Montréal Canadiens' star goalie Carey Price two cards (one in the Habs' white uniform, the other in red - both in penny sleeves, which I no longer do) and a mini-standee I got in a weird pack of cards and a letter explaining what I do with this blog, asking him to sign the cards and saying he could keep the standee, 'cause I thought it was cool, and maybe he'd like it too, since it's an unusual piece. On April 1st, 2011 (April's Fool's Day, more than a year later!), I get my pre-addressed envelope back... with this one card, signed in black sharpie - and both my sleeves.
Now, I won't complain nor bite the hand that freebies - players are by no means obligated to sign, reply or return anything, and those that do - I feel - do so as a sign of respect and appreciation for their fans.
And I'm not going to pretend I'm Price's #1 fan, either, as you can see from the first paragraph from this post on Jaroslav Halak. But he does have a legion of faithful followers, and pleasing even just a few of them once in a while has got to be time-consuming.
And that's the thing: I'm not sure if he kept the other card because he gets so many requests he has a ''one-per-person'' principle, or because he read my blog and noticed I wasn't sold on him yet, that I'm waiting for some playoff success first. Or maybe he doesn't trust that I wouldn't sell the cards. The point is: I don't know.
What I do know is I'm glad I didn't also send cards of him in the Hamilton Bulldogs' uniform, nor Team Canada (at the World Juniors) and the Tri-City Americans (his WHL days). I would have been pissed to lose those cards.
No Habs goalie has sparked so much passion - whether it's for or against him - in a long, long time. Not even José Théodore, who hung around with members of biker gangs and cheated on his recovering-from-giving-birth wife with Paris Hilton.
Price fans will remind you he was a first-round draft pick (5th overall), won World Junior gold (in a shootout, no less) and was named the AHL playoff MVP en route to a Calder Cup with the Bulldogs in his first pro season, which he started in April of that year, after his junior career ended when his WHL team lost in their playoffs.
His detractors will see his absence of a Memorial Cup as a lack of experience, and the fact that he was cut from Team Canada in his first World Juniors try-out - after being drafted in the first round by the Habs, meaning at least 3 other goalies his age were considered better than him. They'll also point out that when he did win gold, in his last year of eligibility in juniors, he did so as an adult, playing against some kids who were three or four years younger than him. They'll also likely say his Calder Cup happened with a team that was going to win it anyway, with or without him, as they had dominated the AHL all season, and he came in riding the high of his WJC gold and merely followed through.
All of that is true. Both sides are right. But none of that pertains to the NHL, the only place where he is expected to perform as an elite athlete and should be judged as such.
And in his rookie season (2007-08), he made the All-Rookie team. Whether the Habs should have kept their #1 goalie Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline has little to do with Price himself and a lot more to do with GM Bob Gainey's over-confidence in his young stud, but the Boss had judged that Price had played well enough to be given the reigns in his first year going into the playoffs. And, as usual, the Habs beat the Boston Bruins in the first round. So, the actual test would start in Round 2, where career backup Martin Biron looked like the second coming of Patrick Roy as his Philadelphia Flyers demolished the Canadiens en route to a 4-1 series win during which Price seemed to break down at every game, tears appearing in his eyes, a child against men.
2008-09 saw the All Star Game being presented in Montréal, with 4 Habs players making the team through fan voting, including Price. He aggravated an injury at the game - which the coaches and management felt he should have missed - and never quite got his groove back. When the playoffs came, round one was against the Bruins, which - as History will tell you - is a shoe-in. But the B's swept the Habs in 4 games, humiliatingly. And Price's play was so-so (0-4, a 4.11 GAA and .878 save %).
2009-10 was more of the same, as Price went 13-20-5, with a 2.77 GAA and a decent .912 save percentage while Halak took over the starting goalie role. When called upon in the playoffs, Price went 0-1 in 4 games, with a 3.56 GAA and .890 save %.
But for 2010-11, the Habs went all-in with Price, trading Halak and hiring Alex Auld as a backup. And they only let Auld start 11 games, leaving the bulk to Price, which may have proven to be too large a workload for him. As a matter of fact, he was pulled in 3 of his last 6 starts - in less than two weeks.
Now, I was a goalie myself, for more than half my lifetime; I also currently serve as a part-time goaltending coach for minor junior teams. I'd like to help out an actual goaltending coach in the AHL or NHL someday. From my experience, in this day and age, goalies should NEVER play back-to-back games, except if between the two the other goalie got injured and a minor-league call-up couldn't make it on time. And, under any circumstance should a goalie play in back-to-back games in different cities. Price has done that many times this season; it doesn't give him the advantage; it doesn't even give him a chance.
It's as if the Habs' brass weren't aware that no goalie in the NHL has advanced to the third round of the playoffs while playing more than 60 games in the same regular season since the lock-out. Not even Roberto Luongo, nor Miikka Kiprusoff, nor Evgeni Nabokov, nor Marc-André Fleury, nor Martin Brodeur. Speaking of Brodeur, he hasn't even made it past the second round since his last Stanley Cup... in 2003. That's eight years ago, folks.
But back to Price.
Because he was overworked, the Vezina and Hart talk died out in the past 10 days, but more importantly, it's unfair to pit his recent struggles on anything else than fatigue. Which means we're stuck with yet another season in which it's unclear whether he has what it takes to thrive full-time at the NHL level.
Plus, in my opinion, his one true test remains how well he'll fare in the playoffs. A week or so from now. I sincerely hope he pulls himself back together in time, because it looks like we'll be facing those damned Boston Bruins again, and that's supposed to be a ''gimme'', what with the ghosts of our pasts that scare the living shit out of them year in and year out.
And in case you're wondering about the card, it's from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Victory set (card #89); the one he kept was from the 2009-10 Victory set.