Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Price Price?

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.


CheGordito said...

The Canadiens want Price long-term at a reasonable salary. At least five years in the deal, I would imagine, probably more, so at least a few years of his unrestricted free agency are locked up as well. Going through the factors you listed and the fact that the organization is lost without him, do you really want to let a fabulous year by Price make him too expensive?

He wasn't eligible for arbitration this time around, and I don't know contract details well enough to know the timeframes of RFA/RFA-4/UFA, but I imagine the team has the most leverage right now - outplayed for his job, still few external options.

The team can claim that it's shown a lot of trust in him as the go-to person, in the recent past and further ago. They'll use that to get him to sign a long-term deal. And I'm wishing that signing will be the last boost his confidence needs to return to year 0 levels, but with more skill and work ethic :)

Anonymous said...

If you have a good team and a mediocre goaltender you can go a long way (Philly, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit..). A mediocre team with a good goaltender won't go as far (Devils, Sabres, Canucks..). The Habs should concentrate on building a better team because they already have the mediocre goaltending thing going for them. Unfortunately, the fans and the team think they have good goaltending (with Halak they did) and are now preparing to overpay and short change the other positions on the team. Price has done nothing to deserve a raise let alone a long term deal but he'll probably get it.

Anonymous said...

Just say No to NTC...

Really, 3 to 5 years or $2M to $4M doesn't matter as long as you can ship him outta town.


moeman said...

Good read J.T.

I suggest 3 years at $9M, escalating from $2M>$3M>$4M. Habs need to place it's bet hard.

Also, methinks Price'll earn that dough and do well. I can accept the discussion and details but the kid has been all right and I think he will, definitely, be a great one (disclaimer, I play goal).

My only real concern are the rabid nutjobs in the Montréal media. For some reason they enjoy ripping certain players for very little. Once, just once, I'd like to see the spotlight turned on one of those hacks/jackals. I doubt many of them would want their personal life exposed to the lies and innuendo that they themselves perpetrate.

Anonymous said...

Amazing to me that so many fans would like to see Price get around 3 mil per season when he has yet to earn a starting job in the NHL. To me he deserves Nittymaki or Leighton money. How can Price fool so many people?

Anonymous said...

Ship him outa town, I like that.

Anonymous said...

You're assuming that Price will re-sign with the Habs. I'm not 100% certain that will be the case in the long run. I'm on the side of thinking this will be another Ellis case where he'll say the right things and then sign somewhere else as soon as he gets the chance.

Time will tell if I'm right.

MC said...

I think JT is in the right ball park for salary. The tricky question is term. For a goalie who has yet to prove himself, I would not give him more than 2-3 years. He would still be a RFA when you resign him.

Anonymous said...

It is all too easy to place blame on unfair journalists and fans. The bottom line is that if a player PERFORMS on the ice then everyone shuts up. It is usually only when a player gives reason for dissent that it raises it's ugly head. Neither Price or management is entirely blameless in this story.
PG has given Price the ball and it is up to him to carry it as the time for excuses is long past.

J.T. said...

@anon (the one amazed at the suggested salary range): It's not a matter of what WE think Price deserves. I completely agree, based on last year, I'd give him two million at the very, very most. BUT the piece is about what I suspect Gauthier will do, and based on the kid-glove treatment Price has received to date, I think he'll overpay.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy all your articles and hope they continue throughout the summer. I love the Habs and hockey and never get tired of the discussion surrounding the NHL and the Habs in particular. I understand your article was about Gauthier and what he will most likely do and not your feelings on the matter. I'm just so disheartened that the people in charge are so dilusional.

V said...

'Kid-glove treatment' is often taken as a critique but it simply refers to the tendency for us to give careful and delicate treatment to things of high value. As we should.

If Price has received kid glove treatment - not sure whether being thrust into the starting role upon arriving with the Habs is 'kid-glove treatment' or 'trial-by-fire' (a very different concept) - it is in reference to his current and perceived future value. I don't see anything wrong with this - if we are lucky enough to own a Mercedes treating it with more deference than our Chev is a good thing.

Team management obviously thinks he's a Mercedes and I admire the fact they have staked their season (and possibly their jobs) on it. No matter how we define his treatment, we will soon see whether it has worked. If it does, let's give three cheers for 'kid glove treatment.'

