31 Thoughts: Are Carey Price, Canadiens on the same page?

Carey Price addresses the concerned Montreal media and Habs fanbase, to put a little ease in their minds about his injury, says it won’t be long, just wants to make sure he’s 100 percent.

• How will Price, Habs handle latest injury?
• Vegas timeline a factor in trade market
• Rielly scraps slapshot, boosts scoring

We know warmups can be dangerous.

Taylor Hall suffered an ugly cut in 2012 when he slipped, took Ladislav Smid down with him and fell into Corey Potter. Last April, Matt Murray pulled up lame minutes before Game 1 of Pittsburgh’s first-round series against Columbus, forcing Marc-Andre Fleury into action.

But Carey Price is the first NHLer I know of to get hurt twice.

The 2015-16 season was an injury nightmare for Price and the Canadiens. It started in Edmonton on Oct. 29, 2015. He stepped on a puck and was never the same, although he did last three more games before playing became impossible.

This time, the trouble started Nov. 2 in Minnesota. It actually makes sense, because Price was totally discombobulated in a 6-3 defeat. You couldn’t believe something wasn’t wrong with him.

He hasn’t played since that game, and, Tuesday morning, announced he will stay off the ice for a few days because the injury “just wasn’t getting better.” In an unrelated story, Montreal tow-truck drivers reported a sudden uptick in accidents.

First things first: The team and player learned a valuable lesson from two years ago. Back then, they fumbled the public-relations portion of Price’s injury, refusing to give information as his absence stretched from days to weeks to months. Even the mildest NHL city would become Rumour Central in that scenario. A powder keg like Montreal? It’s out of control.

This time, Price and GM Marc Bergevin were front-and-centre. While there were no details of the exact injury or how it happened, the goalie tried to calm everyone, saying, “I know that it’s not going to be a long-term process like it was last time,” stressing it is not the same injury as 2015-16.

The problem with that answer is that it’s not necessarily good news. Price knows it, too, giving a rueful laugh when asked if missing more games is inevitable as he gets older.

“It’s not an easy sport,” he answered.

If you take out his aborted 2015-16, Price has appeared in 80 per cent of Montreal’s games since 2009-10. That’s an average of 66 per year. He will be 31 when his eight-year extension begins next season. According to Hockey Reference’s outstanding Play Index, only three goalies since 1967-68 have as many as five 66-game seasons at age 31 or older.

One of them, Tony Esposito, did it over a seven-year span from 1975-81. The others were Martin Brodeur and Miikka Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff did it for five straight seasons starting at age 31. Brodeur and Esposito weren’t as linear, both making a last stand at 37. Nobody else has done it more than three times, and only 21 goalies even accomplished it once. Henrik Lundqvist’s post-30 high is 65 in 2015-16, although he’s on pace for 68 this season.

Price has proven before that it’s not wise to bet against him. And my natural optimism puts me in the camp of, “OK, why can’t he prove to be an outlier?”

Bergevin said he didn’t know Price was injured in warmup (this time) until the next day. As Sportsnet’s Eric Engels wrote Tuesday, the Canadiens have to tell Price that is no longer acceptable. This has to be a partnership; both sides are invested in each other.

But that’s only the start of a much-needed conversation. Sometimes, organizations allow goalies too much of an island. I can’t say how Montreal handles it, but the Canadiens have to make sure they are on top of everything. If it means pushing the pause button, keeping him out of the lineup and coming up with an entirely new plan, well, no one’s going to like it… and one guy is going to despise it.

But only one question should matter: What choices, at this moment, give us the best chance for eight years of prosperity?

31 THOUGHTS

1. As Price recuperates, Charlie Lindgren has grabbed the net in Montreal. By now, you know the story — undrafted, determined, signed as an NCAA free agent in 2016. It’s pretty interesting, a few teams admitted he was “underscouted.” The other thing that came up quite a bit? For all of the great players that have come out of Minnesota, there isn’t a ton of respect for the state’s goalies. Jake Oettinger, who, like Lindgren, is from Lakeville, was the first Minnesota netminder taken in the NHL draft since Zane McIntyre in 2010.

