Technically speaking, Montreal Canadien Carey Price has less than a 20 percent chance at being named his country’s starting goaltender at the upcoming Winter Olympics, at which Canada won gold in 2010.
Now, despite his problems in net this past year (a miserable .905 save percentage during the regular season followed by a practically manic-depressive .894 save percentage in the playoffs)—and that isn’t meant as a dig against him or his abilities—he is a legitimate, albeit struggling, starting goalie.
However, the above statement is still an undeniable reflection of how a Canadian goalie outside of the five invitees to the orientation camp—incumbent starter Roberto Luongo, Stanley Cup-winner Corey Crawford, Mike Smith, Braden Holtby and Price—can still realistically play themselves onto the team.
As such, none of those five are truly guaranteed much of anything except a trip to Calgary.
The Other Guys
For the record, the uninvited consists of a field of competitors that includes Cam Ward, Devan Dubnyk, James Reimer and 2010 Olympians Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury. To be fair, looking at those names, Canada chose wisely based on all respective bodies of work, at least at this stage of the game.
Fleury, even discounting his latest failed attempt at mockery of the goaltending position (mockery implies laughter and few Pittsburgh Penguins were likely laughing tied 2-2 against the New York Islanders in the first round), couldn’t so much as hold Brodeur’s jock in 2009-10.
And the now-41-year-old Brodeur, while an undisputed living legend, is so far being over the hill that he arguably wasn’t even good enough back then. He did get replaced by Luongo in that tournament, after all.
Dubnyk, meanwhile, would first have to put together a single winning season before even being considered so much as a No. 1 goalie. And if we’re talking about the potential to play one’s self onto Team Canada, the admittedly deserving Reimer would first have to be given a chance to play for his Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ward, arguably the most technically sound of the bunch, will also have his hands full (of pucks, that is—at least the few that don’t get past him). He, unfortunately, plays on a team whose idea of a big offseason acquisition is defenseman Mike Komisarek, who wasn’t even good enough to play on those very same 32.3 shots-against-per-game Leafs.
The Top Five
All that being said, anything is possible.
Even if it wasn’t and Canada was beyond a doubt going to choose from those first five goalies named, it would be a mistake for Habs fans to assume Price has the inside track to the starter’s position.
That would be Luongo, who, like his predecessor in Brodeur in 2006 and 2010, will be given every chance to reassume the position. That’s just logical. Just look at the Vancouver Canucks’ inability to unload him and them trading Cory Schneider instead as an omen (or, more likely, a sign of general manager Mike Gillis’ incompetence).
On the plus side for Canadiens fans, if history does in fact repeat itself, whoever is ultimately seen as the first backup could realistically end the tournament in the crease, with a gold medal around their neck or not. Consider that job Price’s to lose.
Price has the pedigree—having been selected fifth overall in 2005—the All-Star selections (three) and the international experience (gold medal at the 2006-07 World Junior Championship). Canada’s hypothetical confidence in him to, well, pretty much keep the bench warm during the tournament would be justified.
That is, of course, assuming Luongo doesn’t screw up at any one point—which, let’s agree, is not really something for which Canadian Habs fans should really hope, NHL allegiances be damned.
Price’s only real competition for that No. 2 job should be Holtby, who may just as easily be thought of by many as a bit of an odd selection to even be invited to the orientation camp due to a lack of experience. He admittedly has just one “full” season of experience under his belt at the age of 24.
By the same token, though, Mike Smith has only been good for one full year himself and is already exiting his prime at 31. And while Corey Crawford is just coming off a Stanley Cup win, there are still many questions regarding his reliability in net.
I mean, one full month after the finals, the Philadelphia Flyers still think Ray Emery was the Chicago Blackhawks’ No. 1 goalie. But, hey, it is Philadelphia signing a goalie that we’re talking about, so, you know, grain of salt and all.
Nevertheless, if one championship run is all it takes to earn the backup role, please refer to the paragraph regarding Fleury above.
As Brodeur proves, championships won should not enter into this conversation. Skill, capability and unflappable calmness under pressure should, and Holtby has demonstrated most if not all three.
Holtby is an anti-Price if you will, an unappreciated fourth-round pick who started off this past 48-game season ice cold, allowing 39 goals in his first 13 appearances. Very much unlike Price, who let in 37 goals in his last 13 games, Holtby actually finished the year incredibly strong to end up with a .920 save percentage (.922 in seven playoff games).
Taking into account Holtby’s impressive 14-game playoff run last season (.935 save percentage, 1.95 goals-against average), he already has the same amount of playoff series wins as Price despite coming in late to the game. Granted, that would be one, but that only proves, unfortunately, just how much of a crapshoot this all is.
Admittedly, Canada’s goaltending will be far from its deepest position in Russia. While there is undeniable skill, there is still a lot that has to be proved from Luongo out, and he regularly allows, what? Ten-plus goals in playoff games?
The bottom line is that Price, despite his struggles, fits the profile of what Canada is seeking to a T. Of all five invited goalies, Luongo included, he has the perfect combination of youth, experience, pedigree and, yes, skill to be selected.
So, that’s the “will he” part down pat. Should he be selected, though? Seeing as he has yet to put all those qualities of his together on a consistent basis for the Canadiens, his priorities should lie elsewhere for the time being.
Thankfully, the two are not mutually exclusive, and if he is able to put it together for the first half of the season at least, an Olympic berth will become all the more of a lock with a second consecutive gold medal for Canada likely to follow.
Because if Price is on his game, there are few better.
It’s a mighty big “if,” unfortunately, but quite a sight to behold and something to look for at these coming Olympics, along with the hypothetical return of the triple low five. There is, after all, little question as to whether or not teammate and reigning Norris Memorial Trophy-winner P.K. Subban will or should make it.