Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak: Goaltending Duos Have Worked in the Past—And Now?
Taken fifth overall in the "Sidney Crosby" draft of 2005, Carey Price has been the face of the goaltending future for the Montreal. The club has staked its future in Price.
Taken 271st overall in the "Alexander Ovechkin" draft of 2003, Jaroslav Halak has been a solid goaltending prospect within the organization. The club believes they have great depth with Halak.
Price and Halak have become Montreal's top goaltending prospects, the likes of which the club has not had since both Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun were highly touted prospects within the organization.
With the recent struggles of Price, it has been stated many times within the Bleacher Report community that perhaps he is overrated—that he has been partying too much.
It has also been rumored that perhaps his injury was more severe that he let on, or that his new red pads, worn since he returned from injury, were affecting his play.
Whatever the case may be, for now, Halak has been playing above and beyond expectations, and that is not a bad thing; for the Montreal Canadiens or Price.
Looking Back: How History Can Solve Montreal's Current Dilemma
Price, who has been referred to as "Jesus Price" by some, has been christened Montreal's next saviour by the media and fans alike.
Although this can be fairly warranted by his play during the 2006-07 World Junior Championships and the Hamilton Bulldogs' Calder Cup run of 2007 as well as his play during the 2007-08 NHL regular season, something was a miss during the Canadiens' playoff run.
Although it could be suggested that Price has perhaps played too much hockey in the last two seasons, it would be unfair at this point to call him overrated, or even washed up. Mike Toth even stated on sportsnet.ca that Price could perhaps be the next Jim Carey.
As a student of history, and an aspiring history teacher, I have learned that we can take a look at the future by looking at the past, and Montreal's current goaltending solution could be solved by one easy solution: a goaltending tandem.
Although it has never been stated by either Bob Gainey or Guy Carbonneau, it has always been assumed that Price is the Montreal Canadiens starting goaltender, with Halak as his backup.
This is an acceptable situation, with logic being that a goaltender as young as Price may need a moral boost to play to his potential. This logic worked through December 2008.
Although there are some teams that use the same goaltender on a consistent basis, Montreal can clearly not be one of them, and it shows throughout the last three decades. Gainey and Carbonneau only have to reflect on their past careers to potentially solve any goaltenidng controversies that may arise in Montreal in the near future.
The Last Glory Years
Once Ken Dryden came back from his year-long hold out during the 1974-75 season, he would start a streak—along with Bunny Larocque—as great goaltending tandems in the Canadiens history.
During the 1973-74 season, Gainey's first as a Hab, the Canadiens were missing Dryden, who was finishing his law requirements while holding out in a contract dispute. Dryden believed he deserved a boost in salary due to a Calder, Vezina, and Stanley Cup in previous seasons.
In 1973-74 Gainey experienced first hand how a team could potentially thrive and compete without much scoring or a solidified No. 1 tending the net.
On a team where the highest point producer only reached 80 points, Wayne Thomas, Bunny Larocque, and Michel Plasse helped lead the Habs to a 99 point season—not bad for a team without its superstar goalkeeper.
After his return from holding out, Dryden solidified himself as Montreal`s primary option in net.
It is interesting, in theory, to compare Dryden to the era`s other top keepers.
Goaltenders such as Gerry Cheevers, Bernie Parent, and Tony Esposito, among others, would play in the majority of their team's games with all three leading their teams to Stanley Cup finals, with Parent capturing back to back Cups in 1974 and 1975. Cheevers won with the Bruins in the early 70s.
This theory, however, was not used by Scotty Bowman. Bowman only played Dryden in more than 60 games once in a season during their consecutive Cup run during the late 1970s. Bowman used Dryden and Larocque as more of a duo than stating one as his primary keeper.
Recently, I`ve read Dryden's memoirs, The Game. He makes no mention of wanting to play more than Bunny, or that he was jealous when Larocque played.
Dryden, it seems, relished the concept of a team: playing together for a common goal.
Gainey was a part of this theory, and he saw, throughout the late 1970s, that a goaltending tandem works.
Dryden played in 56, 62, 56, 52, and 47 games off his return in 1974-75 until his retirement in 1979. Larocque suited up for 25, 22, 26, 30, and 34 games during that same time frame, fairly even numbers for a 1A and 1B tandem.
In theory, Dryden and Larocque preformed admirably, although it was not that rough with a Hall of Fame cast ahead of them.
The two captured four Vezina* trophies together during their time together as a duo, numbers that reflected more on teamwork than anything else.
If one of the greatest hockey talents, as well as a brilliant hockey mind, did not mind the fact that he was being rested both mentally and physically for a grueling playoff toll, why could this theory not work in the present?
The Lost Years: 1980-1986
When Dryden retired in 1979, there was worry about how the team would perform. With the defection of Scotty Bowman to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal was left without its architect and its playoff rock in net.
Although the time between their Stanley Cup in 1979 and the one in 1986 did not bring much playoff success for the Habs; advancing past the second round once, they did however have success in net.
Two important things happened to the Canadiens during the 1980-81 season: Gainey was named as captain of the team and a Vezina trophy awarded for its trio of goaltenders.
