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Week 5 in One Word: Price


/prīs/ the amount of money expected, required, or given in payment for something Similar: cost, charge, fee, payment franchise goaltender who has sacrificed his career on a below average team, two seasons excepted

Week 4 for the Montreal Canadiens featured four games. In their first overtime of the season, the Habs collected the loser point against the visiting LA Kings. On Thursday, they defeated the Calgary Flames in regulation time with a 4-2 score to end the Flames five game road winning streak. On Saturday, the Habs were in Detroit, and despite losing Jake Allen to injury they were able to take the game to overtime but were only able to claim the loser point. Then on Sunday they limped into Boston and put out a valiant effort in a loss. Four of a possible eight points.

Here is how I saw things shake down.

Carey Price rejoined “his” team.

Carey Price rejoined the Montreal Canadiens this week, after entering the NHLPA players assistance program before the season got under way. On Tuesday Price issued a statement confirming that he had been away from the team to enter a residential treatment facility for substance use. He indicated his substance misuse followed years of neglecting his own mental health.

For years we knew him as impenetrable – on and off the ice – and having the perfect make-up to play in pressure-packed Montreal. Brendan Gallagher described him as “kind of this Superman.” He could handle anything. But as it turns out, fourteen years of handling everything comes with a price.

It is currently unknown when he will be able to return to the team. One thing we do know. Carey Price is still the cornerstone of the Montreal Canadiens, and without him they’re not the same team. He hasn’t stood on the blue line for one national anthem yet and you can see their game confidence shift.

Carey is not the first player to pay the price for playing in Montreal.

One wonders if Carey found the courage to take care of himself because Jonathan Drouin led the way last season. After years of battling anxiety and insomnia, Drouin could not neglect his mental health any longer when he chose to take a personal leave last Spring.

At the time, Phillip Danault spoke about playing in Montreal. “… we put so much pressure on ourselves already and it’s amplified in Montreal. We put it on ourselves, but we know how high the expectations are around us also. Sometimes it’s hard not to take what’s said about us personally. We all want so badly to perform well and to bring pride to the jersey we wear. It’s an extra pressure we put on ourselves, and sometimes it gets harder on the ice but off the ice, too.”

There is a high price to be paid to be “the guy” in Montreal.

Despite the wishes of fans and media, not every Quebec-born player is prepared to sacrifice himself and his family to pay that price.

Danault was back in town this week after leaving the Habs in the off-season to sign with the Kings. During the first intermission Tyler Toffoli was asked to comment on the video tribute for Danault during a pause in play. Toffoli’s response was poignant. “Phil put a lot of work in here and kind of molded his career here.”

Yes, Phil, you did.

Contrary to what the whiners would tell you, Bergevin has tried to add Quebecois players to his roster. This past summer alone we saw Savard, Paquette and Perreault added. Review his deals. He’s tried.

In one of the strongest moves of his tenure, at the 2016 trade deadline Bergevin moved Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to Chicago for a 2nd round pick that would become Alexander Romanov and a young centreman, Phillip Danault. A Francophone player filling a hole desperately needing to be filled. It was a perfect deal.

The Canadiens then proceeded to give Danault every opportunity for success. In the trade year he split 51 NHL games between Chicago and Montreal and had four goals and six assists. Ten point and minus five. We hoped he could become a third line centre.

But camp rolled around and Danault found himself gifted the team’s best wingers, Alex Radulov and Max Pacioretty. The line worked, and with the help of two elite wingers Phil scored 13 goals and 27 assists for 40 points that season.

The next season was less impressive. Tomas Tatar was added via trade on the eve of the 2018-19 season and one of the best lines in the league was formed, giving faces to the concept of the whole being better than the sum of its parts. Danault became one of the top two-way centres in the league between Tatar and Gallagher.

Yes Phil, you did mold your career here.

