Welcome to Positivity Central.
Unlike some of my learned colleagues, I’m not ready to throw Carey Price and Pierre Gauthier under the bus headed for the Air Canada Centre Thursday night.
This is what we know:
Lets start with the player who is under more pressure than anyone else in the NHL.
Price has the size. He’s got the talent. He’s got the pedigree.
It’s time to cowboy up.
When the Canadiens opened their 2009-’10 season in Toronto, Price faced 46 shots and stopped 43 of them in an overtime win.
Two nights later in Buffalo, he stopped 34 of 35 and the Canadiens won in OT again.
Then the Canadiens headed west, where Jaro Halak started and lost in Calgary. The next night, Price was bombed in Vancouver, and he never really recovered the form of those first two games.
It would be really, really, really nice if Price got off to another hot start.
It would be even nicer if Montreal fans were willing to cut the kid some early-season slack
Look, Jaro Halak is in St. Louis and there is no Plan B in Montreal. Alex Auld is not going to start 60 games.
When the UFO appeared over the Cavendish Mall last week, I was really hoping it would touch down at the home of my distinguished colleague, the Living Legend of Sports Journalism.
Then a creature looking like something out of District 9 could have rung Red’s bell and said:
“Mr. Fisher, we bring you a technological device that is a product of our highly advanced culture. It’s called a calculator.”
Armed with his gift from the aliens, the LLSJ might have been able to punch in enough numbers to understand what Pierre Gauthier realized at the end of last season: There was no way the Canadiens could sign an arbitration-eligible Halak AND impending UFA Tomas Plekanec.
I think the choice came down to this:
Lose Halak and the Canadiens still have Price. Keep Halak, lose Plekanec and hope that Pleks’s Top Six/PP/PK minutes can be filled by …
Yes, Gauthier rolled the dice on Price. But it wasn’t the most ill-considered gamble in the history of hockey (see MILLBURY, Mike; Yashin contract et al).
I’m afraid my friend the LLSJ (who’s nurtured inexplicable tumescence for Price since the kid joined the team) and many fans will second-guess the Halak trade until the end of days. But until the puck drops – and, I say, until the puck drops 15, maybe 20 times or more – let’s bag the “I told you so”s and focus on what promises to be a very interesting season.
Are the Canadiens a Cup contender?
Please. Let’s be serious.
Are they a lock for the playoffs?
I wouldn’t bet my house, my paycheque or the willingness to perform an intimate act on the likelihood of late April hockey in Montreal.
But until the season begins, anything is possible.
The Canadiens have a new captain whom everyone loves. And there are reasons for cautious optimism:
• The team knows Jacques Martin’s system, and the players came to camp in better shape than they did a year ago.
• Lars Eller can play. Barring injury, pencil this kid’s name into the lineup for the next 10 years.
• P.K. Subban is going to give Bell Centre fans the most thrills they’ve had since Kovy left.
• The pre-season is meaningless, but Pleks was on fire and that was a harbinger.
• CJAD colour man Scott Gomez is loose as an Alaskan snow goose and primed for a solid season.
• Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern are upgrades on Glen Metropolit and Dominic Moore.
• Andrei Markov is a fast healer.
• In the immortal words of Joe Theismann, AK46 is no Norman Einstein. But he’s smart enough to know this is a contract year.
• The playoff run demonstrated the shut-down skills of Josh Gorges and Hal Gill.
• Maxim Lapierre is fully recovered from his ankle injury and the departure of his friend Gui!
• Tom Pyatt will never be a scorer, but he’s the fastest player on the team and uses the speed to advantage on the PK and through third- or fourth-line minutes that wear down any opponents trying to skate with him.
Are there causes for concern?
• Benoit Pouliot is an enigma.
• Until Markov returns – and perhaps beyond – the team has major issues on D.
• Roman Hamrlik had a better pre-season than Jaro Spacek. There’s a lot of mileage on those Skodas.
• Ryan O’Byrne is playing himself off the team.
• If Mathieu Darche’s family name were Dawson, Ryan White would be a lock to make the Canadiens.
• Two of the skill players – Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri – are small. And both missed significant numbers of games due to injuries last season.
• The 2009-’10 Canadiens were the worst five-on-five team in the league. And the PP, which saved their ass last season, struggled in every exhibition game except that Islanders farce.
Hey, I promised no negativity.
Won’t the the last lie I tell this season …
Drop the puck already …