MONTREAL— There was conflict in nearly everything Carey Price said during his 31-minute conference call with Montreal Canadiens reporters Thursday, and it was totally understandable.
The franchise goaltender wants to play this summer but has reservations about doing so, and he should. He’s excited for the opportunity he and the Canadiens have been gifted by the NHL and NHLPA—to participate in a 24-team tournament for the Stanley Cup—but he’s unsure as to whether or not it gets them closer to winning than a top-10 pick in this year’s draft would, and he was right to refer to that as a “catch-22.”
And though Price believes preparation would be the key to taking advantage of the chaos that comes with a fresh start and jumping straight into playoffs, he’s not rushing to mobilize to Montreal—even if he’s training at a facility, in Washington State, where he hasn’t been able to field a shot since March.
He’s not frantically making arrangements—even if he’d have to be back in Canada by this Friday in order to be compliant with the 14-day quarantine law ahead of the opening of training camp on July 10—because, as the soon-to-be-33-year-old put it, too many questions remain unanswered at this juncture.
“I have about an equal amount of optimism and pessimism [the 2020 season can be completed],” Price said. “It’s a very unusual situation; I want the opportunity to be able to play for a Stanley Cup, but I want to be able to continue living life normally. A lot of cases haven’t panned out, for a lot of people, very well. I have friends’ family members who have passed away from COVID-19, it’s nothing to balk at. It’s a very serious situation and I don’t think everybody has all the answers, so that’s why I feel that way.”
He’s not alone. Not even close.
Of course, many players and executives around the NHL are highly concerned about whether or not enough can be done to create as close to a risk-free environment as possible over the three-or-so months it would take to award the Cup. Some, like Canadiens centre Phillip Danault, expressed discomfort, back in April, with being away from family for an extended period.
Others, like Canadiens coach Claude Julien, expressed concern about being 60 years old and in a high-risk category.
“No doubt you’re thinking of the different options you may have, whether it’s wearing a mask, to what extent you are going to deal with your team and players (meaning distancing),” Julien told the Athletic this week. “I know it may be a challenge behind the bench more than anywhere else but my thinking is that I need to be ready to adjust and have options when that time comes depending on where we are at with COVID and our hockey circumstance.
“That also means pulling myself out if I feel a real danger,” Julien added. “My family and life are more important than my job at that point.”
When Price was asked how he’d feel about one of his teammates—or other members of the organization—refusing to participate in the NHL and NHLPA’s return-to-play model, he said he’d have nothing but respect for them. And he added that he’s already decided that, if he plays, his wife Angela (currently pregnant with the couple’s third child) and their two daughters would remain at home regardless of whether or not they’re permitted to be in his company in a hub city.
Still, Price is compelled by the opportunity to play meaningful games beyond the first week of April for the first time in three years, even if he couldn’t point to any legitimate internal reason as to why the Canadiens could do what no one outside of their organization believes they can do.
“It’s paramount to me,” Price said. “I feel that I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success in the last decade-plus, and to have another opportunity at a team award is an exciting opportunity.”
But to suggest he believes it’s an opportunity the Canadiens will take advantage of might be stretching the truth.
Consider that when we asked Price why he thinks the Canadiens could be a contender for this year’s Cup, he pointed to the chaos of the situation and said, “anything can happen…” even though we qualified in our question that we were curious for a reason outside of that cliché.
“I know we’re a pretty underrated team,” Price continued. “We’re a very streaky team. We’ve proven that we can get really hot, and that’s what it’s all about in the playoffs.”
The problem is, when you think of the streakiness of the Canadiens this season, getting hot isn’t exactly what instantly comes to mind.
No, what immediately comes to mind are two separate eight-game winless streaks and four losses in four games to a Detroit Red Wings team that won only 13 other times.
And, the Canadiens didn’t come close to proving they can get really hot. After starting off 4-4-2, they won three games in a row from Oct. 26-31 and only repeated that feat three more times. They never had a longer winning streak at any point from Oct. 3-Mar. 11.
So, the idea that they can get hot enough to win a three-to-five-game play-in round against a Pittsburgh Penguins team loaded with two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—and a supporting cast of veritable stars—before streaking through the traditional playoff format to win the Cup, based on what they showed during the regular season, is convoluted at best.
Were it something to tether hope to, perhaps Price would be keener on getting back to Montreal immediately.
The fact is, several players from around the league—players on legitimate contenders, players who went home after it was clear the NHL’s pause would be extensive—have already gone back to their playing cities. Many others, who have yet to return, are in the process of finalizing arrangements to travel back and join their teammates—especially since the NHL announced, at the start of this week, that informal skates being held during Phase 2 can now include as many as 12 players at a time.
As of right now, Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin and Charles Hudon, who live in the Montreal area year-round, are the only players to have played a game with the Canadiens this season that are currently training out of their south-shore practice facility.
Trepidation rules. As it should for Price, and everyone else in the organization.