Lindgren also had to battle the size prejudice. One of his biggest backers is Kevin Ziegler, who worked as the director of strength and conditioning in the NHL for both Arizona and Tampa Bay.

“He’s a competitor,” Ziegler said. “He found a way with his body. I also worked with his brother (Andrew, a goaltender), who, at 17, looked like he was 12.”

Ziegler credited the coach at USHL Sioux Falls, Kevin Hartzell, with seeing something in him. His son, Eric, was a good enough goalie to sign with Pittsburgh as an NCAA free agent in 2013.

2. “The first game Charlie played in the USHL, he gave up six goals,” Ziegler said. “But there was a calmness, a competitiveness through it. We told him he did not know how good he was going to be.”

As Lindgren moved to St. Cloud State but wasn’t drafted, the message was, “Don’t forget: you are still competing for 30 teams.” He paused. “But I want to make it very clear: I had nothing to do with getting him to the NHL. Charlie Lindgren had everything to do with it.”

The Canadiens took interest in both him and teammate Ryan Poehling, who became their 2017 first-round pick. First it was a local scout, Pat Westrum. Then their NCAA cross-checker, Dave Starman. Then came Scott Mellanby and Bergevin.

Lindgren’s NHL decision came down to Florida and Montreal. His agents, Chris McAlpine and Ben Hankinson, thought it would be the Panthers, largely because no Carey Price was in the way.

“He’s not afraid,” Hankinson said. “He was excited about playing for Montreal and learning from Price. He said if he was good enough, he’d find his way (into the NHL).”

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3. Apparently, the Canadiens had a contingent see St. Cloud and Denver in a big-time back-to-back last weekend where Lindgren’s alma mater was knocked from its No. 1 ranking. No doubt they were checking on Poehling. But they are taking a long look at another Huskie, defenceman Jimmy Schuldt. They won’t be alone in pursuing this free agent.

4. Finally on Montreal, there were rumblings of potential Anaheim interest in Alex Galchenyuk. I don’t think it’s a match. P.J. Stock’s been saying for months Galchenyuk should be with Jonathan Drouin, and, so far, it looks good.

5. With two of the biggest names off the NHL’s trading chessboard there seems to be more discussion, but a couple of GMs warned that might simply be teams trying to find out who is willing to do what. Vegas’s decisions and timeline will be a major factor, with James Neal and David Perron as headliners. As for everyone else, Evander Kane opened up the scoring Tuesday night in the Sabres’ 5-4 overtime loss at Pittsburgh.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington points out that, since Kane scored his first of the 2016-17 season on Dec. 5, the Sabres winger has 31 five-on-five goals. Only Auston Matthews has more, with 32. (Carolina’s Jeff Skinner is third, with 30.) There is interest, for sure.

6. An oft-asked question in the last week: Does St. Louis feel pressure to counter Kyle Turris’s Tennessee touchdown?

7. There were reports in Russia that the Blues were considering offering a contract to Danis Zaripov. It sounds like there was no firm offer, simply an opportunity to skate on a PTO and see where it went. Right now, it looks like it’s going nowhere.

8. Jason Spezza is playing 13 minutes a night, lower than any season since he became an NHL regular. I do believe it is Dallas’s preference to make this work. You can never score enough in this very tight league, and Spezza is a skilled player who can create offence. But it bears watching. Doing some research into his contract, Spezza has a unique clause. There is a window to trade him, but it’s in the summer. After the Stanley Cup is awarded until Sept. 1, he can submit a list of 10 teams Dallas cannot send him to. Other than that, Spezza has a total no-move, so he controls the situation. He also has one more year at $7.5 million. This is purely guesswork, but we know Columbus is going to look for one more high-level offensive player.

9. The emergence of Alex Iafallo combined with the impending return of Marian Gaborik to squeeze Mike Cammalleri in Los Angeles. Kings GM Rob Blake made it clear the 900-game veteran wasn’t happy. He played 5:30, 9:52 and 11:40 the last three games. Edmonton wanted a jolt and Cammalleri gets a renewed opportunity. I wondered if the Oilers inquired about Josh Leivo or Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto. The cost certainly would have been higher. Both are NHL-ready. Despite their difficulty getting into the lineup full-time, the Maple Leafs have yet to consider discounted prices.