Bunny Larocque, Richard Sevigny, and Dennis Herron helped lead the team to a third place overall finish—capturing a Vezina Trophy for their efforts.
Montreal continued its success in net the next season, with Rick Wamsley and Dennis Herron capturing the inaugural William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals scored against.
The capture of the Jennings, as well as the Vezina before that, signified that Montreal was working as a team. Although they were having success during the regular season, they could not regain the same type of success that they had with Dryden, that is until Patrick Roy came along.
By the time the 1985-86 season had rolled around, Gainey had experience both the highs and lows of being a Montreal Canadien. He had experienced the glory of the late 1970s, and the painful lost years of the early 1980s.
Although he had seen the highs and lows of the organization, it was clearly evident that the backbone of the organization was in the use of a goaltender tandem.
When 1985-86 season started, Montreal was in much of the same situation it was in years past, only this time with different players in net.
A trio of goaltenders: Steve Penney, Patrick Roy, and Doug Soetart, helped lead the Canadiens to the playoffs, however it was during those playoffs that Roy separated himself from the three as the Canadiens' top keeper. His separation was short lived.
Much like Price`s early success, Roy did the same. He won a Calder Cup in 1985 as the Sherbrooke Canadiens goaltender—as Price did with the Bulldogs. Montreal, however, seemed to give Roy someone who could take some of the load and pressure off of his shoulders, something the Habs have only recently done.
The Lamborghini and the Cadillac
Francois Allaire, Montreal`s revolutionary goaltending coach, once compared Roy and Hayward as the Lamborghini and the Cadillac.
Roy was the Lambo: fast, flashy, stylish, and a wild card.
Hayward was the Cadillac: efficient, timeless, and reliable.
Allaire said that if you wanted an exciting night, go with Roy. For a more relaxed and steady time, go with Hayward. Whatever the case, both Carbonneau and Gainey were able to witness first hand how two great goaltenders could work together to both better themselves as well as the team.
Between 1986 and 1990, Hayward and Roy captured three straight Jennings trophies under two different head coaches, both of which would employ the duo almost equally. Roy played in 46, 45, 48, and 54 games a season, while Hayward played in 37, 39, 36, and 29 before he ultimately left the Canadiens.
Roy and Hayward, although at odds at times, suited each other as goaltending partners, showcasing two different styles that worked for the team.
Unlike Bowman`s reign where Dryden played all of the postseason, the Canadiens—under Jean Perron—were not such a team. Perron used the hot hand, a theory which at times worked during the regular season, but cost games during the playoffs for the team.
Burns, on the other hand, utilized both during the regular season, but favoured Roy heavily during the playoffs, a change of theory.
How Does History Help?
By looking at three different times in Montreal Canadiens history, it is easy to see that a goaltending duo has been the norm for the organization for the past 25 years, no matter who was in net.
The duos; and at times trios, of Canadiens' goaltenders may not have always been rich in name, but they fed off of one another and performed on a nightly basis, something the current crop is not doing.
At this point, it would be rather naive to suggest that either Price or Halak should be mentioned in the same breath as Hall of Famers such as Dryden and Roy.
One could compare Price`s early success to that of Roy, and how the organization did not fully trust their young stud so to say.
Although the Habs did trade Cristobal Huet away at last year's deadline, they have kept Halak despite numerous offers for the young keeper to improve other areas of the team—much like how Hayward was brought in after a Calder Cup and Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons by Roy.
If Roy and Halak could be used in a system such as Roy and Hayward were used during the tenure of both Gainey and later Carbonneau as captains of the team in the late 1980s, then this team could potentially rebound in the short term by using the "hot hand" so to say, as well as in the long term.
Had Hayward never pushed Roy for playing time, would Roy have become one of the greatest goaltenders of the past half century?
Hayward's presence, as well as the fact that both Jean Perron and Pat Burns did not let either goalie take starting for granted, allowed both men to compete to their fullest potential. It is through that competitive rivalry that Roy solidified himself as a No. 1 goaltender and All-Star in the NHL.
Price and Halak could become a new age Roy and Hayward—in their own way. Halak's recent emergence during Price's struggles has made the Canadiens brass re-think any possible trading scenario he could have been in.
Should Price and Halak become a 1A and 1B in Montreal, like they should be, the Canadiens could start to develop a bond, or at least build towards the future.
In either case, if Price and Halak were developed much in the way Roy was, with a competitor around, one could step up and solidify his place within the team—like Roy did in the 1989 Cup Finals, playing in 19 of the 21 games. Once Roy established himself, Hayward was expendable.
Down the road the Gainey led Habs could do the same thing if either Halak or Price perform better than the other. For the meantime, a tandem should be in Montreal's plans, and in its best interests.
There will be growing pains in any event, with Price and Halak only being 21 and 23 years old respectively. Canadiens fans can only be patient during these next few years, as the club tries to develop two of the NHL's most promising goaltenders.
Should Gainey and Carbo decide to reflect on their past, they could solidify Montreal's future. As a history student, that's all one can hope for.
*Vezina Trophy was awarded to the goalie(s) with the least amount of goals allowed until 1980-81
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