Isn't it funny how, when someone seems to come up with a plausible answer to a difficult question, people tend to buy into it until it becomes almost an accepted fact? For centuries, people believed the world was flat because someone needed to explain the horizon. They believed the plague was a punishment from God because they had to explain why so many thousands were dying. Now the prevailing sentiment among Habs fans is that Carey Price needs a veteran mentor backing him up because they need to explain why he went off the rails so badly last year.
I think the "veteran mentor" theory is right up there with the flat earth, heavenly vengeance and bleeding sick people to let out the bad humours. What's a veteran supposed to do with Price anyway, I wonder? If it's to teach him to handle pressure, I think he probably knows a bit about that on his own, based on his experiences in international play, his Calder Cup run and two seasons in Montreal. If it's to teach him how to play goal, well, he's got a goalie coach for that. And if it's to show him how to live like a grownup and a professional, you'd think that, at 22 years of age, he's got an inkling of what that's all about...even if he had to learn some of it the hard way.
This is a third-year professional we're talking about. He's young, true, but he's hardly an NHL virgin at this point. I believe he was pushed into the NHL too early, perhaps not in terms of his skill level, but maybe in terms of his personal maturity. But retrospect means nothing in the coming season. Price is in the NHL and he's there to stay, so he'll have to make the best of it. I just don't see how having a guy on the bench who's ten years older and will play maybe 20 games is supposed to magically help Price succeed at this point in his career. Playing goal is like being born or dying...you have to do it alone. Only one guy can stand in there, and if that's Price, then the guy on the bench, whether it's Halak or some thirty-five-year-old veteran, can't go out and hold his hand.
And the ubiquitous "veteran" goalie covers a whole lot of personalities and intangibles. Just because a guy has played in the NHL for ten years, it doesn't mean he's either a good teacher or a proper example for a 22-year-old number one. If he's been a number-one goalie in the past, there's no guarantee he won't be unhappy with a limited role in Montreal. If he's a career backup, is there really a whole lot he can teach Price about the handling the pressure and conditioning necessary to be a number one? A "veteran" can be surly, spacey, silent, stupid or a party animal as easily as he can be friendly, helpful, patient and responsible. Time in the league doesn't change a guy's basic personality.
We also don't know Price's mindset when it comes to his backups. Maybe he likes working with another guy his own age who understands where he's coming from. Maybe he's learned enough of the basics and needs to progress further on his own, with his own style and in collaboration with his own coach.
I think about last year and what difference a veteran "mentor" would have made to Price. Would the guy have been able to talk him out of coming back from injury too soon, just to be in the All Star game? Would he have been in the clubs and said, "Go home, Carey, you have to be at the rink tomorrow?" Would he have been able to talk Price down from the ledge of disaster on which he stood after the break last season? Somehow, I think these are things a guy can only learn by going through them himself. Young guys tend to listen with one ear to the advice of their elders and let it pass right out the other in any case.
I know the year upcoming really depends on Price and Halak and their ability to find consistency. But I think they can do it together, and the myth of the "veteran mentor" can finally be laid to rest. After all, now we know the world is round and the plague was caused by bacteria. I hope we soon learn that Carey Price can be the goalie we need, all by himself. And Jaroslav Halak can be a capable backup and partner for Price, even if he's not 35 years old.