he’s the figurative face of the franchise for all intents and purposes. Who are they without a face of the franchise?
True, with Price’s future up in the air, so is that of the Habs overall, but, if you step back in time by a single calendar year, there would have been an argument to be made that both Price and captain Shea Weber were the team’s two twin pillars. With Weber unofficially retired, at least one pillar has already been removed from the foundation.
Hughes Has Roster Decisions to Make
On top of that, general manager Kent Hughes has confirmed in the aftermath of 2021-22 that the plan is to name a new captain for next season, potential candidates being Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki. So, one more big change is coming, but that’s not all, with so many roster decisions facing general manager Kent Hughes.
Needless to say, there’s going to be a great deal of turnover this coming offseason. None of the Canadiens’ key unrestricted free agents are locks to stick around, to be generous. So, Hughes will be at least somewhat busy trying to attract new signees, with the potential for a bigger splash in the free-agent pool.
It depends on a variety of factors. For example, there have been rumors Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang could sign with the Habs, joining his ex-agent, Hughes. However, Letang would realistically only be signed to replace Jeff Petry, who reportedly requested a trade earlier this season (from ‘Jeff Petry open to remain in Montreal, but Canadiens might have other plans,’ Montreal Gazette, April 30, 2022).
Petry on His Way Out?
Petry has since softened his stance on his future with the Canadiens. At his end-of-season press availability, Petry said he didn’t “want to close the door on the organization.” In turn, Hughes has been fairly open about the team’s willingness to trade him, at least if the trade makes sense for the Habs. At this juncture, it’s impossible to determine for sure whether the right deal will materialize, though.
Chances are good, in that as recently as last season, Petry had proven his worth as arguably a top-pairing defenseman, earning several James Norris Memorial Trophy votes. Despite his slow start under ex-head coach Dominique Ducharme, Petry also came alive under his replacement, Martin St. Louis. Under Ducharme, Petry had just one goal and six points in 38 games. He finished with 27 points in 68 games.
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So, despite being 34 years old, Petry should still be fairly attractive to potential suitors. If he can keep up the pace with which he finished the season, the three additional seasons he has under contract at a cap hit of $6.25 million go back to being a pretty good deal.
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Assuming there is a trade to be made, Hughes would have that additional $6.25 million with which to work. However, if Price is unable to play and goes on long-term injured reserved (LTIR) similar to Weber, that would give the Habs an additional $10.5 million, as Hughes explained at his media availability.
The fact Hughes was as open as he was about Price’s future and what freeing up his cap space would mean is fairly noteworthy. Assuming the Canadiens truly don’t know what the future holds for Price, he’s still been a huge part of this team for 15 years give or take. In fact, having won the most games in Canadiens history, he’s at least entered into the conversation of the best Habs goalies of all time. So, if there was a realistic chance of Price coming back, you’d expect the Habs to put a moratorium on any talk that he isn’t. That obviously hasn’t happened.
“If” Price Comes Back
To be fair, it’s not like Hughes completely wrote Price off, but the comment was telling nevertheless. Maybe that’s the biggest change of all compared to past managerial regimes, a greater degree of transparency. Ironically, there’s only so much you can see behind a mask though, with Price being the linchpin in all this.
There will be changes regardless of Price’s situation. However, if he does come back (an admittedly big “if”), that would arguably be a huge change in and of itself, considering he played just five games this past season, behind a last-place team. That’s unlikely to happen again.
Price wouldn’t necessarily make the Canadiens a playoff team all on his own, but he would undeniably make the Habs more competitive, if that’s the goal. Reports the Canadiens are looking to be aggressive during free agency are at least a sign they’ll try. On the other hand, freeing up his cap hit would similarly help out immensely.
It isn’t as much as a win-win as it appears, obviously. There’s little replacing Price. In fact, based on his accomplishments the last decade or so, the Canadiens can’t, but they can start to move on. While appearances can be deceiving, it does look like the Habs have already begun to.