The Price is Right jokes in reference to Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price may never completely cease. However, to all those mutual fans of his and Bob Barker, the sad truth of the matter is, if life truly imitated the game show, Price would be just about sooo “over” by now.
If he were in front of the big wheel, he’d end up quite a few cents short of the full $1. And if it were a Showcase Showdown, and he were most any other goalie, he’d be bidding not for the one with the car, but the lame one made up of a trip down to the minors by now.
Somewhat amazingly, though, in spite of the countless missed chances Price has gotten to prove himself over the years as a consistent No. 1 goalie, all signs point to him becoming the player most everyone knows he’s capable of being in 2013-14.
Skeptics to that effect, at least those who aren’t believers in his talent, are invited to look at his stat line from the 2010-11 season as proof that he at least has the capability to be one of the NHL’s top netminders.
During that season, his first after officially being handed the No. 1 job following the Jaroslav Halak trade, Price earned a 2.35 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, both career bests. His 72 games played, also a career high, resulted in an impressive 38-28-6 record.
In the interest of full disclosure, prior to the start of this past season, I wrote that Price would take a huge step forward in 2012-13 (after going 26-28-11 in 2011-12). I was obviously wrong, so wrong in fact that I couldn’t even get the lockout-shortened 2013 season right in the headline.
At the time, though, it seemed quite possible that 2011-12 was the aberration and that he had established himself as one of the game’s great goalies. After all, he did start off 2013 quite impressively, with 14 goals against in his first eight games.
However, he faded down the stretch to the point of allowing 27 goals in his last eight. He finished the season with a 2.59 GAA and just a .905 save percentage. Regarding the latter stat, ranking all goalies who played last season, Price was only 50th best. There were only 82 goalies with stats last year, meaning he was 33rd worst—and much closer to last place than first.
In the playoffs, it was a similar story, as he went 1-2 with 13 goals against in four games to go along with a .894 save percentage. In fact, if you look at Price’s playoff career, the individual plotlines for each season seem quite derivative and taken straight out of the same played-out playbook.
Only once in five postseasons did he perform legitimately well—amazingly even. That would be—you guessed it—back in 2010-11. That spring he had an incredible .934 save percentage and 2.11 GAA, with the Habs still losing in heartbreaking fashion to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins in the first round.
Obviously, one season does not make a career. Neither do two, taking into account Price’s very solid 24-12-3 rookie season, in which he earned a .920 save percentage, 2.56 GAA and the only playoff series victory of his career (also against the Bruins).
By the same token, though, Price’s two consecutive subpar seasons do not define him. Sure, the trend is moving toward a third straight below-average year, and should one be realized, we might be having a very different conversation at this point next summer. However, the larger trend indicates history is very much on Price’s side.
If you look at his career up to this point, he’s always played one good season followed by two bad ones. Granted, it’s a relatively small sample size consisting of just six seasons at the moment, but it does hint at a great year to come from Montreal’s undisputed No. 1 goalie.
It’s essentially only the next logical entry in a sequence of events. However, it is one that would line up perfectly with the team’s as-of-now No. 1 defenseman, P.K. Subban, winning the Norris Memorial Trophy and the hiring of a new and proven goaltending coach, Stephane Waite.
Waite has of course coached Stanley Cup winners Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, neither of whom were thought of all that highly prior to winning it all with the Chicago Blackhawks. Hell, few think that highly of Crawford right now despite a Conn Smythe-worthy performance during these past playoffs. Price meanwhile has arguably more raw talent than either of them.
It’s even more coincidental that the 2014 Winter Olympics are approaching with a roster spot on Team Canada presumably Price’s to lose. Like him or hate him, he is indisputably one of Canada’s best goalies.
He’s got the pedigree as the fifth-overall pick in 2005 (admittedly the company isn't that impressive at that spot, being just behind Benoit Pouliot and ahead of Gilbert Brule). He’s got the three All-Star Game appearances. He’s got the success at every level in hockey up to this point (including on the international stage with a gold medal at the 2007 World Junior Championship).
Most importantly, he’s got the skill to succeed.
He’s also just 26 and has a lot of hockey left in him. And, by his own admission circa 2010, he’s only entering his prime right about now.
Now, these are all signs that Price should succeed this season, not evidence that he will.
Not fate or a haphazard statistical inference derived from past seasons will dictate how Price plays from here on out. And, even if this statistical trend in Price’s career is an accurate reflection of reality, it’s hardly a good long-term omen.
If Price is ever going to become the goalie worthy of his current six-year, $39-million deal, he’s going to have to buck it eventually (just not in 2013-14), because one good season out of every three, well…just isn’t. The takeaway here is Price is entirely capable of being “money,” but that’s about all you can take to the bank. The rest is on him.