How to Kill a Season: Montreal’s Mishandling of Carey Price
Price won’t be back before ASG
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 8, 2016
And there it was. A reliable media voice in Montreal confirmed what many Canadiens fans had suspected since November. It’s possible that Montreal’s fan base is the most pessimistic in hockey, but in this case, it had every reason to be. The team has handled Carey Price’s lower-body injury so poorly that placing any confidence in their timeline for his return would have been the height of naïveté.
Unraveling a Mystery
From the initial injury sustained on October 29 against the Edmonton Oilers, the Canadiens have followed their usual policy of being as vague as possible about the nature of the affliction. When asked for specific details about the injury in early November, head coach Michel Therrien joked in French “If I tell you, I’d have to kill you.” The putative purpose of keeping injuries secret is to prevent opponents from using the information to gain an advantage. Of course, secrecy also serves a less noble function: if you never detail the injury, you don’t have to face scrutiny for your decisions surrounding the player. Because “lower-body injury” says precisely nothing, and because the Canadiens provided a gradually-shifting timeline for Price’s return, we have been left to piece together the evidence on our own.
Exhibit A: The Kreider Collision
The moment Chris Kreider ran over Carey Price in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final is the most obvious starting place if we’re looking for evidence of previous injury and potential weak points:
Earlier that season, Price had missed eight games with a lower-body injury he had been playing through in Sochi. Price’s Olympic teammate Sidney Crosby commented that “I think it was something that didn’t just happen at the Olympics. I think it’s something he’s been battling for a while.” It’s possible that the Kreider collision was as debilitating as it was because it impacted the existing injury.
Exhibit B: First 2015-16 Injury, October 29
According to Elliotte Friedman, Price slipped on a puck before a game against the Edmonton Oilers, which began this season’s injury troubles. Accidents happen, of course, but what’s most troubling about this account is that Price played the entire game that night. He held up well throughout most of the game, but by the third, his movements had lost their crispness and it was evident that his mobility was compromised. The ease with which Price injured himself might well be connected to his goaltending coach Stephane Waite’s remarks that Price played through an injury in the 2015 playoffs. Was Price battling the now nagging knee injury again? Regardless, based on his injury history, why would the team take a chance playing him through what might have been a minor reinjury? By doing so, the Canadiens virtually ensured that Price would need to miss significant time with a more serious injury.
Exhibit C: Second 2015-16 Injury, November 25 Price returned from his first injury in a little under three weeks, played two full games, and then went down to injury once more in a game against the New York Rangers:
Price finished the period after this obviously painful sequence, and then left the game. Again, given his very recent return from, perhaps, the very same injury, why was Price left on the ice? Earlier in the game, it was already obvious Price was at least experiencing some discomfort. His recovery here is clearly not painless:
You might argue that his difficulties were not evident to the trainers or coaching staff. This seems very unlikely, since they were noticeable even earlier in the game to those watching at home
Price is drifting around this game. It’s worrisome. — Paul Campbell (@77PGC) November 26, 2015
In fact, even in the previous two games, observers remarked that Price did not look entirely well:
Carey Price doesn’t look right. I may be paranoid, but he seems off his game.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) November 23, 2015
Carey Price is not right at all and it’s alarmingly obvious.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) November 21, 2015
If other careful observers could discern Price’s difficulties, why couldn’t the club that had the most to lose if he went down to injury?
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin insisted that “It was not because he came back too quick that he got injured […]. You always wonder if that was the case, but we looked into it really deeply and that was not the case.”
Bergevin’s comments are hard to believe given the outcome of Price’s return, and the fact that Price had not been responding well to treatment. A trip to New York to obtain a second opinion was further evidence that all was not going well with Price’s convalescence. Given his difficult recovery, injury history, and on-ice mobility problems, the team’s decision to play Price and allow him to play through pain is unconscionable.
The Montreal Canadiens (including Price himself) have only themselves to blame for Price’s extended absence. Nothing but prolonged rest and therapy could properly heal his (suspected) MCL injury, but Montreal has insisted, at every juncture, on playing him despite every indication that he was not fully healed.
I hope Price is given, and takes, all the time he needs to come back from this injury. Sadly, needlessly, he’s already lost the chance to defend last season’s incredible cache of awards. At this point, the only consolation would be a healthy return in time for the playoffs. I hope it happens, but it’s more than the Canadiens deserve.