It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to write and I was working on another article but then an arrow struck through the city and I absolutely must throw in my two cents.
In the upcoming NHL expansion draft, the Montreal Canadiens will not be protecting Carey Price, who is considered by many to be the best (or at least one of the best) goalie(s) in the NHL. If Seattle picks him in the draft, the Canadiens will be giving up their star player who many believe is the biggest reason as to why the Canadiens went from being a sub-.500 team in the regular season to Stanley Cup finalists.
There are a lot of theories as to why this is happening and I’ve discussed it with a few people over the last few days. After much thought, I’ve settled on two theories: either the Canadiens are prepared to give up draft picks to keep their team intact or Price wants to move to the west coast.
The prevailing theory is that the Canadiens are taking a gamble that the Seattle Kraken (which I believe will be a name that will get more ridiculous with each passing year) won’t want to eat Price’s $10 million per year salary nor will that want to pay him the $11 million signing bonus that he’s due in September. However, considering that the Kraken will have to go out of their way to hit the top of the cap and they’re willing to spend money, why would they not take a top-tier goalie if it’s within their budget? Perhaps the Habs are thinking that it may be enough to keep Seattle from taking a chance, but if they do, they may have to pay Seattle’s price of two draft picks (including a first rounder) to convince Seattle not to pick Price.
The only other theory that makes any sense is that Price wants to move out west. He’s from British Columbia while his wife is from Washington state. Financially, he would see more of the $21 million he’s due this season (plus millions more after that) if he goes to the U.S due to the smaller tax bill. He has a no-movement clause that he waived for this draft. He could have said no and the Habs could have given up backup goalie Jake Allen if they really wanted to keep Price.
Perhaps this is a personal thing and Price wants to move to a city that isn’t so crazed about hockey. Price is a hero today but a decade ago he was vilified for being the one picked over Jaroslav Halak (which I wrote was a bad move…and still stand by) and still gets jeered when he goes through a swing of bad games (which happened earlier this season while Jake Allen was playing well).
One thing I’ve seen on the socials is that there are some Habs fans already thinking past Seattle picking Price; that it will be a good thing and it’ll free up so much cap space. Which, I guess is nice, but space for who is a bigger question. The Canadiens will always have three things going against them: the high pressure of playing in the city, the tax bill, and the lack of a winning history (anything prior to 1993 doesn’t count). Who wants to play for a team in a city that will criticize them for every misplay on and off the ice, a huge chunk of their salary lost to taxes, and a team that is far from being one step away from making another Stanley Cup final any time soon? There may be a few cities like Toronto, Winnipeg, or Buffalo that may be less desirable at the moment, but free agent players aren’t chomping at the bit to play in Montreal.
The worst thing about the Montreal Canadiens making it to the Stanley Cup finals is that it kept the current management team in place with affirmation that the current team is good enough. Far from it and while Cole Caulfield, Nick Suzuki, and Tyler Toffoli might be the future of the franchise, there are still too many holes in the ship to make it float. At this point, there is no incentive to make any changes. Some of my friends who I’ve talked to about get upset with me when I mention that I think Price is gone; they think that the Habs were genuinely Stanley Cup contenders. However, the finals were a clear indication that not only are the Habs not ready at that level, but that the coaching staff isn’t neither.
There is a bright side for those panicked about losing Price. First, they may not actually lose Price as Seattle may pass on him. Even if Seattle picks him, one realistically has to look at Price’s numbers and they’ll see that he’s being overpaid. I’m not talking from a sports-jock radio call-in perspective but from a mathematical perspective.
I’ve long compared Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak because Halak almost displaced Price’s tenure in Montreal almost before it began. Halak was lights out for the Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs, but Price was the golden goose, so they traded Halak for Lars Eller (and someone else who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry). While I’m not Steve Dangle and this is not a trade tree, Eller played six seasons with the Habs and put up 71 goals and 154 points; although after signing with Washington in 2016-17, Eller has been playing the best hockey of his career (and winning a Stanley Cup). Considering how hot Halak was in 2010 and his career since (he won the Jennings trophy twice and appeared in an All-Star game), the trade was a bust for the Canadiens.
Whether you feel it was the right trade or not is irrelevant because in the end, their statistics are almost the same. Although Price may have more trophies and more all-star game appearances, both players have nearly identical stats: Halak barely beats Price in GAA (2.48 to 2.50) and Price has a slight edge in save percentage (.918 to .917). The biggest stat of all though is how much each player is being paid and Price’s contract throughout his tenure with the Habs has been anywhere between 50%-65% higher than Halak’s since the trade. Could that $5-6 million difference be better spent elsewhere?
Here’s another stat for those panicking: while Price is above average in save percentage (excluding the last two years because of the pandemic), he’s not well above everyone else. The league average is usually around .910 whereas Price’s save percentage in 2018-19 was .918. People like to gush about save percentage and while it’s a purer number than goals against average (which is measured against time rather than number of shots faced) but considering that most goalies in the NHL fall between .900 and .925, it’s not that big a deal.
If you are comparing a goalie with a .900 save percentage against one with a .925 percentage, the difference is 52.19 goals per season. That number is based on the average number of shots per game by a team (31.5) and a goalie playing 65 games per season (which is usually less, which means the difference would be smaller). A star goalie should be making a difference of 52 goals because their salary would be high enough to replace a player who would be scoring 52 goals (which is extremely rare in today’s NHL).
Price had a .918 save percentage from 2018-19 (which is only .001 from his career average). which means against the NHL average of .910, the difference is 16.39 goals. That means the Caandiens are paying Price $10 million+ to stop 16 more pucks from going into the net compared to the average.
I’ve been critical of Price in the past and I’m not writing this to say that Price is overrated. Since the early hiccups of his career, Price has settled into his own and become an incredibly good goalie. He’s had years where he has stood on his head in the playoffs and brought the Canadiens closer to the Stanley Cup than expected. However, the end goal should be to win a Stanley Cup and if Price was being paid closer to Halak and being able to afford another 20-goal scorer, then that would be the perfect combination. For now, Price is overpaid for what he does for the team and it’s better for Montréal to lose him for nothing than not be able to do anything with his bloated salary.
Perhaps this deep dive into the value of Price’s contract is pointless. Maybe Seattle won’t select Price because of everything I just said. On the flip side, maybe they pick Price and take on his salary because he’ll be the face of the franchise and help with ticket and merchandise sales. Who knows? At worse, the Canadiens will be losing a beloved player, one who has earned the respect and admiration of the a rabid fanbase who was ready to toss him aside early in his career. At best, the Canadiens will have a cheaper goalie with average stats but more money for a goal-scorer or more support on defense.