In the aftermath of the Montreal Canadiens’ first-round playoff exit, questions were raised about Carey Price’s future, bizarre as it may seem. Montreal had, for the fourth time in five seasons, fallen short of the Stanley Cup final and the first-round loss wasn’t indicative of a team set to take a step forward next season, so with Price’s contract set to expire following 2017-18, some speculation was sparked about what the Canadiens could look like if they shipped out their all-world netminder.
As soon as that talk was spurred on, however, it came to a screeching halt. In fact, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin slammed the brakes on any “Trade Price” discussion so hard it’s incredible he wasn’t walking with a limp Monday.
Bergevin said in no uncertain terms that Price was the Canadiens goaltender of the past, present and future, and the intention is that come July 1, when Montreal can officially ink Price to a contract extension, the wheels will be in motion for the 2014-15 Vezina and Hart Trophy winning goaltender to sign long-term and remain a Canadien. And while the trade scenarios involving Price are fun to kick about — imagine the return Montreal could fetch from a goaltending-starved team? — the truth of the matter is it wouldn’t have made much sense for the Canadiens to move on from Price and the franchise is going to be better off for keeping him.
Regardless of the first round playoff exit, it’s near impossible to pin a single loss on Price. He posted a .933 save percentage in the series against New York and a 1.86 goals-against average. The only losing goaltender that had better numbers was Martin Jones, and his Sharks were out of the post-season just as swiftly as the Canadiens exited.
That said, it’s understandable in the days following a playoff exit that discussions will be had about what can change and what went wrong, and there’s no small amount of talk about the lack of scoring the Canadiens displayed in the opening round against the Rangers. In six games, Montreal mustered just 11 goals and failed to put up more than two goals in any of the final three games of the series. It should come as no shock, then, that those final three games were all losses. But the Canadiens’ lack of offense was as much a scoring issue as it was a Henrik Lundqvist issue. It’s not as if Montreal was firing blanks against a shooter tutor. The Rangers had one of the best goaltenders of this era between the pipes.
It’s also not as if Montreal is bound to have the same collection of offensive players that they currently employ for the rest of Price’s tenure. This is a roster that has steps it can take to rectify a substandard offensive performance.
One issue that seems somewhat easy to address is Alex Galchenyuk’s future, which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with the player but more that there is some concern about his deployment. Galchenyuk was outstanding in the early part of the season, racking up nine goals and 23 points in his first 25 games before he was sidelined with a knee injury, but he couldn’t keep up that pace upon his return, scoring eight goals and 21 points in his final 36 contests. But the dip in production has as much to do with coming back from injury as it does how Galchenyuk was iced. Early on, he spent much of his time with the Canadiens’ top scorers, including the formation of an impactful duo with Alexander Radulov. However, in the back half of the year and into the post-season, Galchenyuk spent more time in the middle of the lineup than he did the top, which is far from an ideal situation for a scoring talent such as Galchenyuk. He averaged less than 16 minutes per game in three of the final four games against New York. For a team hungry for scoring, it seems Galchenyuk could be utilized more effectively.
Galchenyuk’s not the lone hope that the Canadiens can still conjure up enough offense to win with Price, though. There are the obvious top-flight scorers like Radulov and Max Pacioretty who will hopefully continue to be cornerstones of the offense, but one would also expect a bounce back year out of Brendan Gallagher, further growth from Artturi Lehkonen, who stood out in the playoffs, and hope that a few additional scorers are coming down the pike. Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak are two offensive-minded prospects who could make an impact in the near future.
There’s also scoring on its way from the back end, too. Mikhail Sergachev is a highly touted prospect, and with good reason. He’s a smooth skater, has all the offensive tools and could be viewed as the eventual successor to Andrei Markov, who’s getting long in the tooth and could be heading for retirement at the end of one of the next few campaigns. Noah Juulsen is also a defender to watch, but he’s not likely to have the same offensive impact. Instead, he’ll likely fill in with his defensive ability.
All of this is without mentioning that the Canadiens are also set to undergo some structural changes in 2017-18. There’s really no telling what the impact of coach Claude Julien can be over the course of a full season. His Bruins were one of the most dominant puck possession teams before he was let go mid-season and the Canadiens’ hiring of Julien promises to make Montreal a stronger possession group and more smothering defensive team. That’s going to benefit Price, to be sure, and the result of a stronger structure around one of the league’s best goaltenders could be a near impenetrable defense.
One has to hope, though, that Bergevin will have seen where he erred heading into the playoffs. Instead of adding scoring punch to help his team, Bergevin added size, strength and in-your-face style players at the deadline when it seems, at least after the first-round exit, that what Montreal really could have used was someone to complement the already present scoring talent. The Canadiens should have some coin to spend on secondary scoring in free agency, and Bergevin should absolutely use it.
But the truth is that no matter what changes Montreal made in an effort to right this season's wrongs, all would have been for naught if Bergevin and Co. panicked and pulled the trigger on shipping Price out of town. He’s who the Canadiens need to build a Stanley Cup contender around, the backbone of the franchise and face of the team. Make no mistake that it's Price and no one else who is the one single player who can thrust Montreal back into the spotlight. To trade Price would have been to throw that hope away and to keep him is to ensure there’s a chance at glory for years to come.
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