But at the end of the day, Danault left home and the team that molded him for $500K and the same role he would have had in Montreal. Fans and pundits are quick to judge Bergevin for “letting Phil walk” for such a small relative amount. But perhaps it was Phil who wasn’t prepared to pay the price anymore.

The guy who unseated Danault got paid this summer, and that price is paying off.

Perhaps Danault felt his position on the team was threatened because of the arrival and development of Nick Suzuki. Perhaps Suzuki was the reason Bergevin could live with letting Phil go. Whichever way you look at it, we are witnessing Suzuki’s emergence as a top line centre. At just 22, the kid is showing he will become the 200-foot force that Montreal has lacked for years.

On October 12th the Canadiens announced they had signed Suzuki to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension. With a year remaining on his entry level contract, the new deal secures Suzuki through the 2029-30 season. The announcement met mixed reviews. Those of us who could see Suzuki’s potential were thrilled, but some worried Bergevin may have paid too steep a price for a player they saw as unproven.

Suzuki was brilliant in the game against Calgary, and after a slow start he has 4 goals and 10 assists in 17 games for .82 points per game. Those are top line centre numbers. He looks like he will be well worth the price.

Jake Allen was injured in Detroit, along with a few others, and two young goaltenders led the group limping into Boston.

With Carey Price out for a while still, the Habs could hardly afford to lose Allen, but that’s exactly what happened Saturday night. Allen was pulled from the game by concussion spotters after Jeff Petry pushed Dylan Larkin into the net. Samuel Montembeault came in to finish the game, and Cayden Primeau was called up Saturday night.

On Sunday, Montembeault got the start with Primeau backing him up. Two kids leading the walking wounded into TD Garden. Their captain is scouting for Berge out west. Two alternates – Byron and Edmundson – are recovering from surgery and injury respectively. Drouin is still out, and Hoffman was added to the list on Sunday. Others are playing through injury. The Habs are beaten up.

Some say it’s the price you pay for a long playoff run.

Marc Bergevin is in the last year of his current contract, and after nearly a decade in charge questions need to be asked about the price of letting him stay.

In four games this week, the Canadiens took four of a possible eight points. With the hole they dug early, that’s not enough. They are now 4-11-2 after 17 games. The hill to climb is almost insurmountable, healthy or not… and they are definitely not.

Six years into his tenure, many felt Bergevin should be fired. The team had struggled and Bergevin had little explanation beyond cheap clichés. Remember the “attitude” presser where Geoff Molson had to interrupt him a time or two? But Molson did his version of a cost-benefit analysis and decided to give Bergevin a chance to do his reset.

Bergevin’s reset involved a gamble. He gambled that he could build through the draft and they could mature quickly enough to compete in Price and Weber’s window, and that he could add some pieces and they’d be a competitive team. He almost pulled it off. They went to the Stanley Cup Final.

But here we are now. Shea Weber is all but done. Carey’s body has taken a beating and there are questions about how much longer he can perform at a high level. The cornerstone of the reset wears another jersey because Bergevin played chicken with an adversary bent on revenge and lost.

It’s time for Molson to do another cost-benefit analysis. This is Marc Bergevin’s team, bulging around the edges of the salary cap, breaking down, and losing badly.

Molson has indicated he is not keen to make unwarranted changes that feed instability. There are costs associated with constant leadership churn, that’s for sure. But there are also consequences of chasing a blurry vision when the facts all around you point to loss. There is a price to be paid for inaction.

Right now, the Habs are in trouble and decisions will need to be made concerning direction in the very near future. Those decisions can’t be made through the same vision that led here. The price is too high.

As my buddy Roy says, it’s a good thing Therrien and Bergevin killed the triple-low-five. Imagine what price we’d be paying if they’d let that nonsense continue.

Nearly a decade has passed since we made fun of that grand gesture. 9+ years of fixing attitude and leadership and character. 9+ years of trying to find centremen. 9+ years of hoarding the wrong kind of defencemen. 9+ years…

The cost-benefit analysis says the price has been too high. It’s time to cut losses.

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