Thursday, July 23, 2009

Myths and Mythology

Isn't it funny how, when someone seems to come up with a plausible answer to a difficult question, people tend to buy into it until it becomes almost an accepted fact? For centuries, people believed the world was flat because someone needed to explain the horizon. They believed the plague was a punishment from God because they had to explain why so many thousands were dying. Now the prevailing sentiment among Habs fans is that Carey Price needs a veteran mentor backing him up because they need to explain why he went off the rails so badly last year.

I think the "veteran mentor" theory is right up there with the flat earth, heavenly vengeance and bleeding sick people to let out the bad humours. What's a veteran supposed to do with Price anyway, I wonder? If it's to teach him to handle pressure, I think he probably knows a bit about that on his own, based on his experiences in international play, his Calder Cup run and two seasons in Montreal. If it's to teach him how to play goal, well, he's got a goalie coach for that. And if it's to show him how to live like a grownup and a professional, you'd think that, at 22 years of age, he's got an inkling of what that's all about...even if he had to learn some of it the hard way.

This is a third-year professional we're talking about. He's young, true, but he's hardly an NHL virgin at this point. I believe he was pushed into the NHL too early, perhaps not in terms of his skill level, but maybe in terms of his personal maturity. But retrospect means nothing in the coming season. Price is in the NHL and he's there to stay, so he'll have to make the best of it. I just don't see how having a guy on the bench who's ten years older and will play maybe 20 games is supposed to magically help Price succeed at this point in his career. Playing goal is like being born or have to do it alone. Only one guy can stand in there, and if that's Price, then the guy on the bench, whether it's Halak or some thirty-five-year-old veteran, can't go out and hold his hand.

And the ubiquitous "veteran" goalie covers a whole lot of personalities and intangibles. Just because a guy has played in the NHL for ten years, it doesn't mean he's either a good teacher or a proper example for a 22-year-old number one. If he's been a number-one goalie in the past, there's no guarantee he won't be unhappy with a limited role in Montreal. If he's a career backup, is there really a whole lot he can teach Price about the handling the pressure and conditioning necessary to be a number one? A "veteran" can be surly, spacey, silent, stupid or a party animal as easily as he can be friendly, helpful, patient and responsible. Time in the league doesn't change a guy's basic personality.

We also don't know Price's mindset when it comes to his backups. Maybe he likes working with another guy his own age who understands where he's coming from. Maybe he's learned enough of the basics and needs to progress further on his own, with his own style and in collaboration with his own coach.

I think about last year and what difference a veteran "mentor" would have made to Price. Would the guy have been able to talk him out of coming back from injury too soon, just to be in the All Star game? Would he have been in the clubs and said, "Go home, Carey, you have to be at the rink tomorrow?" Would he have been able to talk Price down from the ledge of disaster on which he stood after the break last season? Somehow, I think these are things a guy can only learn by going through them himself. Young guys tend to listen with one ear to the advice of their elders and let it pass right out the other in any case.

I know the year upcoming really depends on Price and Halak and their ability to find consistency. But I think they can do it together, and the myth of the "veteran mentor" can finally be laid to rest. After all, now we know the world is round and the plague was caused by bacteria. I hope we soon learn that Carey Price can be the goalie we need, all by himself. And Jaroslav Halak can be a capable backup and partner for Price, even if he's not 35 years old.


DB said...

Imagine you're a young, hotshot writer just hired by a big publication. The hiring was at the insistence of the publisher, Bob over the objections of the editor, Guy. The assistant editor, Rollie, thinks you are talented, but wants you to make some fundamental changes to your writing style.

You try and go along with the changes, but find them unnatural and you're writing suffers. The editor is unhappy with your performance, but won't talk with you. Instead he gives more responsiblity to a talented, but lesser known European writer. In the meantime the publisher wants you to get more responsibility.

After two years of this just how screwed-up would you be? We know how screwed-up Carey is.

J.T. said...

@DB: I'm not arguing the fact that Price has been handled really badly. My point is to question what the real use of a veteran mentor backup would be to him, since a large percentage of Habs fans think such a role model would be a cure-all for Price.

