Thursday, September 23, 2010

Consequences

I've been uneasy since the Jaroslav Halak trade last summer, which is kind of strange for me. I really liked Halak, but I'm a team-first kind of blogger. Even if I personally like a player, I'll suck up my own disappointment at his departure if the team is better for it. The Halak trade has been bugging me, though. After last night, I'm starting to understand why. It's because the Halak trade was a terrible mistake.

Now, for those of you who are going to start screaming about people who judge Carey Price on the strength of one lousy pre-season game: chill out. I'm with you on that. My belief that the Halak trade was a mistake is not based on skill at all. I think Price has a lot of talent. I think he's had to learn a lot, and learn it early just to survive in Montreal. But I think people are going to make his professional life in that city so difficult he's going to leave.

I watched the first pre-season game against the Bruins, hoping desperately for Price to shine. I wanted him to come out and announce "I'm the number-one goalie, and the team made the right decision to keep me," by the way he played. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Playing behind three rookie defencemen and three vets more interested in testing out their game legs than in winning that game, Price was left alone a lot. The goals he allowed were by no means entirely his fault, but that didn't matter. He needed to be superhuman, in a pre-season game to win the grudging approval of a few hundred idiots in the rafters of the Bell Centre. Honestly, listening to them, I wished there was a way to pick their mascot...the biggest, loudest, stupidest, drunkest one of them all...and stick him in the net for twenty minutes. Then I'd like Carey Price to boo the hell out of him for everybody to hear.

That's not possible, though. So, we have to deal with real facts. They are:

-Carey Price is a very young goalie who's still learning to be a man as well as an NHL goalie.
-Carey Price is talented but not perfect, and has been inconsistent during his learning process.
-Most fans understand the man is struggling to establish himself, but are aware there's a need for a measure of patience in the matter.
-Some other fans are idiots who feel the need to boo the goaltender the organization has chosen to be its future in his first pre-season game of the season.

The problem with this combination of facts is that Price inevitably makes mistakes, lets in huge stinkers and loses games. Every single goalie in the world does the same thing. Price, however, is the only one unlucky enough to be saddled with the tools in parts of the Bell Centre.

The really dumb thing about it is if a few hundred people jeer the goalie, they can be heard over the thousands of people who are cheering the team. Then, the next day, the story is "Price gets booed." Add to that the fact that Price then gets criticized in public for not facing the media to answer such brilliant questions as "How do you feel about getting booed in a pre-season game," and it gets more ridiculous. If he answers that question with a joke about it only being pre-season, he gets criticized for not taking his job seriously. If he beats himself up, he'll be called mentally fragile. He can't win, and standing there to answer questions that have only obvious answers does nothing to endear him to those asking or to those reading what he says.

It all comes together to create a terrible circle of futility. Price comes out tentatively after facing a huge crash in confidence last season. He gives up a weak goal. Fans start booing. Price gets more tentative. The booing gets louder. Price's confidence drops. He starts thinking too much. He makes a mistake and lets in another goal. The booing gets louder. He makes a save and the idiots give him the sarcastic cheer. Price ducks the media. Media write about how Price is making a mistake to duck questions. Price comes out tentative in the next game and the cycle continues.

If the Canadiens had kept Halak, they could have signed him to a similar deal, perhaps a little less, to the one the Blues gave him. He would have made mistakes, let in stinkers and lost games exactly the same as Price will do. The difference is, Halak has never had to live up to anything. He never had to be a hero before he ever played a game in the NHL. He never attracted the attention or the expectations of the idiots. He could have survived in Montreal.

Carey Price will not survive. Nobody could, under these circumstances. He can be as bright and talented as he wants, but the yahoos in the cheap seats don't want to deal with his growing pains. They expected a franchise goalie, and they let him have it when he disappoints. The team is supporting him now, but there's a limit to how long that will last if Price's play starts costing them games.

