Well, I'm away on holiday right now, and one thing I can tell you is that there are a LOT of Habs fans outside Quebec, even in the territory of some other teams. In fact, I have seen many, many more Canadiens' sweaters, hats, t-shirts, Youppi air fresheners and beach towels than I have of those pimping the other team (which shall remain nameless) in whose fandom I'm vacationing. It also appears that many of those red, white and blue t-shirt wearers are both fans of Carey Price, based on the numbers on the backs of said t-shirts, and worried about Price not having signed yet, based on conversations with some of them. Numbered among their worries are the fear of an offer sheet from another team, fear of a holdout by Price and concern that the team is playing hardball and risks alienating the kid.
I figure devotees of Price's should relax and accept two likely situations. First, he'll sign soon because he's restricted, nobody has yet sent an offer sheet his way and he's got little to gain by holding out. Second, this will probably happen again.
Price is an interesting case. He's been given the keys to the kingdom, which should translate to a solid number-one goalie kind of contract. On the other hand, he's not got the solid number-one stats to justify that kind of deal. The Canadiens have publicly and, with the trade of Jaro Halak, unequivocally, staked their future on the kid and want a long-term deal. They're also probably thinking they can use his stats to get a bargain. Price, on the other hand, surely believes he can do better, and wants to keep a deal short so he can re-set the last couple of years and try to improve his numbers. In the end they'll compromise, and Price will probably sign a two or three-year deal for a little less money than he likely wants. The team will bend on term and Price will bend on price. They'll have it wrapped up by training camp.
The problem for Price is, all this adds to the pressure to perform he'll already be facing. The number-one job is going to be tough enough, with no Halak or Huet behind him to be his safety net. Add the pressure of playing for a contract, and that turns up the heat already on him. That's just the internal pressure. He'll also have to deal with the expectations of a fanbase that fell in love with Halak in the playoffs, many of whom will have little patience for the guy who didn't get traded, if he doesn't perform right out of the gate. So, one of two things will happen. He'll either prove the newfound maturity his teammates remarked about during the playoffs is real and he'll handle the pressure better than he has in the past. Or, he'll prove the stick-breaking, eye-rolling, wall-punching Price is the real one, and he'll suffer under the unrelenting eyes of Montreal fans and media.
I believe Price is a little bit of both. He's probably maturing, but the sulky hothead is still a part of him as well. It's going to be a challenge for him this year, and over the duration of a short contract, to let the mature guy control his game most of the time. That's why I think we won't see the best he can offer a team in the next couple of years. He may be good, but while he struggles to grow up...with the understanding that he's playing for his future on top of it...it'll be very difficult for him to be great. There will be brilliant nights and there will be stinking ones. He'll hear ovations and jeers. The question is whether the deal he signs now will be long enough for him to achieve more of the former and learn how to tolerate the latter. A short deal, which is what he and his agent are pushing for, will likely mean another summer like this one when it ends, because he'll think he can do better and the team will be looking for a bargain if he's inconsistent.
The worst-case scenario here would be if the team manages to win its push for a couple of years more on this contract. If Price has the freedom to walk away when this deal ends, he'd be within his rights to do so after living through the struggle of growing into his talent under a very jaundiced eye in Montreal.
I wonder if Price really has long-term plans for playing in Montreal after his early experience there in any case. The organization is making him THE young star around which the team will be built. There really hasn't been another guy in that situation. All the other Habs stars, like Roy, Lafleur, Beliveau, Robinson, Savard and Shutt had either a supporting cast, or time to grow into the roles they eventually assumed. Price is unique in that he's been shoved to the fore and announced as the future of the team; a thoroughbred, before he's ready to be a saviour. There's no established hero or francophone favourite to take some of the heat off him. And those other guys had a real razzle-dazzle sort of component to their personalities that warmed up under the limelight. Price tolerates it. I've no doubt he likes the perks being a star brings, but I think he doesn't enjoy the scrutiny of performance that comes with it. I always get the feeling Carey Price grew up wanting to play hockey because the game is fun, but he can have fun without the stuff he hates, like public pressure and constant criticism, somewhere else. The only link he has to Montreal is that the Canadiens happened to be the team that drafted him, and that's a link easily broken in today's professional leagues.
I want Price to earn whatever contract he signs so there are no doubts about his value or his ability when his next deal comes around. With the way negotiations are going right now, though, I think it's shaping up to be a difficult couple of years for him during which he may or may not develop as a player. And I think whatever happens in this contract will set the tone for whether he's a career Hab or a star who might have been. In light of that, it's a good thing this deal is taking a while to construct. All parties need to be very careful and very sure about what they're asking for and the consequences therein.
Now, back to vacation.