 
Johnston: Cammalleri deal makes sense for Oilers.
November 14 2017

10. One scout who saw the Oilers last week: “It’s a good thing the playoffs are not three-on-three. Edmonton would win the next 10 Stanley Cups.”

11. By now, you’re aware of Soshnikov’s KHL out clause. As of Tuesday, he can go back overseas if sent down to the AHL, although his preference is to be here. He’s not the only one who had (or has) something lurking. Edmonton’s Anton Slepyshev, now injured, cancelled his by playing in game number 10 before going down with injury. Montreal’s Jakub Jerabek, who is at AHL Laval, also has one, but still desires to play in the NHL.

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12. Some fans wonder why teams agree to these, but they make a lot of sense. Not every player finds it so simple to adapt on and/or off the ice. Walking away can be easier for all involved. Player can go back if he wishes, team is free of cash obligation and a contract spot. Just imagine how much things could have been easier for Vegas and Vadim Shipachyov if there was such a clause. Also: I know there’s a theory that the Golden Knights will have trouble getting Russian players, but I’m not sure that’s true. McPhee’s never been afraid of them. Does one bad experience ruin all that?

13. Chris Johnston had an interesting story on the weekend about an arbitration case involving Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay. Drouin was entitled to a $212,500 bonus for 0.73 points per game. Last season, he ended up at .726. The Lightning said no, Drouin filed a grievance. Sports is generally a place where people round up, but there are very public situations where that doesn’t happen.

The best example is Baseball Hall of Fame voting. You need to be on 75 per cent of the ballots to get in. In 2014, Craig Biggio was at 74.8, and rounding is not allowed. That’s the closest anyone’s come to getting in without actually getting in. I had no feel for how this would go for either Drouin or the Lightning. They negotiated a settlement for 90 per cent of the bonus. From what I understand, both sides recognized there was plenty of NHL precedence for rounding up.

14. One of the unanswered questions from Saturday’s 5-0 San Jose win over Vancouver was the last-second penalty shot awarded to the Sharks’ Chris Tierney.

The centre was hooked at the opposing blue line, but proceeded to go down the ice and hit the crossbar before getting the free breakaway. I looked into it, and I think it’s safe to say that given a mulligan referee Ghislain Hebert would simply have given a two-minute minor. In the moment, with Daniel Sedin chasing, he may have felt Tierney could have an even better opportunity had he not been slowed. Let’s call it early Christmas spirit… but not the start of a trend.

15. The NHL declined to rescind the instigating penalty given to Derek Dorsett for fighting Josh Manson last Thursday in Anaheim. That’s two for the Vancouver forward, with another meaning a two-game suspension. Dorsett went to Manson seconds after the Ducks defender just missed delivering what would have been a gigantic hit on Bo Horvat.

I wondered if the league would suspend Dorsett for coming off the bench to fight, but look at how he’s got his eyes on Ben Hutton for a potential pass prior to pivoting at Manson. An illegal change means 10 games in the press box. The Department of Player Safety has the discretion to suspend for a lesser term even if legal, but the fact he focused on the play rather than making a beeline for Manson saved him from that.

16. Kyle Connor credits his father, Joe, with a lot of his growth. Joe coached his son throughout minor hockey. But a conversation last season with Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler really got him pointed in the right direction. Coming off a spectacular freshman season at NCAA Michigan, the 2015 first-rounder made the Jets at the start of the year.

“After about the first 10 games or so, I thought I should be playing more and had a bad attitude,” Connor said Tuesday. “Wheeler pulled me aside and said, ‘You think you’ve proved yourself? I’ve been in the league nine years and I still have to prove myself every day.’ I appreciated that.”

He lasted 19 games before being sent to AHL Manitoba, where another challenge awaited.

“I was pretty pissed off, mad at myself for not performing the way I could. [Moose coach] Pascal Vincent showed me how it was all about the mindset.”

