Marc Bergevin is no dummy. The Canadiens general manager knows he was damned if you do and damned if you don’t when it came to signing franchise goaltender Carey Price to a mega contract extension this weekend.
Sign Price to an eight-year, $84 million extension a full year before he reaches unrestricted free agency and critics howl that the Canadiens are spending far too much of their salary cap space, roughly 14 percent to start, on a goalie, and everyone knows through recent history that the highest-paid goaltenders, or even the best netminders, do not win Stanley Cups, the best teams do.
However, if Bergevin failed to lock up Price, the face of the storied franchise and the team’s best player by far, then, in the words of NHL Network Radio host Rob Simpson on Monday’s Stellick and Simmer Show, “They’d be rioting in the streets of Montreal, burning cars on every corner.”
Such was Bergevin’s choice, though there was no debate in the GM’s mind which path he would choose.
“Nobody has a goaltender like Carey Price in the league,” Bergevin told reporters on Sunday. “Goalies are not important until you don’t have one. … It’s a position that’s really hard to find, and we have in my opinion, our opinion, one of the best in the business, so I’m going to keep him and make sure he’s here for the rest of his career.”
Price has a lifetime 2.40 goals-against average in 509 regular season appearances, though he’s been below that number each of the last four seasons as he entered his prime. Just three seasons ago he ran the table by winning the Vezina Trophy, Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, leading the league with 44 wins while posting a 1.96 GAA and .933 save percentage. He was again a Vezina finalist this year, ranking fifth with 37 victories, sixth with a 2.23 GAA and tied for seventh with a .923 save percentage.
Along with his impressive resume in Montreal, Price led Canada to gold medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2007 World Junior Championships, as well as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey title. In those three pressure-filled tournaments, Price posted a 16-0 record, five shutouts and allowed only 17 goals in 16 appearances.
However, Price has yet to lead the Canadiens to even one Stanley Cup Final, much less a Cup championship. There was the run to the 2014 Eastern Conference finals, cut short for him when Rangers’ forward Chris cheap nhl jerseys Kreider barreled into Price in Game 1 and knocked him out of the playoffs. This past spring he fashioned a 1.86 GAA, but his Canadiens were not good enough to get out of the first round, ousted in six games by the Rangers.
Therein lies the rub of signing Price, a world-class goaltender, to such a large contract, eating up so much cap space. Despite his brilliance, Price has been unable to get good — not great — teams over the hump, so far. And he’s far from the only high-paid, upper-echelon goalie to fall into this category.
Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, who used to be the league’s highest-paid goalie until Price inked his extension, also has amazing NHL and international credits, including a Vezina Trophy and Olympic Gold Medal. Yet despite three trips to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012, and an appearance in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, Lundqvist and the Rangers have not won a Stanley Cup. Many argue that New York is anchored now by his long-term $8.5 million per year contract, especially with the 35-year-old Lundqvist showing a downturn in his game the past year.
In fact, the six highest-paid goalies in the NHL have only one Stanley Cup amongst them — and Tuukka Rask earned that in 2011 as a backup to Tim Thomas with the Bruins. That group, consisting of Price, Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Pekka Rinne, Rask and Braden Holtby, won each of the last six Vezinas, however, with zero Cups in that same span.
Yet, Bergevin could not say no to Price, and it is hard to argue with his decision, even as he understands the challenges that lie ahead.
“Giving one player a big amount makes things a little more difficult,” Bergevin admitted Sunday after announcing the deal. “But that’s part of my job to manage that. In an ideal world, we would have given him less, but that’s just part of the negotiation process.”