Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Warning: Do Not Read This If You Believe Carey Price Is A Member of God's Immediate Family

First, let me say I loved Patrick Roy when he played for the Canadiens. I loved his skill and his goofy, skinny appearance. I loved the weirdness; the way he'd talk to the posts and twitch all the time. I loved how cocky he was and how, when things were going badly, he'd clamp down mentally and be even more determined to win. And when he did win, which he did often, I loved his swagger. I thought he was just the best ever. But, when he blew up on the bench after he was embarrassed in his last game against Detroit, even I could admit he should have tried harder to keep his mortification under wraps until he was behind closed doors. If he had, maybe things would have turned out differently. Hell, even Roy himself later admitted his show of anger was a mistake. Admitting this didn't mean I loved the guy any less, but instead I thought it was a simple acknowledgement that he's human, not a god. Sometimes, though, goalies can make you forget that distinction.

On the current edition of the Canadiens, no single player is loved by as many people with as much singleminded passion as is Carey Price. The reasons for that affection are obvious. He's young, promising, talented and handsome. He was the highest draft pick the Canadiens had had in years and his record in lower leagues made him seem invincible. The World Junior title, CHL goalie of the year and Calder Cup and playoff MVP wins, all in one season no less, gave rise to visions of him as the next Dryden or Roy. The legacy of the Canadiens great goalies would continue in the person of this imposing physical speciman of goaltending excellence, or at least that was the hope.

All the promise and excitement around Price's arrival in Montreal was backed up by the tremendous support the young man received from management. He was handed the backup role to Cristobal Huet after his rookie camp, even though others had arguably better showings in the pre-season. It seemed management had made the right choice when the kid went out and won his first NHL game over the soon-to-be-champion Penguins. Nobody missed the coincidences that Price not only won his first game against the same team both Dryden and Roy had defeated in their first NHL starts, but that Price's win had come on the very anniversary of Roy's first win. It was destiny! Everything seemed to be going great for Price.

But then, halfway through that rookie season, some cracks started to show in the goalie's armour. After a hard loss in Washington, Price sat in tears in his locker, drained and devastated. Shortly afterwards, he was demoted to Hamilton for ten games to get his head and his game back in order. He came back strongly enough to convince Bob Gainey it would be okay to trade Huet at the deadline and turn the team over to Price. The goalie didn't look great in the team's elimination by Philly in that spring's playoffs, but that was okay. He was only twenty and had done tremendously well in his first season.

The cracks didn't go away though. That summer, indiscreet pictures of his good times on holidays hit the internet. They were no big deal to adults, but disappointing to young fans who idolized him. Then there were on-ice incidents like glaring at his defencemen after a bad play caused a goal, and the now-infamous Roy-like salute to the jeering crowd in the last game of last year's playoffs. We hoped a summer away from the game and another year of experience would help the young man get over some of that.

It didn't work out that way. This year, again, we see the glaring. He punched a hole in a visiting dressing-room wall after a loss early in the season. And now reporters who spend a lot of time covering the team are talking about how Price is unhappy with his rival, Jaro Halak, getting more starts lately. They say he's showing it in little ways, like leaving the pre-game warmup early in the last game against the Devils when the backup normally stays out to let the players take practice shots. When The Gazette's Pat Hickey, who's as close to the team as anyone not wearing an actual uniform, reports that Price's teammates were upset by Price's leaving the warmup, and that after a recent loss everyone walked by without acknowledging him, you have to think there's an attitude issue there. Hickey says it may not be a big issue right now, but if it continues, it will become one. That worries me.

I like Carey Price. I'm as enamoured of his skills and potential as anyone else. But I can see and admit the young man has some maturing to do. Those who can see or admit no fault in him will make the usual excuses for his behaviour. He's still so young, they'll say. Or, it's not an attitude issue, it's passion. Or, it's not his fault; the team put him in this position when he wasn't ready.

It's true. The team did put him in this position when he wasn't ready. He had such a tempting package of skills and had accomplished so much at lower levels of hockey that his promotion to the NHL and subsequent elevation to demi-god status by the fans was almost irresistable.

The problem is, he's not a god...no more than Patrick Roy was before him. He's a very talented goalie with a temper. I'm the first one to say passion in a goalie is a fantastic thing. The goalie is the anchor of his team on the ice and the one the rest of the players turn to for emotional direction. If he's pumped and confident, the team will be too. If he's angry, it's his responsibility to turn that anger on the opposing team. When he turns it on his own players, he shows the opposition the Canadiens aren't on the same page mentally and there's a rift there other teams can expose.