Anonymous said...

I don't know J.T. I suspect there is a lot going on right now throughout the league. For some teams money is tight (cap) and they have valuable young players who are RFA. A lot of the valuable young players were on two way contracts. A lot would ignore an offer sheet figuring their team would match. But you know, an offer sheet of a one way contract for even two million could cause a stir in some quarters. A little cash room is helpful sometimes, and might prevent some teams from having to buy out or bury a really good but overpaid player.

Then there are adjustments to factor in. Contemplated retirements, possible trades, guys who might make the team from the AHL. Heck guys who might make the team from anywhere. So if you run out and sign Lapierre and Price, dust your hands, announce that's it, a lot of things could go wrong.

Right now Kovalchuk has the league bound up, sort of like a steady cheese diet, and something you would expect under Bettman's stewartship. Once he is straightened out a few more players should move, then the teams will shake themselves out. Remember also Lapierre was overpaid last year and Price was underpaid.

Anonymous said...

This is all going to be a huge fiasco...
I'm just wondering how much time it will take for it to happen.
Let's just wish I am wrong.

Patccmoi said...

I don't mind the 3M/year if we sign him long term (4-5 years) with no NTC.

If it's less than 4 years, the salary cap has to be lower imo. Because you take a risk there by giving him pretty high salary : last year, he didn't deserve 3M, and he didn't the year before either. But at the same time, the reason why the organization kept him is because they believe that he WILL be better in the near future. And I expect it too.

So if you offer him this contract long term, you take a chance on him by believing in his potential, but not on something he showed at the NHL level yet. On his side of the bargain, he need to respect that vote of confidence by accepting that he might be playing for less than he's worth in 4-5 years, but if he plays well then he don't have to worry because his next contract will be big, and he has more than 5 years left to play (at least if all goes well).

If he prefers short term to prove that he's worth more than 3M/year, then that short term salary cap should be low. If he sign for 2-3 years, I don't think he should get above 2.5M/year, and that's already pretty high.

V said...

On the subject of Price, I would suggest that management needs to go one better than having Price perform great... I think he needs to be a generational sort of player (something approaching a Brodeur) to make their level of support for him make sense. I think this is what they are holding out for.

I get that current thinking suggests teams can get by with good to very good goaltending, but a fantastic goalie gives you such an advantage over other teams - we just say what it can do with Halak. In the long term, they need to get that sort of performance consistently out of Price to make all this work as well as it can (and obviously thought they were more likely to get it mid-long term from Price). Despite that, I don't think Gauthier's job rides on this Price move... if the club does well without Price (he bombs and they overcome it with a trade or some other move) management is safe. Management gets rated on results and can achieve them in two primary ways - making good moves and recovering from bad ones.

On a completely separate note, I notice on HIO today an article from a Boston reporter suggesting the Bruins demote Ryder to the AHL.

Those who criticize Canadiens management should consider players like this - it could be the Habs saddled with this player if not for an astute (and unpopular in many quarters) decision a few years ago.

Every management team makes winning and losing moves. I read every second day the list of losing moves by Habs management (they get copied and reposted on multiple sites). But the list of winning moves is also long - and includes bad deals that management did not do (they don't get credit for these because they aren't public - only management (and in some cases ownership) know about these).

In my view, at the end of the day, all that matters is where the club finishes at the end of the year. The season ends when the Stanley Cup is awarded, not the end of the regular season. Where you finish at the regular season is only significant to the extent it is a predictor of Stanley Cup play-offs readiness and determines seeding. The season is a tune-up for the playoffs - an opportunity to work out kinks and get ready for the real thing.

And at the end of the year this club finished in the top four. Their end of year finishes have them in the top 6-7 clubs in the NHL over the last 3-4 years. I think this why there is such a disconnect between those that don't like current management and the apparent support current management has from ownership. At the end of the day, this club has delivered well relative to the rest of the clubs in the league and has been trending upward.

Zetterberg said...

Hey J.T I have been following your blog for almost a month and let me tell you , you got yourself a big fan. I don'T Know if you take requests but Can you write an article about our prospects like Eller,Avstin,Girarldi and where the Hell is David Fisher . Thx Keep Up the good Work.