At the Montreal Canadiens’ end of season press conference featuring owner Geoff Molson, General Manager Marc Bergevin and Head Coach Michel Therrien, Bergevin told the media and fans that all the questions asking them what went wrong during the season wouldn’t even be a discussion if goaltender Carey Price was healthy. It was an honest statement but a troubling one at the same time. It reflects a mentality that exists in the organization that the Habs cannot win without Price and that his absence alone was the reason things went south. Quite frankly, it was scary how fast Montreal declined without Price.
"I believe with a healthy Carey Price we're not sitting here today" – Marc Bergevin.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) April 11, 2016
No Wins Without Carey
Price’s absence from most of the season revealed a lot of glaring holes. Price’s excellence covered up a lack of scoring and a defensive system that when not executed to perfection, is not reliable. The Habs rely on their goalie more than other team in the league, which is a dangerous game to play. The Habs’ worst nightmare came true when Price went down and the team never recovered on the ice or psychologically. The Habs did not play horribly during December but they couldn’t win. The quality of play then cratered in the months after that. Some will point to losing spark plug Brendan Gallagher for a long stretch but when he did return, it didn’t stop the Habs from falling faster.
Even with their hot start to begin the season, there were flaws that still exist today. A lack of consistent scoring hurts this team as there are plenty of bottom six forwards but not enough guys that make the opposition think twice of who is on the ice. Even though he is a goalie, Price helps the team break out of their zone and acts as a third defenseman. For a team to contend, they absolutely need good goaltending but it can’t be the main reason why.
Trouble With the system
For example, Corey Crawford is certainly not the sole reason for Chicago’s last two Stanley Cups. You can argue Jonathan Quick stole games for Los Angeles in 2012 but his team stepped it up in front of him when it mattered most in 2012 and 2014. Both goalies were big pieces in their teams bringing home a championship but there were many other important factors too. Good teams adapt when they don’t have their number one goalie and Montreal did not do that. The system is built around Price being otherworldly. It begs the question of how other goalies would fare in Montreal’s system in comparison.
"We knew Carey Price was a big piece of the team, there’s no hiding that. And we’re not ashamed of it either…” – Marc Bergevin 1/2
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) April 11, 2016
Lately, Montreal has been getting younger goalies into the system as displayed by drafting Zachary Fucale 36th overall in 2013 and signing Charlie Lindgren out of college. Goalies are especially tough to evaluate as goaltenders drafted in the first round could bomb while seventh rounders and undrafted players could emerge as stars. As important as Price is, the Habs are smart to start developing a potential successor in case Price gets injured again or if he leaves as a free agent.
Montreal management seems content to remain status quo by banking on a return to health from Price. They seem convinced everything will be fine as long as Price is healthy and playing at his best. Relying on one guy to get the job done and be the reason why they win is not a long term solution. Price doesn’t change the fact they need more scoring forwards and a better system to play in. Montreal saw how bad they were without their star goalie. It reflects poorly on the whole organization that the loss of one player is the reason why they can’t play good hockey on a consistent basis. It’s a sign they need to get better, not wait for him to save them again.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Ryerson University. I am a freelance journalist and a Montreal Canadiens writer for The Hockey Writers. I previously wrote for Simcoe.com and Last Word on Sports as well as interned at TSN.