To take your metaphor, imagine the publication had a veteran writer already in residence. He could try to teach you the ropes of the writing business and how to handle all the BS around you...but he's never been in your situation before, and maybe he's not too keen on playing second fiddle to a young hotshot anyway. You could try to emulate his style, but then you're not really yourself or any kind of an original, are you? That's my point.

jeffery van den engh said...

you don't have a point. you're fishing for guppies here. you are a good enough writer but this entire subject is merely pandering to the what ifs of an intangible theory. A veteran, no veteraan, the kid needs better defense in front of him plain and simple. Brodeur would never have been Brodeur on a different team with a looser defensive mind.

J.T. said...

@Jeff: Sorry to disappoint, but I do indeed have a point. It's a counter argument for those who are convinced Price would have no problems if he had had a veteran mentor on the bench behind him.

And, for the record, I completely agree with the need for a better defence. Would Roy have won in '86without Robinson, Green, Svoboda, Chelios, Ludwig, Lalor and Gingras backing him up? Maybe not. Brodeur certainly wouldn't be where he is without the Lemaire system that prevails to this day in Jersey. If Gainey's managed to buy a better D, Price will be measurably better as well.

DB said...

I agree with you that a veteran netminder would not have helped Price. I was pointing out what I feel were the reasons for his poor performance. He was put in a very poor situation where his bosses did not agree on the approach to take with him and gave him conflicting signals. Very few experienced people can deal with that type of situation so to expect a young player, whether they have a veteran mentor or not, to thrive in that situation is unrealistic.

PS - keep up the good work. You write one of the best sports columns out there.

jeffery van den engh said...

no offense intended. I do see the point you are trying to make. The counter-argument i suppose is that Gainey should have kept Huet and i understand your point of view in seeing the other side of the transaction. Would keeping Huet have helped Price develop. Coincidentally, Price's game did drop off after Huet's departure, not immediately, in fact, he shined in the weeks following Huet's trade, but in the long run he showed his fledgling faults. But Price, and i believe this is the crux of your point, needs to stand on his own and adding a veteran is no guarantee that the added presence would be beneficial. The only guarantees are between Carey's ears.

Shan said...

I don't know how to describe it. A cliché? A placebo? A bit of both perhaps. But you're right, sometimes it just comes down to hockey... and if the puck is going in or he's not trying his best, perhaps that's just because it's part of the game and it's a tough game. All this speculation about what's wrong with him and how to fix him. I'm sure if he starts playing well again people will seem to suddenly know why and how it turned around. That the new team identity rejuvenated him or Jacques Martin is having an effect. The truth is people wouldn't know why just as no one really knows why he had a bad season. A veteran goalie will do nothing.

geezer said...

J.T., the problems with Price was not about his talent nor his ability to withstand pressure on the ice. The problems were maturity (or lack of) on a personal level and no one close at hand to lend an ear or a strong guiding hand. I don't think that there are many 19-20 year olds with money who can do a good job of keeping themselves on the straight and narrow in deportment, diet, personal maintenance and healthy habits, etc. Gainey should have done something along the lines of what Mario has done for Sidney, if not have Carey live with him, then billet him out with a nurturing family. To take a kid out of the woods in northern BC and throw him into the glaring lights of Rue Crescent was mismanagement of the highest order.

Hadulf said...

This will be Price's make-it-or-break-it year, IMO.

I know he has talent but playing him 50-55 games would be enough I think. Speaking of consistency, I think Halak showed a lot more consistency than Price. So giving Halak 30ish games would be a good way to secure a few victories and to limit the damage caused by Price's inconsistancy.

Ted said...

JT - I enjoy your writing and many times agree with your point of view. In this instance however, I would fall into the camp in which a veteran would have helped. I pont to two cases
1) Sydney Crosby has been and remains (to the best of my knowledge) in Mario Lemieux's house during the season. I think that has worked out pretty well
2) When Price had Huet around it gave him a sounding board. Huet had a calming personality which would have assisted in his development.

I agree that it can't be just any goalie but one in which there is a common respect would go a long way in assisting a young man through the hard times. Everybody else is there for the good times only.

J.T. said...

I agree with all of you who say that Price's maturity and need for guidance has been an issue with him. I maintain though, that a veteran backup wouldn't have made much difference with those lifestyle issues. He doesn't need an on-ice mentor. He needs a babysitter.

saskhab said...

Yeah, I don't get the veteran backup argument, either. The only reason I thought getting one might be a good idea, was that maybe he'd provide a more consistent level of play than a Price/Halak tandem that could be prone to hard lessons in confidence. I don't think Mathieu Garon or Dwayne Roloson would be better at helping Price out in becoming a pro... becoming a pro is a lesson he can learn from Andrei Markov or Hal Gill or whoever.