People say Price has a right to be angry because of the defensive miscues in front of him. But, you know what? The defencemen have a right to be angry when the goalie points out an error the D-man already is well aware he made. It's embarrassing enough to deflect a goal into your own net. Everyone can see what happened. There's no need of the goalie glaring at the culprit and wordlessly placing the blame squarely on him. It's a team game and if one member of the team blames another, teammates are going to take sides. And, since everyone on the ice makes mistakes, the sympathy is going to be for the guy who's being embarrassed by his teammate.

Carey Price needs to learn to focus his passion in a more constructive way. As Pat Hickey points out, the way he's handling his emotions right now is threatening to make Price a disruption to the team. And this team isn't one that can afford many disruptions, and especially not one involving a loss of support of their goalie.

The problem with being given so much at such a young age, merely because of potential, is that it comes with a feeling of entitlement. When the team tells Price he's the number-one goalie and does everything in its power to make that be so, Price reasonably expects to be treated with the deference due a number-one goalie. It removes some of the responsibility from him of playing a team game and accepting part of the blame for crappy goals against. That's not fair to a young man who should have been told right from the start that he would be sharing the net until he proved he deserved to own it.

I want Price to succeed in Montreal. But I wonder, if he can't get his emotions under control, whether he'll ever be comfortable there. Living in a fish bowl can't be easy, especially when you're inclined to some pretty steep ups and downs. If it turns out channelling his passion constructively is a long-term problem for Price, I also wonder whether he'll even want to remain in Montreal. If Gainey trades Halak in yet another attempt to clear obstacles out of Price's path, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see Price walk as soon as unrestricted free agency is an option.

It's going to be a critical couple of years of emotional maturing coming up here for Carey Price. If he can't do it, he'll be just as much a liability to the team as he'd be if he couldn't stop a puck to save his life.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty positive Hamilton's Guy Boucher would be able to help Carey Price in his maturing process.
There was a lot of talk about the visits JM paid Price in Calgary this summer shortly after being hired. It doesn't seem to have improved his attitude, and probably even confirmed Price's belief that he was the real #1 in the organization's eyes.
Boucher is said to be a good coach, not only hockey-wise but also psychology- and behaviour-wise.
That being said, I don't really see how the two of them could be united in the short term. JM seems to be well in place (he has a contract and Bob is still paying Carbo), and Price can't go back to Hamilton anymore.
But still, I feel like the solution may be there.

Anonymous said...

You make some good points, but I see similar reactions when Halak is in net and someone makes a miscue in front of him. Add to that Halak was also "not happy" when Price was getting starts leading to alleged trade demands.
Price certainly isn't alone in this behavior. I think it's time to either sit them both down and have a long talk to outline expectations, or get the best deal you can and move one of them. It's normal for a player to be upset when he doesn't get to play. The key is to turn that anger into strong play, not a distraction to the team, which both Canadiens goalies have done.

Anvilcloud said...

The glaring must definitely stop, at the very least until he stops his own glaring miscues.

subdoxastic said...

I like Price. You, J.T., like Price. Lots of people like Price.

Lots of people don't like Price, and included in that group is one Pat Hickey. I'm not saying he's wrong or a "hater" or even a bandwagon jumper-- he's always been consistent in his skepticism of Carey-- but the dislike is there in every article and in every comment.

The PodCast was interesting in that Hickey was quick to point out possible personality flaws or behavioural imperfections in Price, but it took Stubbs to mention that just a few weeks ago Halak was involved in an imbroglio regarding his membership/playing time on the team.

Hickey attempts to shrug off the hint of bias by referencing the goalers' record versus playoff and non-playoff teams and tell us that Price isn't a heck of a lot better against playoff teams but isn't as good as Halak against non-playoff teams. Ignoring the problems in equivocation that come from using wins (a team stat) to judge goalie performances,-- which by the way is Hickey's final argument in his sum-up of the "controversy" -- the sentence is designed and structured to come to the conclusion that Halak is a better goalie. Pat Hickey might very well be right, but relying on Ad Hominem attacks and spurious reasoning that consistently ignores the fact that his argument begs the question is not the way to convince me of his position.

