Of all the big names to be left exposed for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, none raised more eyebrows than the Canadiens’ decision to leave starting goalie Carey Price unprotected.
Price has been the face of the franchise for more than a decade, and just backstopped the team to a stunning appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
For Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, it is a very calculated gamble.
The Canadiens did not want to lose Jake Allen for nothing and could not find a suitable trade for him ahead of the 3 p.m. ET roster freeze on Saturday. Rather than make a bad trade or risk losing him, Bergevin decided to protect him and (at the suggestion of Price) play a rather bold game of chicken with Seattle.
[Related: NHL Mock Expansion Draft, projecting Kraken roster]
The thought process is simple: Montreal is banking on the fact that Seattle will not want to take on the remainder of Price’s contract that counts more than $10M against the cap per season for the next five years, especially as word leaks out that he could need surgery this offseason. When the Golden Knights entered the league in 2017 their expansion draft selections were loaded with players on short-term or expiring contracts to keep their salary cap flexibility in place. Kraken GM Ron Francis has already talked about how salary cap space is their big advantage, and it is hard to imagine they want to eat up too much of it on big-money, veteran players that other teams want to get rid of.
But Price is a very different situation. The Canadiens almost certainly do not want to lose him, and his exposure is entirely strategic based on the idea that they will not lose him.
The problem with that thought process is that if we are to believe reports that have surfaced since the expansion lists were set, Seattle is at least strongly considering the idea and apparently has the OK from ownership to take on the remainder of Price’s contract, even with his newly report health concerns.
It would be the type of move that seemed almost beyond comprehension just a few weeks ago and would be peak chaos for the NHL offseason.
[Related: NHL expansion draft: Best bargains, most interesting available players]
Argument for it: A face of the franchise and potential core building block
The obvious comparison here would be Vegas’ selection of Marc-Andre Fleury from the Penguins back.
Fleury was (and still is) a wildly popular player that was an instant marketing attraction for a new team trying to build a following. Price not only has that same sort of big name appeal, but he is also from the Pacific Northwest, just took a team to the Stanley Cup Final, and plays a position that could make him a significant impact player for a franchise just starting out.
It is not a stretch of a comparison.
Price, 33, is the same age that Fleury was when the Golden Knights selected him, and while his play the past couple of years has regressed from his peak, it is still on par with what Fleury was doing when he arrived in Vegas.
[Related: Lessons Kraken, rest of NHL can take from Golden Knights expansion draft]
Price has a .912 all situations save percentage and a .918 even-strength save percentage over the past three seasons, while also being money in each of his playoff appearances.
Fleury has a .918 all situations save percentage and a .922 even-strength mark in the three seasons before he went to the Golden Knights.
A slight edge to Fleury, but not dramatically so. Especially when you consider Fleury was playing behind a better team (a two-time Stanley Cup champion).
Argument against it: That contract carries a huge risk
Here is where the Fleury-Price comparison differs.
When Vegas added Fleury, he had two years remaining on his contract at a $5.5M salary cap hit. It was a low-risk move. Even if Fleury did not pan out as they had hoped, it was not going to be a cap-crushing contract or become an albatross. If anything, it probably would have been a tradable piece.
Price’s contract is an entirely different beast, still having five years at $10.5M per season remaining.
That’s a five-year, $52.5M investment (salary cap investment — it would be $44M in actual dollars) for a 33, and soon-to-be, 34-year-old goalie that might need surgery this offseason.
Even after re-signing Fleury to a three-year contract their overall investment in him was $31M over five years. And it is worth pointing out that by year three they had to acquire and re-sign another goalie (Robin Lehner) to complement him, and who finished each of the past two seasons starting over Fleury.
If Price does not provide what you hope, that is a big contract eating away at your one big advantage (salary cap space) tied to a player that will have a no-movement clause, complete control over where (or if) he goes if you can even find a team willing to take it. You could be end up being stuck.
Should Seattle pick Price?
It is an obviously intriguing idea, and one that Seattle has to seriously consider. A great goalie can completely change your franchise, and Price has a track record of being that type of player and still has the occasional ability to play at that level.
There is also an obvious PR and marketing win here with selecting him and making him the face of the franchise.
At the end of the day though it is still a results-based business based on wins. Is Price, at his age, and at that contract, still capable of playing at that level on a consistent basis? Of the 59 goalies that have appeared in at least regular 50 games over the past three seasons Price is 24th, 30th, and 20th respectively in all situations save percentage, even-strength save percentage and high-danger save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick).
Those are certainly not bad numbers, but they are not great, either. And for $10.5M per year against the cap over the next five years you better be expecting greatness.
There are a handful of goalies available in this very expansion draft that have comparable, or even better, numbers over the same time period with considerably less risk financially. It all comes down to how confident Seattle is that Price can be the goalie we saw in the playoffs on a more consistent basis, and how important it is for them to have a big name to build around.
It probably will not outweigh the on-ice risks. So for as bold as it would be, it would probably be best if Seattle went in a different direction with its goaltending position.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.