I also think it's really short sighted of people to believe that his third professional season is somehow his make-or-break year. Cam Ward's 3rd professional season was incredibly mediocre, and so was his 4th. Patrick Roy's 2nd through 4th professional seasons were pretty mediocre as well. Bobby Luongo was having a hard time asserting himself as a #1 goalie with freaking Trevor Kidd as his backup. Let's let the kid learn how to be a top goalie, no matter how long it takes. He's hardly close to his prime years at age 22.

Christopher Sama said...

When people mention that Price needs (or needed) a veteran back-up to act as a mentor, I think of a weatherworn been-there done-that type of guy who knows when to tell the cryptic story from the past, knows when to be quiet and let the kid suffer, and knows when to give a good, hard kick in the pads.

It really doesn't matter how good of a player he is - or was - he just needs to know how to corral Price.

Robert Redford comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

The point of the post was that we parrot stories that we hear until we have convinced ourselves that they are true. The arguments are not facts, and they are not philosophical because we can acquire the facts if we have access to those in question.

Whether or not Carey Price's performance would be improved by the presence and guidance of a veteran goaltender is known only to Price. After watching him stumble with Huet on the bench, and blossoming during Huet's injury, I would argue that Price does not need a mentor. But that's all I have to support my argument, therefore it is mere speculation.

In contrast to many of the comments on here, I am greatly encouraged by the direction that J.T. is taking. We are witnessing what is arguably the most mature sports writing available.

punkster said...

I've said this before here, back when the Price issues were being debated by all during the season. He's a kid and kids have to learn how to survive on their own. Making mistakes is part of growing. No mentor or chaperone is going to make Price a more mature individual. Only Price can do that.

Patrick said...

I must admit you write one of the best column on the habs in the "business" (though you're not in it really--at least I assume), in both languages (my mother language is French).

In fact, RDS just don't reach your ankle, and that's not saying much of them (with all due respect for your great blog).

Anyway, keep up the good work. It's a pleasure reading you. (The intro on mythology is just great.)

By the way, you know the Spornographe?

Unknown said...

I agree with what your post is getting at JT. I think Price needs to figure this all out maily by himself with the help of any of the veterans that are around. I don't think it matters one bit if there is a veteran goalie backing him up.

I also like the conclusions that everyone can jump too about Price.

-His play declined once Huet left; when Huet was there, Price had a terrible stint where he had to go back to the minors. He found his game, came back and took the number one job from Huet making him expendable. After he left, Price was playing his best hockey down the stretch. He played brilliant, until he dropped the puck on a Bruins stick to lose a game. That is just a young guy trying to do too much, and when you mess up like that it will rock anyone's mind. He played relatively poorly after this mistake. I don't think having a vet goalie behind him telling him not to worry would make a difference, you don't think the 23 other guys on the team were telling him the same thing.

Unknown said...

Point two, last summer he was a champ, he got in great shape and came to play. Up until his injury he was the best player on the team, and the only reason we won most of our games. I remember a bunch of habs fans warning everyone else to watch out once the team started playing well, cause we were winning mostly on Price's shoulders at the time.

Then, the ankle injury. Could have a veteran back up stopped that? I very much doubt it. Also a very important aspect to a goalie is his ankles. Coupled with his return after an injury, the team in front of him was crap. Not the best way to get back in and get some confidence. This may have been the only time a vet back up could have helped, cause the vet could be tossed in for a bunch of games in a row while Price got his act together, and Price wouldn't have had to feel scared about his job.

Now the partying situation. I have heard that he does it lots, I cannot confirm this. I see fanatical habs fans writing things about how he parties nights before the game, and things like this. I just can't see how Carbo, or Bob would let Price roll into practices, and games hung over without there being any repercussions. These guys live at the rink. Ya he probably partied a bit too much, but not the crazy amount some people think (my opinion, no facts).

Unknown said...

All, in all I find it laughable that someone said this is his make it or break it year.

He was deemed to have a stellar first year. His second year his numbers weren't as good, save % dropped by .15, and GAA went up by .3. However, very similar numbers to Kipper (who is deemed as a very solid #1).

This dip also occurred on a team who had a 100 year anniversary to contend with, as well as allegations of criminal activity, and a sew of other things.

All in all, settle down and let the kid play, he'll possibly be a Gem down the road, otherwise a very capable #1 for his career.