MONTREAL -- This couldn’t have been where Carey Price wanted to be -- in the Bell Centre press conference room, roughly a few hundred feet from the ice surface he hasn’t played on in close to seven months, staring into a camera for a Zoom availability, dressed in black, awaiting questions about his uncertain future and his checkered past.
Sunday marked the 34-year-old goaltender’s first time speaking with the media since July 7, the day the Canadiens lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and watched the Tampa Bay Lightning repeat as champions, and he has been through so much turmoil since without a single public comment made aside from an Instagram post in November.
Price left Tampa Bay shattered, with the opportunity of his career having just squeaked through his pads, knowing he’d soon undergo knee surgery. Three weeks later, and two days before going under the knife, he was exposed in the Seattle Expansion Draft and left contemplating if he had played his last game as a Canadien. Within months he was checked into the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program before telling the world in that November post he had long been suffering with substance abuse issues that brought him to a “very dark place.” And on this day, 89 sleeps after returning to Montreal from his brief stint in a treatment facility, he was staring into that camera preparing to speak to another potentially devastating reality.
“Is this a worst-case scenario with the knee?” Price was asked. “Could it lead to you not ever playing again?”
“You never know,” Price responded.
If you couldn’t sense the tension rising as that came out of his mouth, he confirmed it a couple of times in saying he was feeling "anxious" to see what the next couple of weeks would bring in this trying rehabilitation from the summer surgery that’s seen him already suffer multiple setbacks.
This couldn’t have been the happy reunion Price was dreaming of. Surely, he’d have wanted this long-awaited press conference to preface his triumphant return to his crease.
With that possibility snatched away a couple of times since November, we asked Price what made him so resolved to keep pushing.
Out came the only smile he flashed over his 14 or so minutes at the podium.
“Well, it's a big part of my identity, for one,” Price said before chuckling. “Being a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens has been my life for over a decade… To be able to put that sweater on again is something that is keeping me motivated at this point.”
For years, it had only been about the Cup.
But Price can’t dream as big for the moment. His singular focus is purely just being able to play -- and play at the level worthy of the all-time franchise leader in wins.
“When you go through an injury like this, and you've had setbacks, which I've had them before, there's always going to be a little bit of doubt,” Price said. “That's just the fact of being injured. You're an athlete performing at apex level, you're always going to wonder if you're going to be the same player when you come back.”
He’s tethering his hope to the work of a training staff he called “amazing.”
“They'll give you the best the odds of coming back to your full capability,” Price said, “so I'm just going to trust in the process and hopefully, when I get back on the ice with the guys, I'll be right back to where I was at.”
Only his knee will determine that, and he had no intention of handicapping the odds of it holding up to what he hopes to put it through to accomplish his goal.
“I wish I could, (but) I don't know the answer,” Price said. “I just resumed skating a couple of days ago. So, I've gone through that process before, and I've had setbacks on those two occasions. So, you know, I'd like to be able to give you an answer at this moment, but I can't.”
Hence the anxiety. It cast a dark shadow over this entire press conference.
If Price hadn’t said he was doing well otherwise, it’d have been tough to glean.
It was when he was prompted to address the fans directly -- about the Canadiens completely nosediving in his absence and his incredible tribulations since he was last heard from -- that he assured everyone he was in a good frame of mind.
But Price followed that up by saying, “I know it's been a frustrating time for everybody, (and) it's been one for me as well.”
“It's been a long year,” Price continued. “And I know there's a lot of frustrations out there, but everybody out here is trying their hardest. Everybody's putting the work and doing their best.
“For me personally, it's been a long stretch. It's been hard to be out watching your teammates especially not having success. Having a couple of setbacks, it's been frustrating for sure, but I just want everybody to know that I'm doing well and I'm looking forward to the future.”
No matter what it brings in Montreal, with the Canadiens tumbling towards a rebuild, Price wanted to make clear he has no intention of leaving.
“I haven't made any plans to do so,” he said. “Me and my family are very happy here. We're settled in, this is our home. There's a reason I signed the contract like I did here with a no-movement clause. It was to be here. So, as of right now, I have no plans to move anywhere.”
Price just wants to go from skating sessions on his own to sessions with his goaltending coach, and then to practices with his teammates, and finally to playing in games.
“It's gonna be interesting to see how my knee responds,” he said. “I'm hoping for the best. I obviously want this to go well.”