While the goaltending world seems to be fixated on the Canucks and Roberto Luongo, keep an eye open for the potential standoff between Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens this summer.
A few NHL general managers will be doing just that. Why? Because if the Canadiens drop the ball on negotiations, other teams in dire straits would have no problem trying to trade for the all-star and dishing out a starting point offer that mirrors the Pekke Rinne deal: $49 million for seven years.
Despite being declared a restricted free agent this summer, Price is totally in the driver’s seat in deciding where his long-term future lies. If the Canadiens don’t make him an offer he can’t refuse, he will simply follow the Shea Weber model in Nashville and sign qualifying offers that eventually allow him to be an unrestricted free agent in two years.
This summer is a one-shot deal for the Canadiens to put this deal to bed without starting a distracting storyline with their franchise player before the season even starts. It’s also believed Price and his agent Gerry Johannson will not want to negotiate during the season if he doesn’t get the long-term deal he wants.
That is something the Canadiens can’t afford to let happen. While some believe Price’s inability to deliver a playoff spot this season will diminish his negotiating power, those in the industry say it’s irrelevant.
One NHL executive said: “Find me another experienced goalie like Price in his mid-20’s who’s just scratching the surface on how great he can be. He doesn’t exist.”
Said another: “Stick a healthy Andrei Markov all year in front of him and maybe the Canadiens make the playoffs."
It appears Price has all the leverage he needs to get him among the top paid in the league.
Speaking of GMs, it doesn’t help the Canadiens that they don’t have a replacement yet for Pierre Gauthier, or a head coach, to provide any kind of comfort for a player of his stature. Does the new GM come in with a ‘business as usual’ philosophy or does he gamble on the scope of free agency changing dramatically with a new CBA and getting Price a lot cheaper down the road?
Money aside, the ownership group needs to find someone Price respects enough to see a long-term future with. We know the emphasis on hiring has somewhat been on appeasing the media, but they need to appease Price as well.
If Price isn’t comfortable with whoever is hired, the chances of retaining Price drop even further.
So while tongues are wagging about which team might win the right to pay A 33-year-old Luongo $47 million over the next 10 years, whoever bucks up for Price in the next 24 months looks great in comparison.