Listen, I like both our goalies and want them to do well. I think Halak is playing out of his mind at the moment and definitely deserves to start every game from now until he starts to tire or has a bad stretch. I want the Habs to win; whichever goalie can best accomplish this task should play.

But letting Pat Hickey convince me there's a goalie controversy and that Halak is the right answer? I think I'll watch the games and let the goalies' performances help me make my own decision.

P.S. Love the blog and visit everyday.

Steph said...


Goot post. Except I take issue with your comment about his teamates not even acknowledging him on the bench after the EN goal.
I listened to that same Habs Inside Out Podcast, and what Hickey actuallt said was he wasn't sure if his teamates did acknowledge him because they were embarrased by their play, or if it was a sign that Price has lost his teamates. He concludes that it was interesting to note, but nothing can be taken from that.

So to use it as an example would be inaccuate.

Anonymous said...

Again, great post, J.T.

Gainey made a big mistake when he more or less declared that Price had "made it" in spite of Carbonneau's intent to have him complete his apprenticeship, in Hamilton.

Since then, the "kid" who's still only 22 has seen the best and the worst of what wearing the thoughest pair of skates in the NHL, has to offer.

How much will he make out of that experience, remains to be seen. Maybe it's time Gainey takes Price by the hand and bring him in old Montreal, under a light snowfall and have one those "talk" about his attitude ?

Andrew Berkshire said...

I wonder if anyone else on the team would be attacked as a negative influence on the team just over posture and facial expression? Why shouldn't Price be a little pissed about not getting any starts? It's not like he's been playing bad.

When Halak wasn't playing much, he asked to play more or be traded. That's not a disruption? If Price did that I dare say he'd be crucified at center ice.

DB said...

A lot of fans hope Price will be the next Roy or Dryden while worrying that any mistake or misstep means he's a bum.

Everyone should take a deep breath and relax. Price has a lot of talent that he needs to use on a consistent basis. It's up to him and the coaches to make sure he corrects his faults and achieves his potential.

As a diversion from the endless goalie debate maybe fans should discuss Subban. Yesterday, Boucher sent him to the dressing room for the duration of practice after he smashed a stick. This must mean he's unstable and that Timmins and Gainey have wasted another draft pick.

J.T. said...

@Berkshire: Hey, I warned you not to read this if you think Price is of divine origins! Seriously, it's not the posture and facial expression that're the issue. It's the attitude those little things convey. I may be way off base here, but the point is, it appears the kid needs to grow up a bit if he's going to be the guy who fills the toughest job in hockey. That's it. That's all I'm saying. Sure, Halak was a distraction too, but he's not supposed to be the Franchise, is he? He's just a backup goalie. Dime a dozen. Price's designated role is a very, very tough one. Not everyone can handle it mentally. I really hope he can, but I'm not sure about it as things stand right now.

@DB: Anonymous up above said Boucher would be really good for Price. I agree. It seems every story coming out of Hamilton regarding him praises him for being a great psychologist. The Subban example is a good one. PK is a passionate kid. He acted out by smashing a stick, so the coach sent him off the ice to cool down. That was telling him his passion is welcome, but not when it's channelled that way. The kid will learn his lesson. Price didn't have that learning experience and now things are tougher on him.

Patrick Charlebois said...

"it appears the kid needs to grow up a bit if he's going to be the guy who fills the toughest job in hockey"

What, Price is going to try to become GM???

Seriously though, great article (as always). I come to check here everyday and you have by far my favorite Habs blog!

Did you see this article concerning Price/Halak? I think it does a really good job, at least in terms of statistics:

But it's nowhere near as entertaining as your texts!


J.T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great blog keep it up...JT


Anonymous said...

If Price's attitude towards his teammates is detrimental to the team, his teammates will be the first to let him know.

Denis Pelletier

J.T. said...

@Denis: That's what I'm hoping for. I hope Gill or Markov or another defenceman calls him out privately and settles the matter.

Shan said...

I didn't read this whole thing, but do you actually believe that "handsomeness" is a factor in Carey Price's supposed godhood?

J.T. said...

@Shan: Yup. I'm fairly certain there are legions of teenaged (and older) girls who buy Price t-shirts, line up for his autograph and scream injustice when he doesn't play. I'm also fairly certain that would not be the case if he looked like Mike Ricci. It's also a scientific fact that humans subconsciously prefer good-looking people to homely ones, regardless of sexual preference. Don't discount handsomeness when it comes to Price addiction. :)