The common argument to the contrary is that this is nothing new. Jacques Plante said there was nothing worse than having a red light go on and 16-thousand people boo every time he made a mistake at work. Ken Dryden wrote about hearing every boo and every time the crowd started chanting for Bunny Larocque. Patrick Roy threw up his hands in frustration when the crowd jeered him. Those Hall-of-Famers heard the criticism and felt the intended insults keenly. They were also established pros with a history of winning by the time the boos rained down. They weren't youngsters just trying to carve out a career. Plante and Dryden had the crowd early because they were playing on powerhouse teams. Roy pulled off a miracle Cup in his rookie year and bought himself three or four years of tolerance. Price doesn't have either of those advantages. Plante was a native son, Dryden was a mature rookie at 23 and Roy was the cockiest SOB on the planet. Price doesn't have those points in his favour either. He's got a hard job to win back the fans who want to make his home starts embarrassing and miserable whenever he makes a mistake.

It's not even all the fans' fault either. Team management built him up to be the hero people were told to expect. When he didn't turn out to be that hero, some fans reacted like spoiled children and turned on him. The situation can't go on indefinitely, if only because Price is coming to the point in his career at which he can get away from the situation he's in.

And, really, who wouldn't want to bail? Who among those who yell at Price would choose to remain in an environment in which his professional performance is constantly criticized, dissected and examined? If Price remains in Montreal when he's legally allowed to bolt, I will be shocked.

That's why trading Halak was a huge mistake. Price might be a better goalie than Halak, or he might not. In Montreal he'll never have the peace he needs to learn how to be his best. He will leave, and what will happen then? The Canadiens will have no young, talented goalie. They'll be like every other team trying to sign or trade to fill a position at which they were stacked last summer.

I want Price to succeed, but he's going to have to be extraordinarily mentally strong to put up with the crap he hears in Montreal. The only way he can turn things around is by winning a lot more than he loses. That's tough to do when you're getting crap for every mistake. When it comes time to re-sign, I wonder if he will. I'm very uneasy about the whole situation, and the future of a position about which the Canadiens shouldn't have had to worry.

25 comments:

TonyR. said...

Thanks J.T.,

Excellent analysis of the situation and, sadly, I suspect you are right. I've been teaching for a living for more than 15 years and have never had a bad evaluation; yet, I sometimes feel a lack of confidence just standing and delivering in front of 20 or 30 people. I can't imagine what it must be like for Carey.

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

I agree with everything you said. But what bothered me most about the Halak trade was that Halak seemed to also have more of the confidence of his teammates. I'd have to run stats to support this, but my gut memory of last season about the two goaltenders was that their teammates seemed to do a better job of supporting Halak, of playing for him. I don't know the source of that, if there were things going on in the clubhouse we didn't know about or if Halak's apparent quiet confidence just sat better with his teammates or if there was some other something going on, but I was really upset about the trade for that reason as much as for my own personal preference.

God knows, I'm from Cleveland and we're the capital of "don't get attached to our players because they won't stay" and I'm a Habs fan do or die, but, well, to quote Han Solo, "I've got a bad feeling about this." I only hope it's the pizza I had for dinner and not a real problem for the team.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Well said. Fantastic piece!

Anonymous said...

Very accurate assessment J.T. My big question is why is Montreal management so dense when it comes to optics? Any one with half a brain could see the train wreck that PG and BG had setup for Carey Price. They never gave the kid a chance! Why did they not get him a solid backup to take some of the pressure? Why did they trade Halak so hastily and not have Price signed first? Why did they not encourage Price to do some fence mending IN MONTREAL instead of being incognito in the West? Why? Why? Why? It ALL starts at the TOP as it always has.

Anonymous said...

By the third goal I was mournfully sobbing "Ja-ro, Ja-ro,[sniff]..Jaro..."

I REALLY hope Eller looks good tomorrow. I mean REALLY.

Halak was also less than stellar in his first game, so maybe there is hope.

http://www.bnd.com/2010/09/23/1410972/blues-coach-stays-upbeat-after.html

Paul B. said...