Connor finished strong with 25 goals in 52 AHL games, getting a one-game NHL callback. He scored against Nashville.

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17. Connor didn’t start this year in the NHL, but he felt better about himself. It showed with five points in four Manitoba games. He’s back with the Jets, and impressively on the first line with Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. One of the biggest improvements is his play along the boards.

“Yes, I agree with that, especially in the offensive zone, staying on the puck. I learned you don’t have to ‘blow up’ the guy on the puck. Create battles. There’s a skill to it, too. I want to do it right because I’m excited to play with those guys. We play the same game, with a ton of speed and creativity.”

Winnipeg is a big “hockey sense” team. They chase it and value it in draft targets. So who is smarter, Connor or Scheifele? He laughs and pauses: “He’s a hell of a player.”

18. Last one for him: So how does a Wolverine feel when he turns on his television last weekend and sees Ohio State 35, Michigan State 0? Are you happy the Spartans are losing or mad the Buckeyes are winning? “Ugh, Ohio State…. Yeah I wanted MSU in that game.”

19. Nineteen games into the season, Morgan Rielly has 16 points — almost halfway to his career high of 36. One reason? He’s given up the slapshot.

“I just want to get [the puck] through,” he said last week. “The slapshot takes too long.”

Then he imitated one at his stall.

“When you start coming down, you can’t adjust. I like to be able to change what I’m doing.”

I’ve counted at least five assists off shots he got through defenders from the point. Rielly added he worked on an Erik Karlsson-style half-slapper, because he can adjust that move.

20. Another coach understood completely why Mike Babcock kept William Nylander on the wing when Matthews was injured, rather than moving him to centre: “Nylander is excellent at hiding. He knows how to get lost and find the holes in a defence. Very dangerous. At centre, it’s much harder to hide.”

21. Colorado announced it will call up Vladislav Kamenev, acquired from Nashville in the Duchene/Turris three-way. What to look for? One exec compared him to Artem Anisimov.

“A little less skilled, but I’d take him in a heartbeat,” he said.

Another said he’s a very different player (in a positive way) when he moves his feet.

22. The NHL seemed pretty happy with the two Sweden games — ticket sales were strong — so attention turns to next season. The strong Swedish content, featuring captains Erik Karlsson and Gabriel Landeskog, worked, so expect the NHL to stick with this formula. Do not be surprised if Finland gets a visit. That screams Minnesota, with captain Mikko Koivu, and another team with a Finnish star. Boston? Nashville? Winnipeg?

On the calendar for the future? John Shannon pointed out Copenhagen has a new arena — and NHL players. Germany, with Leon Draisaitl. As previously reported, Edmonton wants the China experience.

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23. International trip I’d love to see: the Montreal Canadiens in Paris. NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika says Vegas should be the opponent, since the Golden Knights have Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

24. Scouts at the Karjala Cup saw nothing from Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin that gave them any reason to doubt he’s ready to play for his country at the Olympics. With Toronto holding a grip on Russian defenceman Igor Ozhiganov, NHL teams are checking out another: 27-year-old Bogdan Kiselevich. He’s a lefty, a bit older (28 on Valentine’s Day), but there’s interest. There are rumours that Vladimir Tkachev, who was briefly in Edmonton, is considering a return, too.

25. Canada went 1-2 at the event, beating Switzerland, losing to Sweden and the host Finns. The Olympic Team added Adam Foote as a player-development consultant. It could be a very special few weeks for the Footes, as son Cal is undoubtedly on the radar for Team Canada at the World Juniors in Buffalo. Tampa’s 2017 first-rounder is having a great year for WHL Kelowna. He missed last year’s tournament because dual citizens need to play for a team in the same country for two full seasons. That’s no longer a concern. There are two other first-rounders who could compete with him on the right side — Dante Fabbro (Nashville) and Cale Makar (Colorado), but that’s a good problem for a coach to have.

