When you’re about to break a team record with the Montreal Canadiens, you know you’ve done something special. Goaltender Carey Price now stands on the cusp of such history, as he just tied Jacques Plante for the most wins in franchise history with 314. Any day now, Price will break that record and cement a legacy that is without a doubt one of the most impressive in franchise history.
When you think about Montreal goaltenders, you’re almost having a mini-debate on the greatest of all-time. Sure, you have to leave out Marty Brodeur, Dominik Hasek and Terry Sawchuk, but you get to argue over the merits of Plante, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden and now Price.
Now, Price is the only one of the four without a Stanley Cup – and the other three won multiple championships with the franchise – but he has also had the least support by far of the group.
Starting with Plante, you have a trailblazing netminder who will be forever remembered for popularizing the use of goalie masks and stopping a ton of pucks. Plante also had the good fortune of playing with numerous Hall of Famers, led by Jean Beliveau, ‘Rocket’ Richard and Doug Harvey: three of the best to ever skate in the NHL. Yes, talent was more concentrated back in the Original Six era, but no team had such a galaxy of stars like the Habs.
Next up is Dryden, a dominant netminder who, in a paradox, is also famous for leaning against his stick in net because the action was always in the opponent’s end. His Montreal days were an incredible dynasty, headlined by Hall of Fame names such as Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire and Frank Mahovlich in front of him. This was also in the 1970s, when expansion led to a league with some total doormat teams.
In the 1980s and early ‘90s, Roy became the king of the castle and his legacy is pretty incredible, too. He won the Cup as a rookie in 1986, then again in 1993. Montreal was definitely not favored in ‘93, but the Canadiens pulled off the kind of magic they were historically known for. Even so, Roy’s teammates during his tenure in Montreal included Hall of Famers Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey, Chris Chelios and Denis Savard.
Now let’s look at the players that Price has been surrounded with. In a 31-team league, you could say that talent is a little more dispersed than it was back in Roy’s Montreal heyday, when there were only 24 teams – but now the game is more global: the pool includes way more Americans, Finns and Swedes than it did back then, plus elite players from Slovenia, Denmark and Norway that simply didn’t exist a few decades ago.
Having said that, has Price ever had a potential Hall of Fame teammate in Montreal? We have to speculate here, but we know there are some sure-fire locks for the Hall still playing today: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara, for example.
Who has Price ever played with? In terms of Hall of Fame potential, the list is incredibly thin. Maybe P.K. Subban if he wins another Norris and a first Stanley Cup, but a lot of his stats will come with Nashville – and he is by no means a lock. Alex Kovalev was good, but never won an individual trophy, while Saku Koivu’s awards came for leadership and perseverance.
And yet, Price has managed to stand amongst the giants. He himself will be a Hall of Famer and he’s one of the few goalies to win the Hart Trophy in his career. Price has been dominant internationally and has a ton of gold from his duty with Team Canada.
In Montreal, he has been a beacon during one of the most cloudy eras in franchise history. But that should not diminish his accomplishments – in fact, it should heighten them. Argue all you want about the best goaltender in Canadiens history, but make sure you don’t forget Price when you’re whittling down the list.