ENIGMA – Noun – A person who is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.
Carey Price considered for the Olympic team? After his schizophrenic performance last season and his 9 and 17 career playoff record? Even Montreal fans are wondering how this can be? How can the selection committee even consider someone who ranked 20th among goaltenders who played more than half their team’s games with a .905 save percentage and a 21st ranked 2.59 goals against average?
The answer to that may be in the league’s European goaltending balance-of-power. Ahead of Price on the list are ten Europeans. There are also four Americans. That leaves seven Canadians. Team Canada invited five of them to next months camp. Still, strictly on season statistics, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins, Toronto’s James Reimer and even Edmonton’s Darren Dubnyk had better seasons than Price and were ignored.
So, why Price?
I guess the better question would be “Why not?” when you look at the company he’ll be keeping at next month’s camp. Included will be Roberto Luongo, last season’s most expensive backup, plus Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby and Mike Smith. Luongo has his 2010 Olympic gold medal, Crawford will be getting a Stanley Cup ring shortly, Holtby and Smith are so-far one-season wonders. In that group, despite last season, Price belongs.
“Enigmatic” is the perfect description of Price’s six years in the NHL. When Trevor Timmins drafted him in 2005, he said he considered Price to be one of five players out of that year’s crop of 18 year olds who was capable of being a game changer. While Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan have become All-Stars, Price’s progress has stalled. Yet, there is hardly a scout or general manager who doesn’t rave about Price’s athleticism and potential. Left unmentioned is Price’s erratic concentration level and his sometimes shaky confidence.
Price will be 26 at the end of the month and still we’re still talking about “potential”. While I’m in the same camp as the hockey establishment when it comes to Price’s ultimate capability, watching his struggles has tested my patience as much as it has a growing segment of the Canadiens fan-base.
For the first three-quarters of last season Price was cruising along with a better-than-average record. He had played in 30 of 36 games with an 18-7-4 record. His goals-against-average was 2.30 and his save percentage was a decent, if not spectacular .914.
Then it hit the fan. In the season’s final dozen games you would be hard-pressed to find a worse goaltending performance in the league. While winning only three of nine decisions, he gave up 3.75 goals per game and his save percentage was .870. He followed that with an equally dreadful playoff performance. You can place part of the blame on injuries and a defensive collapse but Price is first to admit he wasn’t very good either.
So here we are, looking toward September and training camp. Price, with the third highest cap hit among NHL goaltenders, entering his seventh NHL season, working with his third goaltending consultant and we’re still talking about “potential”.
As for the Olympics, things can change in the 40 games each team will play between the season opener and December 31st when Steve Yzerman and his committee must present his preliminary roster to the IIHF. Right now, much to the consternation of many, Roberto Luongo, with his 25 games on the large international ice surfaces through seven different international tournaments is the clear favourite. But, by the New Year, two or three of the initial goaltending candidates could play themselves off the team. Someone, like a Martin Brodeur or Marc Andre Fleury may suddenly re-emerge from the woodwork and play themselves into consideration.
And…..who knows, Carey Price may finally achieve the greatness that has eluded him through his first six NHL years.