Gerry Johannson, Carey Price’s agent since the goalie’s first days in junior hockey, says he figured getting a contract signed with the Canadiens would take most of the summer.
But he never doubted that a deal would get done before training camp, and he praises Habs GM Pierre Gauthier for the positive, professional way he approached the goalie’s future in Montreal, today extended by two seasons with a $5.5-million contract signing.
Stubbs column below on Johannson’s take on getting his client’s signature on the bottom line.
“I don’t think it was ever in doubt that they were going to sign him, it was just a matter of timing. It would have been silly not to get a deal done between a guy who wants to be there and a team that wants the player.”
– Gerry Johannson, Carey Price’s agent
Gerry Johannson expressed those thoughts not Thursday, but 40 months ago, a few days after Carey Price had signed his first professional contract with the Canadiens in April 2007.
In the interests of being green, Price’s agent since the goalie’s earliest days in junior hockey might want to recycle those words today.
That April, still four months from his 20th birthday, Price sat in his bedroom in the Pasco, Wash., home of Dennis and Jill Williams, his billet family for all four years of his major-junior career with the Tri-City Americans, and carefully read every word on the nine-page document.
There was his salary – $2,805,000 U.S. over three years, with a few bonus clauses nestled in the fine print of the entry-level pact.
Thursday in Kelowna, B.C., preparing for the season ahead, Price signed a faxed copy of the second Canadiens contract of his career, a two-year, $5.5-million deal.
If he’d put his ear to the ground, he’d have heard more than one sigh of relief in Montreal from fans who have been suffering anxiety attacks for weeks.
All the more so, of course, with the opening of training camp now precisely two weeks away.
“I never doubted we’d be up against the camp deadline of getting a contract signed,” Johannson said Thursday night from Edmonton. “Carey not coming to camp was never considered. Not for a second.
“As the pace of talks began to settle in, I thought it would take most of the summer. But I never had the sense that there was a risk we’d not get it done before the season.”
Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier wasn’t making any comment Thursday night, and won’t speak publicly until the Sept. 13 opening of the team’s rookie camp. If his predecessor, Bob Gainey, was spare with a word, Gauthier is laryngitis in a smaller suit.
But Johannson had nothing but praise for the way Gauthier moved summer-long toward this contract.
“Pierre was very clear about their thoughts on Carey,” he said. “There wasn’t any gamesmanship. It was very professional and very positive. It’s really refreshing when you start out with a team being upfront, saying, ‘We like the player, here’s our situation.’
“There were no red lights. A few yellow lights when we slowed down, but we were never overly concerned. Then we had to figure out the value (of the contract) and that took awhile. Pierre had some points, we had some points, and over time we got on the same page.”
Both sides agreed early on about the two-year term. And Johannson said the Canadiens’ trading of goaltending fan favourite Jaroslav Halak in June, before talks began about Price, was a necessary thing.
“They had to make a decision on their goaltending before they began negotiating with us,” said Johannson, a former defenceman who was the Canadiens’ seventh pick in the 1984 entry draft, 95th overall, but never signed a contract.
“I’m not sure they could have done it the other way. Our question would have been, ‘Who’s your goalie?’ It was obvious they first had to decide what direction they were going to take. Frankly, that made our job a little easier, knowing what we were talking about.”
Johannson first chatted at the entry draft in Los Angeles with then-hockey operations vice-president Julien BriseBois. The rest was done by phone between the agent and Gauthier, numbers changing as other deals were being signed around the league.
If the dollars were fluid, the tone of the talks was only positive. At no point, Johannson said, did he believe that “anything was being jammed at us. … If the tone is positive, you’re not so worried about the number.”
In recent days, word appeared on the Internet that had a “very, very reliable source” telling a Montreal reporter who’s seldom around the team that Price was demanding $3 million per season or he’d walk out on the club.
“At first I thought that was funny because it was so ridiculous,” Johannson said. “But I could see there was a bit of anxiety about Carey signing, and that gave us the chance to restate that he was never, ever considering not being at camp.
“Maybe the guy did us a favour – we put out something positive that we might not have considered doing.”
Thursday morning, Price signed the most valuable autograph of his young career.
“Now that we’ve put this to bed,” Johannson said, “he can get on to bigger things – having his best year ever.”