The biggest point of debate in Montreal these days is over the team's strongest position. Which one will start next game? Which one will start the playoffs? Which one will start next season? It's all about the goalies: Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price.
With both men restricted free agents (RFAs) this summer and both likely to want the assurance of a starting job to go along with money that will make it impossible to get them both in under the cap, new General Manager Pierre Gauthier has a tough decision.
So, I offer this piece of unsolicited advice. Ultimately, Carey Price will be the more noteworthy, accomplished NHL goalie. And you should trade him anyway.
It's an age old problem. There's one net and only one guy can play at a time. Throw in a hockey market that pays more attention to line combinations in practice than a lot of cities do the regular season and it's bound to get ugly.
Jaroslav Halak is a 24 year old who despite being drafted in the 7th round has simply dominated every level he's played at.
He was stellar in his native Slovakia, he put up good numbers in the QMJHL, he was a man among boys in the ECHL, and didn't let his play drop in the AHL. Now, he's wrestled the starting job away from a "the next one" in net.
Make no mistake, Jaroslav Halak is the better goalie right now. Anyone who denies that is wearing some seriously tinted glasses.
On the other hand, 22 year old Carey Price's pedigree has been well documented. He was the best goalie in junior, he was a key part of one of the most famous games in World Junior history and he single handedly handed Hamilton a Calder Cup all before he could legally drink on U.S. road trips.
In the NHL, he's already been an All-Star, albeit through ballot stuffing by the very fans who now boo his name. The problem for Price this year is not talent or even performance. It's luck and expectations.
Statistically he's actually improved this year, but sat beside the utter brilliance of Jaroslav Halak he's looked rather average. There are a lot of teams who would kill for that kind of averageness.
It just seems as if the Forum Ghosts are not on his side. Where Halak gets a cross bar, Price gets a roof job. Where Halak gets a goal support, Price does not. The dominos have just not fallen his way.
Price is a kid with stats comparable to many of the league's best and brightest at the same age. Luongo was not a superstar immediately. He got traded twice before he found a real home. Brodeur started more slowly than people remember, easing into the net that most cannot remember without him in it (including his many backups).
His pedigree is undeniable, his size is ideal, and he has shown a ferocity in net that reminds people of some of the game's greats. Halak has been good, almost effortless looking in net, but when I think of the great goalies of history I picture their quirks, their fire and the tempers.
Goalies are generally anything but boring and Price falls squarely into that category. Halak? He might as well be Sidney Crosby for all you'll hear him in a quote.
For Pierre Gauthier, this has been set up as a defining moment of his tenure. To me, it's no such thing. It's the easiest decision he'll ever have to make. It's like making you pick between a free BMW and a free Mercedes. It's a tough choice, but there is no wrong answer.
If I were Gauthier, I'd hedge my bets. Halak is a known and proven commodity who at the very least has the pedigree to be an NHL star and has proven it. He will win games, he will steal games and if his play continues - and it has never lagged at any point in his career to date - he will be a cornerstone of the franchise for a decade.
Can Price be even better? Sure. He could go on to be Luongo for someone else. He could win Cups, Vezinas and Gold Medals, but if someone offered Gauthier a guarantee that Price would eventually develop into a Top 10 NHL starter, he'd probably lock that in right now.
Halak already is.
People are curious creatures. Offer someone a bag that may or may not have a treasure in it for $50 and they'll probably buy it. Offer them that same treasure that may be in that bag for $30 and they'll turn their nose up at you.
People love the risk, the thrill of finding some diamond. It's what careers are made of for NHL GMs.
So, Pierre Gauthier, use that to your advantage. Make a show of it. Dangle both, drive up the prices, but ultimately, when it's time to pull that trigger, it seems clear that teams will pay through the nose for the chance at a superstar. Price is that mystery bag. Milk it for all it's worth and get the team some help at the positions truly worthy of controversy.