Let's suppose for the sake of discussion that after the second period, Pierre Gauthier and Carey price would have been introduced (center ice) to the crowd. Which one would have been booed more ?

V said...

With due respect Anon, (I am REALLY not trying to be critical) REALLY hoping Eller looks good tomorrow is a little similar to booing Price... it's putting exponentially more pressure on this situation than it deserves and that plays into the hands of those who booed Price.

Eller and Price both need the time to make mistakes and improve and it's up to reasonable and supportive fans to help them get it. I believe the fans booing Price at the rink are in a very small minority - just like they are on these boards. But their presence puts an increased onus on others to stay calm and counteract their influence by supporting the team and the players. That doesn't mean you can't criticize, but if you must do it civaly.

Aferall, this situation has the potential to turn out well. For starters, the players are strongly rallying around Price. Anything that has players bond strongly together in a common cause can be a good thing. And they are doubly motivated because each and everyone of them knows that under different circumstances, they could be the target.

Almost everyone - including some of the most critical reporters - acknowledge how unfair this situation is to Price and are beginning to cut him some slack. Sure, it's after they have already piled on, but there has been a shift in the tone of their reporting over the last day or so.

I agree with JT that the situation has a real potential to end badly. Let's hope the intensified efforts of reasonable fans, his teammates and a slightly contrite press can turn it around.

moeman said...

Great post J. T. I agree 99%. Price needs to win, gain confidence and methinks he'll remain a Hab.

Anonymous said...

I agree with JT and posted a similiar comment on another blog. The thing that scares me as much or more than Carey wanting to walk when he becomes unrestricted is WHO In their right mind will want to come here or develop as a goalie in this organization? The expectations are unbelievably high and if we think we have a problem attracting free agents in general imagine the case for the goalie position. This is insane. Maybe we should have BOSE supply Carey with a shiny pair of noise cancelling headphones!

JF said...

J.T., an excellent summary of what you call the train-wreck that awaits Price and that has really been in the making since Gainey decided three years ago to keep him in Montreal and send Halak to Hamilton. Sadly, I think you may be right. I've had an uneasy feeling about Price since Tuesday's game. I tell myself it's a pre-season game, it means nothing, Price had little support from his defence, he (and all of us) should just forget his lacklustre performance, etc. The uneasy feeling remains. The booing, the derisive chanting, the out-of-proportion reaction to his decision not to speak to the media after the game: all the ingredients for failure, for a total loss of confidence are there, and the pressure will mount with every sub-par performance. Although Price's teammates and most of the media agree that he's matured a lot over the last year, he just may not be able to handle it. If it becomes clear that he can't, the team may try to trade him well before the end of his contract. And there are not a lot of confidence-inspiring goaltenders out there. Is José Theodore still unsigned? Who knows, we could witness his second coming by the end of the season...

Anonymous said...

This is simply hilarious. The panic has set in after a preseason loss. Price will fail and leave town as soon as possible. The Habs should have kept Halak. Another mistake by management. You guys are just too funny. Thanks for the early morning laugh.

Andrew Berkshire said...

JT, there's not a chance in hell Halak would have signed the same deal in Montreal, let alone for less. I would bet my life that had he not been traded he would have gone to arbitration. The bottom line is the organization traded the goalie who didn't ask for a trade, and kept the one who was younger and cheaper.

As for Halak not having expectations, that would change when he could never match last season. As Price said today when he spoke with the media, winning makes everything easier. All you need is one win to get on a roll.

DB said...

And in other news, Chicken Little is reporting that the sky is falling.

It's clear a lot of fans want Price to succeed, but are worried he won't. This fear has overwhelmed some people's objectivity causing them to rant and rave and hurl all sorts of vile comments at Price. Others go down the path that poor play in a few games will snowball into Price falling apart and wanting out of Montreal, leaving The Habs with nothing.

Price might not succeed in Montreal, but so what. All that means is the Habs will have to get another goalie - a task a lot of teams face every year. And a lot of good goalies like Halak, Niemi, Backstrom and Miller have been low draft picks or free agents.