26. Brian Burke and Trevor Whiffen are holding their annual PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto, and one of the panels featured three main dealmakers in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s record-setting $800-million arena-naming stunner with Scotiabank: MKTG Canada President and CEO Brian Cooper, Scotiabank Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer John Doig, and MLSE Chief Commercial Officer Dave Hopkinson. Doig revealed that, as part of the package, Scotiabank made a $20-million donation to the MLSE Foundation. That number is removed from cap calculations in both hockey and basketball. The NHL CBA (Article 50.1, Section Q) and NBA CBA (Section 7.1) give a basic formula into how the remaining $780-million (or $39-million per season) is distributed between the two leagues and their players.

None of them went deeper into specifics, but Hopkinson said, “The players in both leagues should be happy, because it will raise the bar.”

Three weeks before MLSE announced this, Capital One agreed to a reported 10-year, $100-million deal to replace Verizon as title sponsor of the Washington, D.C., arena. Chase Bank pays Madison Square Garden $30-million per year. Among the NHL facilities readying for negotiations are the Pepsi Center in Denver (2019) and Anaheim’s Honda Center (2021). Their current agreements reportedly are worth $3.4 and $4 million, respectively (per season).

27. Six years ago, Scotiabank entered into a sponsorship agreement with MLSE where it negotiated an exclusive window to discuss naming rights if Air Canada didn’t continue. According to one source, that window lasted 90 days and the deal was done in eight. (Cooper said during the panel it was finished at 1:46 a.m., and I forgot to ask if that should count as a ninth.)

Some cool tidbits came out as part of this conversation. Hopkinson admitted to “friction” between MLSE and Air Canada because his organization thought the previous deal was below market value. When it was agreed to, the Raptors were building it without the Leafs. At the time, their relationship was awful. Air Canada front-loaded the contract to help finance the arena. The most interesting thing was that Doig wanted Scotiabank’s name to be at the forefront, unlike in Calgary.

“The Saddledome? We were not taking off that name,” he said. “That’s part of the identity. I didn’t want to get beaten up.”

They avoided Scotiabank Gardens for Toronto, worrying that it would become known colloquially as “the Gardens,” dumping the bank’s name. And, some people in Toronto would hate the allusion to the Leafs’ old home. “The Gardens is a bit of hallowed ground. Part of the city would’ve said, ‘You dirty bastards.’”

By calling it Scotiabank Arena, no one is going to say, “Let’s go to the arena.”

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28. You know this conference is coming because Burke goes on Toronto radio stations, douses the market in gasoline, then laughingly lights a match. The most underreported quote of the event was International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel indicating he will step down in 2020, at age 70. He laughingly described his relationship with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as “like an old couple, married 25 years.”

Bettman, by the way, gave zero indication he has any desire to retire.

29. I love the Hockey Hall of Fame inductions. The speeches are almost always great. Clare Drake couldn’t be there, and I wanted to recognize something he said. Mike Johnston and Ryan Walter wrote a book in 2004 entitled Simply the Best: Insights and Strategies from Great Hockey Coaches. In it, Drake discussed “self-talk.” He created a handout for the players “that defined it and explained its importance,” he said. “You talk to yourself 1,785 times per day. We tried to get the players to make as much of it as possible, positive, focussing on the good things they do. We talked to them individually about not getting down on themselves too much, telling them, ‘We think you’re being a little too negative. You’re taking away some of your energy and enthusiasm by being too tough on yourself.’” It’s great, great advice.

30. 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame inductions: Martin Brodeur is a lock. I would put Martin St. Louis and Daniel Alfredsson there, too. (I get the feeling I’ll have more agreement on St. Louis than Alfredsson, but he should be in right away.) As for the fourth choice, I’m a big Sergei Zubov guy; he doesn’t get enough credit. But I’m also good with Theo Fleury, Jeremy Roenick and/or Doug Wilson. Builder: Fran Rider. It’s time, already.

31. Nikita Kucherov is at 16 goals in 18 games. I want him to make a run at 50 in 50. If there’s one thing I’d like to see more in the NHL, it’s legitimate pursuit of individual records/accomplishments. The coaching is so good now that it’s so hard to challenge the standards. The driven and determined Kucherov has it in him to do great things in a team-oriented way. I’d love to see it.

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