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.