So like Price said we all just need to chill out.

Anonymous said...

did you ever think that Halak's agent was one of the reasons why he wasn't signed? dig deeper and maybe you'll see why.

Hockey critics claim Halak will not do well in the western conference.

Price will turn it around you'll see. He has a full room of players behind him.

Anonymous said...

@ V

I appreciate your points and they are valid. My comments above are unfair to Price and Eller (even though intended as tongue-in-cheek). My views are for purely selfish reasons: I want Eller to play like a top prospect to take the sting off the Halak trade, as I was a big fan. But that is the point- a fan's opinion is often unfair and selfish, which is why it should never be taken too seriously, especially if you are a goalie in Montreal.

Fans are fickle- they will boo you one minute and cheer you liike the second coming of Jesus a minute later. A wise man would not take either too seriously. I am not saying being booed doesn't hurt, but an immature young man would take it a lot harder than he should and CP is not responding like a wise man. You can tell he is hurt by it, to the point where his teammates feel the need to defend him. We may disagree on the proper way for fans to act, but I know one thing for sure: if a Montreal goalie let's an unscreened wrist shot in from the top of the circle, he will be booed in Montreal everytime, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey. Price should stop worrying about things he cannot control (the fans) and focus on the things he can control- like stopping pucks. (Which I REALLY hope he starts doing ;-).

Anonymous said...

Price has the potential to be a Brodeur. That is why management doesn't want to give up on him. Brodeur, in his prime, was more than a goalie. Brodeur moved the puck to his team mates even while stopping it.

When you praise Halak think Theodore. Yep, fans loved him. Floppin and droppin. Flashy saves. Good young goalie. Never achieved anything his team didn't do for him.

The Club is taking a shot on Price, on Eller, on Laps, on all the kids. Some will make it, some won't. In St Louis Halak plays. He is done in Montreal, and may last in the NHL. He may not either.

Sports is about that. Winning. To do that you need to take a chance, otherwise you're always in the middle, going nowhere, achieving nothing. The Montreal Canadiens have been going nowhere for almost two decades now. Some of the reason for that result was from catering to fans and the press. @!!$ that. Management is well paid to manage, and it is about time they finally did. Thank goodness for Mr Gainey starting it with the purge and M. Gauthier for carrying on.

georgieboy said...

@ Janet
Here is a great article supporting your thoughts. It compares more in depth stats regarding how the habs skaters played when in front of JH vs CP.

http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/2010/1/10/1233023/price-halak-the-stats-december-2009

JT... another insightful post. I agree that the pressure upon any goalie is tremendous in La Belle Province. Halak may have been given a pass from the fans due to last seasons amazing post season run however how long would that have lasted? Even with the greats you mentioned, the fans eventually turned on them during a bad outing. I agree that Halak would be the better short term solution and maybe that would be enough because if CP leaves after his 2 year contract then short term is better then nothing...

DT said...

Great post, J.T.
Wait until Eller breaks out this year with 40 goals and some pressure should come off Price for the team saying so long to Halak instead of him. More games lost will turn into wins and the fans that boo and complain all the time now will be stifled.

Anonymous said...

It all comes to the "Damned if he does, Damned if he doesn't.

Like my HIO sig says

"Goalies in Montreal have two roles.... Netminder and Scapegoat.

Anonymous said...

I disagree about the Habs having no young goaltenders in the pipe. Robert Mayer.

Anonymous said...

I agree but disagree, and this is why... Yes Price will struggle to get the fans behind him but I think if he puts up a few good games the crowd will turn to his favor. Also you say Halak wouldn't have been booed, and he wouldn't right away. But he does have huge standards in which he will be measured up to his cup run. Now we don't know how Halak would handle a full season in montreal, he's never had any pressure on him to perform. Anything hes done up to now was unexpected, but we keep him and everyone expects another unbelievable year. Halak goes cold and all of a sudden to boos are out for him. Can he handle it?

Anonymous said...

