Friday, January 11, 2008

What's right for Price?

While Carey Price's name is much more fun to use in headlines and such, I just cannot understand why every columnist, analyst and blogger I have read has refused to look at the recent changes from the other perspective – that is: "Halak recalled". I could say the same about Locke/Chipchura, but the overwhelming focus on Price from the blogosphere has led me to focus on that story.


Want to know what I mean? Have a look at some of these headlines, quotes and links (if you haven't already):

A Pricely demotion – Chipchura and Price feel it in their wallet, but can develop down on the farm (John Kernaghan)
January 10 – The Hamilton Spectator

This demotion is the first downward blip on Price's performance graph. He has excelled at all levels, the world juniors, the AHL and impressed early in his rookie NHL season.


Ça fait partie de l'apprentissage (Benoit Brunet)
January 9 – RDS

Mais si à un certain moment, la direction du Canadien trouvait que sa progression ralentissait, c’est une bonne idée de lui permettre de jouer la plupart des parties à Hamilton.


Breaking News from the WTF?!? Department (Panger 76)
January 9 – Four Habs Fans

Ostensibly it's because the Habs have few back-to-back games plus the All-Star breat in January, but it could also be motivated by TFS's less than stellar performance against Washington. Or, it could be a showcase for Halak in hopes of garnering some interest in a deadline deal.


Carey Takes His Lumps (Robert L)
January 10 – Eyes On The Prize

This demotion, if one chooses to see it as such, could either be seen as a present lack of faith in Price, or simply as a careful handling of a precious jewel.

After first questioning the move as harsh, I considered the big picture.The Canadiens can ill afford to mess up on the best propect to come into the organization in eons. I'd rather they take cautious chances with him, over risky ones. The Habs organization surely knows Price better than anyone, and knows and understands what is needed by him in this trying time.


Price: à manipuler avec soin (Bertrand Raymond)
January 9 – Journal de Montreal

Price est tellement important pour l'avenir de l'organisation qu'il faut prendre le temps de lui expliquer ce qu'on tente de faire avec lui. Durant son stage à Hamilton, il faudra lui parler fréquemment, sonder ses états d'âme et vérifier l'état de son moral.


Many articles on this topic mention Halak once or twice. Panger concedes Price may have been demoted to make room for Halak, but only so he can be traded (a possibility of course). Brunet and Robert L don't mention Jaroslav at all! If I hadn't already used the title, I might have called this piece: "Halak of respect".

Look. Halak is good. Very good. It is premature to write him off, just as it is premature to call Price the saviour of the franchise.

In a very good career so far, Carey Price's crowning achievements were afforded to him by virtue of a) being Canadian and getting to play on the best junior team in the world and b) Jaroslav Halak playing so well he was called up to the Canadiens and then to the Slovakian National team.

Is it conceivable then, that Halak could turn out to be better than Price?

Maybe you should ask the Blackhawks how sticking with first rounder and WJC super goalie Jimmy Waite turned out for them. Who was that other guy anyway?

I would wager that if Price were the 9th round pick and Halak the first rounder, we'd have different headlines. All stats remaining the same, I'd even go so far as saying that if Halak were 6'3" from Western Canada and Price 5'11" from Eastern Europe, the press would be singing Hallelujahs for the long awaited promotion.

Consider a similar set of Habs players for a minute:

– one large American offensive defender picked in the first round
– the other a relatively small, Eastern European 6th rounder

Pundits and analysts around the team lauded the first round selection of a defender at the time, and continued to tout the prospect as he progressed impressively through the minors. The other player quietly made his way over to North America, played well in the minors and earned a call up one day to the NHL.

Andrei Markov never really looked back, overcoming his small stature, language barrier and low draft position to blossom into the best defenseman on the team and the Eastern Conference (some young superstars would say the league). Ron Hainsey never stuck with the Habs, was left unprotected and while doing an admirable job at growing into a very good offensive defenseman, would never be confused with the best in the league.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this promotion had nothing to do with Price. But it is Price relative to Halak that led to the decision. And, as untenable an idea as it may be to some, the Habs may have a plan for someone other than Carey Price, maybe even lowly Halak has a plan sketched out for him. Watching Gainey and his staff make their moves, others' opinions be damned, makes me certain that they operate this way. If not, Chipchura would have just been benched for a game and Locke would not have received a reward he was promised. In so far as the Canadiens goaltending docket, they seem to be making decisions in stages (as well they should).

When you consider our goaltending in the future, dream of a solid man back there, for certain. But, before you see 31 instead of 41, also try to picture what it would be like if some night in February, Hainsey and the Canadiens were trying to kill off a penalty against the Andrei Markov orchestrated Blue Jackets powerplay.

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