Decisions, decisions. The NHL offseason in the cap era is all about making smart choices. GMs have to make sure they hold onto their core assets, let the right guys go and supplement the roster with the best free agents they can get. They have to do it all while keeping to contract limits, staying under the cap and planning for how things will play out for about four years down the line. Unfortunately for fans, a lot of general managers aren't smart enough to do all that. They get blinded by ambition and backed into corners just like ordinary mortals. Sometimes, not being truly psychic, they just pick the wrong players.
So, what does a smart GM do with Carey Price? What does one offer a young, talented, entitled goaltender whom one has already clearly declared will be the go-to guy for the foreseeable future? It's a tough number to determine.
On one hand, you've got Price's resume. He's got the advantage of being a high first-round draft pick, which means the Canadiens already have a lot invested in him. When a team gets to pick in the top-five, it needs that pick to pan out or risk setting the organization back for years. It's easy now to think about what might have happened if the Habs had chosen Anze Kopitar instead of Price, and what the lineup and the cap situation might look like with him at centre instead of Gomez, with Halak in goal. To keep people from dwelling...unhappily...on that "what if," the Canadiens really need Price to be great. They've given him more chances than most young players get, which proves how badly they want him to be a success. So that's in Price's favour.
Also on his side are his minor-league accomplishments; the rather dusty World Junior Championship gold medal and Calder Cup title with the Bulldogs. He's also had some flashes of brilliance at the NHL level and been voted into the league's All-Star game.
Balancing the scale on the other side, though, is his inconsistency. There's certainly cause for concern there. Price has long had a penchant for allowing a soft or weird goal at bad times, which means he's not usually a "shutout" type of goalie. In two of his three NHL seasons, he's had a long stretch of losing games and found himself unable to bounce back. In his rookie year, he was sent to Hamilton to recover. Last year, he lost his starting job to Jaro Halak. Of course, losing isn't always the goalie's fault. As any cliche-monger will tell you, it's a team game, and often, when Price has been losing, the rest of the team has sucked too. Overall, Price's career numbers aren't bad.
There are also questions about his maturity. We've all seen him act out on the ice when he's angry or disappointed. We've heard the stories about him busting the drywall in the visitor's room after one loss, and crying after others. We've wondered about the allegations that he took a little too fondly to the night life in Montreal. On the flip side, most of his teammates and his boss speak positively about his acceptance of the backup role during the playoffs and his hard work when he wasn't playing.
His agent will surely argue that Price's stats compare favourably to other young goalies like Cam Ward and Marc-Andre Fleury at the same age. And, if negotiations go really hard-ball, Price's camp has in its favour the indisputable fact that Pierre Gauthier's back is to the wall. Gauthier has chosen Price over Halak, and hired the unimpressive Alex Auld to back him up. This is Price's team, and that's inevitably going to play in contract talks. It's too late now to muse that maybe Gauthier should have tried to sign Price before trading Halak, or at least before signing Auld. Price's number-one annointing has given him the trump card in these negotiations.
So, what should he get? As we know, goalies are usually a dime a dozen, and as we've seen this summer, there are usually a few good ones kicking around for hire at a decent rate. With that in mind, and considering that Price is basically a big 'ol bundle of potential tied up with unanswered questions, there's an argument to be made for him to get a one-year deal at similar money to what he would have made last year if he'd hit his bonuses; about two million dollars. A one-year deal tells Price that yes, he's the number-one guy right now, but continuing in that role will depend on his performance in the coming season. An audition year, if you like. A do-over on last season.
The very fact that the team wants so badly for Price to succeed, however, means Gauthier won't play hardball. Price's agent will argue for a long-term deal, at least four years, with an escalating salary. It's safe to bet Price will come in at around a three-million dollar cap hit for four years, slightly more if the deal is for five seasons.
There are always hard choices to make in the summertime, but for Pierre Gauthier, this one is a career-maker. Or breaker. It's all up to Carey Price.