It's a textbook case for management heading forward. Gainey went above and beyond promoting Price at others expense. Nepotism would describe the situation but for the missing bioligical link. As a young confident and somewhat successful goalie, Price embraced the role and should be held to account for his off ice behaviour. He wanted the spotlight and figured he could handle the pressure. Now that Gainey's gone, nobody will have his back like before. Price will seek a trade and a sorry saga will come to a logical conclusion. All parties will be better off. Open your textbook with Robert Mayer PG, he's from the same neighborhood as Jaro. Don't annoint him #1 let him earn it.

Lisa said...

Agree with what you've said, JT. Price will not thrive or even want to survive in Montreal. And I want him to. Sad how we eat our own, and the powers seem helpless to overcome this.
I posted numerous times and right from the get-go in January on I/O about why he would not make it. Very consistent with what you say above, JT Abuse I took was significant, what a surprise, eh?.
The Halak trade was no surprise to me, what was a surprise was that Halak performed the way he did in spite of the shoddy (yes, shoddy) way the organization treated him. That's what truly won me over completely about Halak forever, that he was able to do that and be so humble about it.
We truly did not know just what we had, and the Habs will live to regret it unless Eller becomes as great a player as Halak now is.

ddawwidd said...

I have nothing personally against Carey Price, but I just keep getting angry when I think how poorly he's been managed by this club. For the last few years, he's been mishandled - just like if someone wanted him to fail.

Before I say something more - keep in mind that I'm mostly writing about Habs' mistakes of the past. Now there's really not much to do but to cheer for the guy and hope for the best. But like JT summed it - there's not much hope.

I agree that Carey Price needed and still needs seasoning, but I disagree that he should have gotten it in Montreal. There is a perfect spot for that and it's called the AHL. Oh yea, right, he won the Calder Cup, right...

See, this is exactly the problem with Canadiens' mishandling of Carey - he should have spent an entire year or two in AHL, through every high and low. He would have had slumps, he would have learnt to cope with them without all the Montreal buzz and he would have become a better, more mature goalie. Instead, the Habs put him in just for the playoffs, when all the lights shone, when the team was hot and when for Carey it was just a big few-week adventure.

Apart from that, this team has removed every single bit of healthy competition from this guy. An earthquake was needed, so that the coach of the team would finally start putting a better playing goalie in nets! It wasn't Carey who traded Huet before the playoffs, it wasn't Carey who dealt Halak to St.Louis and it wasn't Carey who had put himself in front of the said Halak just before the Calder Cup playoffs. As far as I know, Price hasn't also had anything to do with dealing the best AHL goalie of past year for a guy who won't come from Russia for at least another year.

You musn't develop a man in such manner. There should be clear rules, there should be healthy competition and there should be reward for real achievements. What would you say about a parent who would gave keys to the car to a 6-year-old because the kid scored 160 in an IQ test? The Canadiens did just that. You musn't treat any guy like Patrick Roy just because he MAY be Patrick Roy some day. The world is full of young promising goalies who had all the talent in the world, but couldn't develop - this doesn't mean we should start putting their names on Vezina Trophy.

I'm not defending the guys booing their starting goalie - given the circumstances we should do our very best to nurse this fragile boy the club had developed. But as fans, we're practically put in a situation where our club royally f... let's say: spoils a priceless talent (no pun intended) and where they - as if on purpose - destroy any backup base they had. The morons from cheap seats boo, because they feel they've been lied to - for five years they've heard the story of the next Martin Brodeur and unfortunately he's nowhere to be found.

If someone deserves booing here, it's Bob Gainey, Pierre Gauthier and the staff responsible for player development.

Anonymous said...

The boo-birds were jeering management's glaring error in trading the goalie that won with the team as it was. Gauthier and company can dress it up all they want, but the fact is this is Price's 4th season, and thus far he isn't looking all that good.
Dryden won his 1st Cup with an underdog team, as did Roy. The '71 and '86 teams were good, but not comparable to their "dynasty" teams of the 50s, 60s and mid to late 70s. That's why Dryden and Roy are Hall of Famers.