The success or failure of Carey Price’s massive eight-year contract extension with the Montreal Canadiens depends greatly on whether they can build a championship team around a goalie eating up that much cap space, and whether giving a 31-year-old goalie an eight-year term isn’t completely bonkers.
The Canadiens announced that Price has agreed to an 8-year extension, ending any drama over his potential unrestricted free agency next summer. This is a massive show of faith from Price, who could have punched his ticket anywhere in the NHL he wanted next summer. He’s casting his lot with a franchise that has two conference finals appearances in the last 10 seasons. But he loves Montreal. A lot, apparently.
It’s a $10.5 million cap hit for Price beginning in 2018-19. Until Connor McDavid signs, that currently matches him with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the highest AAV in the NHL. That’s a full $2 million more than Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers against the cap. It’s a massive hit for any player. It’s unprecedented for a goalie.
As Arpon Basu notes, no team that’s won the Stanley Cup in the salary cap era has had a goaltender eating up more than 10 percent of the cap, which was Tim Thomas in 2011. Of course, one can argue that the Bruins aren’t getting within sniffing distance of that Cup without Timmy’s .940 save percentage and 1.98 GAA in the playoffs, which is obviously the thinking for the Habs in securing their best player for the next nine years.
That said, it’s hard to square this deal with conventional wisdom in the NHL, which is that winning teams don’t commit that much salary space to their goaltender. That much-maligned 10-year deal that Los Angeles Kings gave Jonathan Quick still amounts to a $5.8 million hit through 2023. Price will still make $10.5 against the cap in 2026.
The team’s counterargument is that Carey Price is a special exception.
“Nobody has a goaltender like Carey Price in the League. There’s a saying we use: Goalies are not important until you don’t have one. Seeing what’s going on around the League with teams who are looking for a goaltender, it’s really hard to do. So it’s a position that’s hard to find and we have, 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,” said GM Marc Bergevin.
All of this is true. And if Carey Price were 27 instead of 31 when this contract starts, perhaps it’s easier to swallow. But he’s going to be the same age that Lundqvist was when he starter his seven-year extension with the Rangers.
Three years into it, Lundqvist posted his most ordinary season in the NHL with a .910 save percentage, failing to garner a single vote for the Vezina for the first time in his career. There was less talk about Lundqvist as a dominant goalie than there was about trying to convince him to accept a trade in the near future.
In fairness, Lundqvist has played 742 regular season games and 128 more in the playoffs. Price has played 509 and 60, respectively. But as goalies get older, goalies are more susceptible to injury. It’s just reality.
The cynical view of this contract is that it doesn’t matter what Price looks like at, say, 36 years old. It doesn’t matter to Bergevin, who probably will be out of his job by then. It may not matter to the Canadiens as a whole – there’s a lockout coming, one that could offer up another round of amnesty buyouts for any number of players signing long-term deals in their early 30s (hello, T.J. Oshie). While Geoff Molson doesn’t want to throw around this kind of money to make a problem go away, it’s not like the Canadiens don’t have it.
So there’s a lot not to like here, or at the very least there’s enough to raise suspicions about the logic to this deal and how Montreal could eventually get out of it.
But at the end of the day, this is Carey Price, and this was his asking price, and the Montreal Canadiens will have him for the foreseeable future. One just hopes that the pursuit of stability between the pipes doesn’t lead to instability for the Canadiens under the cap.
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