Carey Price: Montreal Canadiens' Fans Not Ready To Pay Up

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IApril 5, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - FEBRUARY 12:  Goaltender Carey Price #31 and Joroslav Spacek #6 of the Montreal Canadiens look for the loose puck as Arron Asham #45 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on during their game on February 12, 2010 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Montreal Canadiens fans had, at one time, a reputation as the most knowledgeable and discerning in hockey. That reputation has been dying a slow death over the last two decades. They have always been hard on their own, but with young Carey Price their enmity seems to be grading towards the nihilistic and uninformed.

Canadiens fans in the past have been incredibly hard on their team, holding it to what must seem like an impossible standard. I can still remember the team getting booed off the ice for a 2-2 tie against the Atlanta Flames back in 1978-79. That was a great Montreal dynasty team on the verge of winning their fourth cup in a row. The fan reaction seemed petty at best. It was pretty disrespectful of the Atlanta team which had fought for that tie. Perhaps that great team shouldn’t have tied the Flames, but the reaction even then seemed disproportionate.  

Eating their own is hardly new in Montreal. The Canadiens have, over the years, tortured a number of their players. Stepane Richer twice scored 50 goals in a season in Montreal, but that seemed to just irritate the fans more. Guy Lafleur, when he could no longer play like Guy Lafleur, retired from Montreal. After three years out of the game he came back for a season in New York and two in Quebec. He still could have contributed in Montreal, but apparently he feared the fans expectations.

Patrice Brisebois seemed to be castigated every game he played in his long career in Montreal. I’m still not sure why.

Pierre Turgeon was brought in to lead the team in scoring and he did so. Yet he got blamed for a first round playoff loss despite his good play and was eventually traded for not enough. His offense was never replaced.

The further the Canadiens get from that dynasty 70’s team the more irrational the fans seem to get. There has been a tendency by the fans to mock the opposing teams that weren’t there when Montreal was great. The fans at one time seemed to respect their opponents and appreciate good play. As the losing years mount up that discernment and civility seems to be vanishing.

Unfortunately their treatment of their own players has gotten worse too. Carey Price came burdened with the curse of great expectations. A first round, fifth overall pick, he was a WHL best goalie winner. He was also chosen as the best Canadian junior goalie. He won a gold medal at the world juniors and was picked as the best goalie and MVP of the tournament.

Price came into the AHL to play professional hockey and after only two regular season games stormed through the playoffs, leading the Hamilton Bulldogs to an AHL championship and winning the playoff MVP award.

Price was supposed to be George Vezina, George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, and Patrick Roy all rolled into one. Well he hasn’t been and he won’t be, because nobody can be that.   

The same Montreal fans that apparently venerate a goalie who quit on the organization and left it to wallow in mediocrity doesn’t have the time to wait for 22-year-old Carey Price to get his game together.

Part of the frustration with Price is the fact that the other goalie, Jaroslav Halak, has proved to be great so far in his young career. He’s thrived in Montreal’s defensively challenged environment, where Price has, on occasions, wilted.

On at least three separate occasions Halak has won the starting job from Price. Technically Halak was also better than Huet in 2006-07. He almost managed to will that bad Habs team into the playoffs.  Despite Halak's great performance, which dragged Montreal back into playoff contention, Huet was put in to play the last game of the season versus Toronto. He was horrible and the Canadiens finished just out of the playoffs after losing 6-5 to Toronto. This was all because of an apparent lack of faith in Halak on behalf of the management.

Halak is forced to win the starting job over and over again, and yet it keeps getting handed to other goalies. It was Huet in this case and Price in both of the last two playoffs. That’s not Carey Price’s fault, however, and booing him doesn’t help.Those were all bad management decisions made to try to bring the man they see as their starting goalie along.  

It is frustrating to watch as a Canadiens fan. Especially when you know your team has a chance to win with Halak but the team insists on playing Price.

Still Carey Price has had a good season in Montreal this year. His .912 save percentage is still above the median for goaltenders who have played at least a third of their team's games. He played a great game in Buffalo on the where he stopped 40 out of 42 Buffalo shots. He ended up giving up two goals in the last two minutes of the game and eventually lost the game in a shoot-out. That didn’t make him more popular.

He played a very good game last Wednesday against Carolina. Montreal started strong and then faded as Montreal will do. Price kept the Canadiens in the game and was chosen third star. He played a very good game. When announced as third star he was summarily booed by the home Montreal Canadiens fans. Lack of class doesn't begin to describe it. Frustration with management shouldn't be taken out on Price.

He played well and kept his team in the game. The fans showed an incredible lack of discernment booed him. To what end?

This isn’t a great Montreal Canadiens team. It is not even, in my estimation, all that good a team. There are a few, very few, barely a handful, of tangible, talented assets in Montreal. Price, unluckily, is one of them. Montreal has two very good, very young goalies and no first line center. You can’t play two goalies at the same time so that asset is wasted in a lot ways.  

Teams need to trade from strength and to fill weakness. The majority of Price’s value right now is still that incredible potential. This apparent attempt by the fans in Montreal to run Price out of town serves no one’s interest but the team that will eventually trade for him.

There are a pack of good teams out there desperate for a great young goalie—Philadelphia and Chicago come to mind. The majority of his value right now is still that potential. Price needs to be played in a platoon with Halak this year and next year until the organization can be sure of how good he can and will be. Price in a low shot environment might prove to be frighteningly good.  

Booing Price is, I’m certain, partly to show that the Montreal fans feel the Canadiens need to play Halak. That much is true. To make the playoffs the Habs need Halak’s .930 save percentage. This team can’t win with a goalie who only has a .912.

Booing a young man after he has played a great game shows, not only a level of ignorance from a group of hockey fans who should know better, but also is an attack on one of the few assets the team has left. The fifth pick overall, this 22-year-old goalie needs to be nurtured and developed. He's been great at every level and needs to be signed long term after this season. Perhaps after this he can develop into the goalie the Canadiens need him to be. The fans are showing very little enthusiasm for signing Price again, but the Habs aren't burdened with enough prospects to be able to afford to throw Price away.

The Canadiens need to play Halak now and in the playoffs if they make it, but Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak both need to be re-signed. Carey Price doesn't need or deserve to be run out of town on a rail by the fans. He doesn't need to get his zen shattered by their disproportionate disgust with him.

Carey Price looks like he can still be a great NHL goalie. He’s taken a step forward this year towards being a good one. The fans in Montreal should, at the very least, try to only boo Price when he plays bad. Otherwise it shows not only a lack of discernment that's disturbing, but a lack of class.

It's a tacky way to treat one of your better players.                        



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