From espn.com August 2nd, 2005: “Are you kidding? Why would the Canadiens select a goalie at No. 5? They have Jose Theodore, who turns 29 in September. Price is the top-rated goalie, but he doesn’t fit in Montreal. In fact, one scout told me he wasn’t sure Price would live up to the expectations. I don’t get this one.”
To say that the Montreal Canadiens surprised the hockey world in the 2005 junior entry draft would be a slight understatement. Following the lockout most experts thought the Canadiens would surely pick any other position but goal. After all goaltending seemed to be the least of their needs.
Jose Theodore was coming off another solid season. After winning the Hart and Vezina trophies the year before Theodore had followed that up by leading the Habs to the second round of the playoffs. With three years remaining on his contract and still relatively young at 28 Theodore seemed to be established as the Montreal goalie for the foreseeable future.
However, the future is uncertain.
Theodore emerged from the lockout a changed goalie. Not only did he struggle on the ice but also off the ice struggles started coming to the fore. The unexpected play of backup Christobal Huet brought forth a goaltending controversy. All of this combined with Theodore’s large salary made him expendable and he was shipped off to Colorado.
Given the starting job outright Huet has shone. After almost single-handedly leading the Canadiens to the playoffs in 2006 he played in his first all-star game in 2007.
An injury to Huet in March of this past year further muddled the Canadiens goaltending situation. Called up from the farm team in Hamilton, Jaroslav Halak became a rookie sensation, keeping the Habs in playoff contention right until the season’s final day.
And as for Carey Price?
Well, the outlook on Carey Price’s future is considerably more promising than on that draft day in Ottawa a couple of years ago. Since then all he has done is…
– backstop Canada to a silver medal at the 2005 under 18-world championship.
– led Canada to a gold medal at the 2006 world junior championship, as well as being named top goalie and tournament MVP.
– named 2006/07 Canadian junior hockey goalie of the year.
– with only three regular season games under his belt has led the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup championship while also being named playoff MVP.
This brings us to the problem facing Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey. How does he solve the goaltending dilemma facing his team. What is the right answer for this year?, for the future?
Solution #1 – The original plan
As the season ended it became apparent that the Habs had no interest in resigning David Aebischer and were willing to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent. This left Huet and Halak as the two goalies on the roster. From all indications Huet is the starting goalie and would probably see action in about 50 games leaving Halak with the other 30. This would give Halak more experience at the NHL level. This would give Price a full year in the AHL for more seasoning.
The hope of the Canadiens management is that Halak and/or Price show enough to warrant being full time NHL goalies. One would assume that with Huet becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of next year the Habs would ideally like for Halak and Price to become the goaltending combination for the following year.
Solution #2 – The revised plan
The emergence of Carey Price has led to a reevaluation of the goaltender situation. A victory in the Calder Cup final (and most certainly Price would be the MVP) would bring calls for the Canadiens to call up Price to the big dream. Surprisingly, Gainey hasn’t ruled this out. Normally a cautious GM when it comes to young talent, Gainey must wonder if Price needs any more AHL seasoning. In interviews, Gainey has stated that no matter where he is Price is going to be the starter. However, it will come as a major surprise if the Habs start the season with Price as their number one goalie.
The more likely scenario is that the Habs start the season with Huet and Halak as the starting twosome. This puts Price as the starting goalie for the Bulldogs. However, it is the play of all three and the Canadiens themselves that will determine Gainey’s next move. With Huet an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year does Gainey dangle him as trade bait especially near the deadline. This would allow Gainey to shore up other areas of the team. Would Gainey be willing to go the rest of the year with a Halak/Price combo especially if the Canadiens were in the playoff picture? Would he give up Huet if he were playing well? Does he keep Huet and risk losing him at the end of the year?
Solution #3 – The risky plan
The longshot of the three, this plan involves the Habs beginning their season with Halak and Price as the goaltending duo. This doesn’t seem as farfetched as you might think. Gainey has promised that Price will get a good, hard look at the training camp this fall. The question is, would he be willing to deal Huet and go with the young, unproven duo of Halak and Price.
The risk however, in this case may outstrip the reward. The Canadiens think they have a jewel in Carey Price and have thought this for a long time. Long hockey NHL wisdom says that 19-year-old goalies don’t play in the NHL.
But then again, there has never been a 19-year-old goalie accomplish what Carey Price has.