Stu Cowan: Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin goes all-in on Carey Price
You just can’t replace your top players. That’s the reality of the NHL today. You make your team in the summer time and you hope for the best.”
Those were Marc Bergevin’s words last February when the general manager was asked what he learned the previous season when the Canadiens missed the playoffs.
Well, Bergevin better hope really hard now that Carey Price doesn’t get hurt again after giving the goalie an eight-year contract extension on Sunday worth US$84 million. Price has one year left on his old contract and will be 38 during the final season of his new one, which comes with with an annual salary-cap hit of $10.5 million.
Two seasons ago the Canadiens missed the playoffs because Price suffered a season-ending knee injury in November. Price stayed healthy last season and the Canadiens made the playoffs, but were bounced in the first round by the New York Rangers despite Price posting an impressive 1.86 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. The Canadiens scored only 11 goals in the six-game series.
While Price has already earned every regular-season trophy a goalie can win — plus Olympic gold and a World Cup of Hockey with Team Canada — he has a career losing record of 25-31 in the playoffs with the Canadiens.
“Playoff hockey, you get your bounces,” Bergevin said. “We played the Rangers pretty good. I thought most of the games we outplayed them, but we lost. That’s just the bottom line … we lost.”
With that in mind, Bergevin must also be hoping he can come to a contract agreement with free agent Alexander Radulov, who was second in team scoring last season with 18-36-54 totals. Bergevin said he has made his final offers to Radulov and free-agent defenceman Andrei Markov and now it’s a case of “first-come, first-served” since he probably can’t afford to keep both. There’s also the case of restricted free-agent Alex Galchenyuk.
Bergevin can’t start his summer vacation yet — and when he does he might be crossing his fingers and toes at the beach depending on what happens with Radulov, Markov and Galchenyuk.
“We seem to forget that we traded for a kid, Jonathan Drouin, who has a high ceiling,” Bergevin said about a deal last month that sent top defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning. “So we’ll go back and we’ll see what happens. But I feel comfortable if Radu doesn’t sign that Jo definitely could pick up the slack.”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on the 22-year-old Drouin, who has only 29 goals in 164 career NHL games.
If Radulov leaves — and Bergevin doesn’t make any other moves — the Canadiens look like offence will be their biggest problem again. But with Radulov, Galchenyuk and Drouin in the lineup there would be some hope.
However, there still remains a huge hole when it comes to a No. 1 centre, which Bergevin hasn’t been able to fill despite his efforts on Day 1 of free-agent shopping Saturday, when his only significant signing was defensive defenceman Karl Alzner.
“I kicked tires on a lot of UFAs,” Bergevin said, without naming names. “We made really, really good offers to these guys and we pretty much thought we had them locked up, but they decided not to. There’s players out there that re-signed with their own teams and there’s players that flat-out said right now Montreal is not a place we’d like to go for whatever reason.”
Price’s new deal will make him the highest-paid player on the Canadiens with the biggest salary-cap hit, surpassing defenceman Shea Weber’s $7.857 million. Weber’s contract and Price’s new deal both run through the 2025-26 season. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that $70 million of Price’s new deal will come in the form of signing bonuses.
Price has a history of knee injuries, suffering two of them two seasons ago, one in October and then the sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in November that ended his year. Price injured the same knee during the 2014 playoffs when the Rangers’ Chris Kreider ran into him. Bergevin said he spoke with the Canadiens doctors before giving Price his new contract and was told they were comfortable the knee wouldn’t be an issue.
“But again, injuries are part of the game and he could get hurt again, there’s no guarantees,” Bergevin said. “But based on what we saw — and he was all healthy last year — that’s not an issue.”
The Canadiens better hope it’s not.
“There’s a saying we use: Goalies are not important until you don’t have one,” Bergevin said. “I’ve seen what’s going on around the league with teams who are looking for goaltenders and it’s really hard to do. So it’s a position that’s hard to find and we have in my opinion, in our opinion, one of the best in the business if not the best, so we’re going to keep him and make sure he’s here for the rest of his career.”
It’s just too bad Price can’t score.