HabsWorld.net -- 

Why hasn’t he signed yet?  What is he waiting for?  Is he holding
out for a trade, does he even want to be a Hab?  Such is the discussion
surrounding the once again #1 goalie Carey Price, currently an RFA.  Many
are assuming Price is the reason for the holdup, but is that actually the case?

The truth is, both sides are responsible here.  It was reported earlier
in the week that Price’s camp wants a 3 year contract, worth around $3 million
per season.  This isn’t all that different from the 3 year pact Cam Ward
signed for $8 million total ($2.67 M cap hit) back in 2007 when you factor in
salary escalation since then.  Both goalies were coming off their entry
level deals, both had success in the World Juniors, and both were 1st round
picks.  (Ward also had a Conn Smythe Trophy while Price’s playoff MVP award
came from the AHL.) 

The Habs, however, appear to be focused on a 2 year deal for a couple of
reasons.  First off, he’s coming off of what most would agree was a
disappointing season where he lost the starter’s role.  If he can’t return
to his rookie form, the longer the contract he has, the worse off it will be for
the club.  Of course, there’s that type of risk with virtually every player
coming off an entry level contract, which is why this isn’t the more prominent

You may have noted that there was no salary figure listed with the 2 year
contract, that’s simply because one wasn’t noted at the time this report came
out.  However, watch for a deal of this length to be around $4-5 M over the
2 seasons.  The reason is twofold: 1) Price is still highly touted, the
goalie of the future, the potential face of the franchise, yadda, yadda, yadda. 
He knows it, the organization knows it, and so too does the agent – you still
have to pay for potential and perception.  2) The second year of the deal
would be buying out one of Price’s arbitration years, that in itself can be
costly.  Take Benoit Pouliot’s 1 year, $1.35 M deal for example. 
Despite struggling down the stretch, the organization was concerned he could
command upwards of $2 M in arbitration.  (That’s why his qualifying offer
wasn’t issued, to avoid this from potentially happening.) 

Taking out one of Price’s years will add several hundred thousand dollars,
but two years?  That’ll cost even more, which is why the goalie’s camp is
looking for near $3 million per.  There’s a notable gap between the annual
cap hit from a 2 to 3 year deal, which is the other reason the Habs aren’t
banging down the door to get this done as quickly as some would hope.

From HW’s salary cap
the Habs have roughly $3.6 million to spend ($4.4 million if you don’t leave any
space for injuries/future trades).  Sign Price to the 3 year deal and you
can kiss away any hopes of making any sort of notable trade/signing.  Sign
him to the 2 year contract and all of a sudden there’s some wiggle room heading
into camp.  However, since the never ending Kovalchuk saga seems to be
holding up much of the offseason wheelings and dealings, some of these
"opportunities" have yet to present themselves.  By signing Price now, GM
Pierre Gauthier locks himself in – either the Habs are done for the offseason or
they’re committed to changing the roster up some more. 

At this juncture, it’s too early to tell what options may be out there, so
why commit now?  By keeping Price unsigned, there’s still some flexibility
and for a team with not a lot of cap space, any flexibility (which could lead to
leverage) is a good thing.  Granted, there’s always the risk of an offer
sheet but Price would have to sign it (it’s not an automatic like some seem to
think).  The Habs have spoken to Price’s camp about this and are reasonably
assured that he won’t be signing one of these.  Of course his agent won’t
say 100% he won’t sign one; otherwise, their side loses leverage.  But rest
assured, if Montreal felt Price would sign an offer sheet, they’d have locked
him up by now and let the pieces fall as they may later.

As for my predictions on what might happen?  It’s too tough to predict
when a deal would be signed, it could be tomorrow, next week, next month, or in
the middle of training camp.  A deal will only be struck when the Habs are
100% sure which direction they’re going (and that may take a while based on how
slow the market is).  Will it be the roster that we see today with no real
changes?  If so, the 3 year contract will probably be signed.  If they
acquire another player via trade/free agency?  Now their cap space is
diminished and only the 2 year deal is palatable.  My personal opinion is
that the numbers (or at least the framework) are basically agreed upon for both
the 2 and 3 year deals.  Watch for the contract (either length) to be
backloaded as well to ensure Price gets a higher qualifying offer at the end –
the good news is doing so generally lowers the cap hit a little. 

It’s not a matter of one side holding out, it’s moreso that the Habs are keeping their options open
that’s delaying Price signing.  Here’s hoping the
wait proves to be well worth it in the end.