When the Montreal Canadiens signed Carey Price to a massive $84 million extension after the 2016-17 season it was bold, but arguably defensible.
Yes, they were setting the market on elite goaltenders, but Price wasn’t too far removed from a Vezina and Hart Trophy season and he’d been exceptional in four consecutive years. There was a pretty good argument to be made the long-time Canadien was the best goalie in the game. He was also still young enough (29) that it didn’t look like his production would fall off a cliff. Although the contract looked aggressive, it was possible to envision a scenario where Price produced at a high level and other top goaltenders got similar contracts over time, making the Canadiens’ netminder’s deal stand out a little less.
That’s not how it’s playing out.
After Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the lowly New Jersey Devils, the Canadiens have lost three straight games in which they’ve conceded six or more goals, being outscored 20-10 despite outshooting their opponents 128 to 92. Following the brutal stretch, they’ve allowed the third-most goals against in the NHL.
While that’s a team-wide problem, you’re just not supposed to see numbers like that when you pay your goalie $10.5 million — a sum that just ten other netminders in the NHL will make more than half of this season.
Although he’s just 21 games into his 2019-2020 campaign, Price’s 3.19 GAA and .897 save percentage are downright ugly. Among the 25 goaltenders who’ve played at least 15 games this season, his even strength and short-handed save percentages (.905 and .851) both rank 20th and his Goal Saved Above Average of -6.90 is better than just Martin Jones, Jonathan Quick, and Sergei Bobrovsky.
To be fair, it’s easy to pick on one downswing as evidence that Price is hurting the Canadiens, but despite a solid 2018-19, his performance is well below average since he signed his extension. Considering his salary and track record, it’s pretty shocking how poorly he compares to most starting goaltenders since 2017-18.
During that time, 26 goalies have played at least 100 NHL games. Below is a chart of where Price ranks among them in a number of categories:
Goals Against Average
Even-Strength Save %
Goals Saved Above Average
High-Danger Goals Saved Above Average
There’s really nothing you can point to in his performance that is above-average, let alone elite. He also doesn’t have the excuse of playing behind a truly dreadful team. The Canadiens have lacked for top-end talent over the last few years, but they’ve been a well-organized unit that has conceded an approximately average number of shots per game and posted elite possession numbers. It’s not as if Price is under siege.
In order to justify his contract, Price has to be exceptional because his presence hamstrings the Canadiens’ ability to ice a top-notch lineup in front of him. Montreal has had success with the model of having an OK team bailed out by Price’s amazing work between the pipes in the past, but it’s seeming less and less likely that’s going to work moving forward.
From the moment the Canadiens signed their franchise icon goaltender to a gargantuan deal, they made things a little more difficult for themselves. They knew the outlay — in literal dollars, cap percentage, and opportunity cost — was enormous, but it was a risk they were willing to take to not have to worry about their goaltending situation for the foreseeable future.
Less than a quarter of the way through their deal with Price, it’s fair to say the Canadiens have a few worries.
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