Carey Price

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Capitals aren’t far from tough calls on Holtby, Backstrom, others

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The Washington Capitals’ core has been together for so long, it’s tough to imagine any key names leaving this team.

While winning that first-ever Stanley Cup eases some of the tensions of a possible end of an era (or at least parts of an era), the Capitals aren’t far from potentially making some tough decisions. As in: tougher decisions than trading Alex Burakovsky for cap considerations, which probably wasn’t that easy to begin with.

Consider that star center Nicklas Backstrom‘s bargain $6.7 million cap hit expires after next season, as does that of remarkably reliable starting goalie Braden Holtby, who could see an enormous raise from his team-friendly $6.1M cap hit.

Even Alex Ovechkin‘s once-seemingly-eternal contract is nearing an end; the superstar sniper’s $9.538M cap hit runs out after 2020-21, one season after Holtby and Backstrom are up.

In all three cases, it’s conceivable that players might work with the Capitals to try to keep the band together. Ovechkin’s situation is pretty fascinating; he’s already 33, and his career earnings are already above $103 million, according to Cap Friendly. Maybe he’d take a small cut to chase Wayne Gretzky’s goals record, and perhaps more rings? Would he instead opt to leave North America altogether?

Those rank among the most interesting Ovechkin-related questions, yet they’re down the line.

Holtby, 29, and Backstrom, 31, are more immediate concerns, and both have been underpaid compared to what they’d make on the open market for years now.

All things considered, it’s in net where the most drastic changes might happen. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s seven-year, $70M mammoth of a contract could really raise the bar for goalies at Holtby’s level, which is something even Capitals GM Brian MacLellan acknowledges, as NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Regan pointed out on Tuesday.

“It’s a comparable,” MacLellan said of Bobrovsky’s new contract. “It’s a peer and they look like pretty similar players. They’ve had similar success and Holtby’s had a Stanley Cup on his resume.”

Indeed, there are some striking similarities between the two; in fact, with Holtby being almost exactly one year younger that Bob, he’ll also be the same as Bobrovsky if Holtby hits the free agent market in 2020. Holtby’s career save percentage (.918) is right behind that of Bobrovsky (.919), and while Bob has enjoyed bigger regular season moments (two Vezina trophies to one for Holtby), Holtby’s been the clutch performer. That’s not just leaning on Holtby’s Stanley Cup win, either; few netminders in NHL history have delivered in the postseason quite like Holtby has, as his career playoff percentage is a brilliant .928.

Really, the more you compare Holtby with Bobrovsky – and the other richest goalies in the NHL, like top earner Carey Price and his $10.5M cap hit – the more anxious the Capitals should get. It’s probably fair to even deem Holtby a touch bit underrated, and certainly underpaid.

Yet, the Capitals might not have the stomach to hand a lengthy, long-term investment in an aging goalie like Holtby. The Florida Panthers made a major gamble with Bobrovsky due in some way to desperation, and deep down, the Montreal Canadiens would take a mulligan on that Price deal, if they could.

Simply put, the aging curve is unkind to goalies, too. Maybe some goalies age better, at least based on past stars, but with skill and speed increasing at a high rate in the NHL during the past few seasons, it’s possible that goalies won’t be much luckier in battling Father Time than snipers or power forwards.

As Regan explores in-depth, the Capitals also have an appealing Plan B. Ilya Samsonov is a promising young goalie at age 22, and the pedigree of a first-round pick (22nd overall in 2015). While goalies are notoriously difficult to forecast, Samsonov generally draws positive reviews from those who watch prospects as a passion. Samsonov’s small sample size of AHL games hasn’t been world-beating yet, but his KHL numbers check out, so there’s a chance that he emerges to such a degree that the Capitals decide to go with a younger, cheaper option.

Overall, it seems like 2019-20 has the potential to make a big impact on that decision … although there’s at least the chance of an extension before that drama builds.

Back in May, Holtby said he would love the idea of signing an extension, as Regan reported.

“I would love that,” Holtby said. “That’s not something that I’m going to try and dwell on or whatever. I’m pretty realistic about what goes on in the business and such. My focus is going to be to put in everything I can this summer to make sure I’m ready to help this team win next year. Everything outside of that you let sort itself out. But it’s pretty clear that I love it here and love this team and the city, but that’s the motivation to work hard and make sure that I do everything I can to make sure we stay here.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

While most players say they love where they’re playing, it doesn’t hurt to hear Holtby say that he would prefer to stay. In the case of Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers, Bobrovsky is heading into an uncertain (though sunny) situation, with a franchise that has been mired in irrelevance for decades.

Also: having two promising, if very different, goalie options to choose from for the future is the sort of “problem” most NHL teams would love to have.

Either way, it will be interesting to find out if the Capitals pay up to keep Holtby, go bold and cheap with Samsonov, or find some sort of compromise (like Pekka Rinne slowly passing the torch to Juuse Saros in Nashville?).

It will also be interesting to find out if the Capitals end up regretting certain previous bets. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon with Evgeny Kuznetsov (27, $7.8M through 2024-25) and John Carlson surprised some with how emphatically he lived up to his raise to $8M (through 2025-26). But they took a serious risk with T.J. Oshie, in particular, as he’s already 32, yet his $5.75M AAV won’t expire until after the 2024-25 season.

If the Capitals are able to sign Holtby, Backstrom, and Ovechkin after their current deals expire, it might mean having to make other painful changes.

A lot can change between now and when they truly need to make those calls. After disappointing GMs with a modest bump to $81.5M for 2019-20, it’s possible that the ceiling could lift to unexpected heights for 2020-21, and so on.

Here’s advice to Capitals fans, then: cherish this next season, because it’s possible that this team is nearing a time of significant changes.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Carey Price surprises young fan in NHL Awards’ most touching moment

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The 2019 NHL Awards celebrates the best players and moments in hockey, but it’s also a great reminder of how much of an impact players can make off the ice.

As you can see from this roundup, Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker won the King Clancy for his humanitarian work, while the Willie O’Ree Community Award went to Rico Phillips, who’s doing tremendous work in Flint, Michigan.

Those were great moments, but the most emotional moment happened when Carey Price surprised young Montreal Canadiens fan Anderson Whitehead with a jersey, hug, and what sounds like a trip to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

Warning: you’re very likely to cry while watching this clip. At first, it seems like Price’s video is coming from off site, as he spoke of Whitehead’s mother, who died of cancer at age 44. Price then interrupted his own message, and then surprised Whitehead on stage at the 2019 NHL Awards, and … it’s a goosebumps moment.

The look of shock and surprise on Anderson Whitehead’s face is the sort of thing that will stick with most of us far beyond who won the Hart Trophy and any awards debates, and even beats out the comedy bits, which were expertly deployed by SNL’s Kenan Thompson.

(Honestly, it might be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen at a sports awards show.)

As a reminder, Price first gave Anderson Whitehead a hug earlier this season, and the moment went viral:

Great stuff … and good luck booing Carey Price.

If you need some comic relief after experiencing all of those feelings, enjoy Thompson’s opening monologue, which was really good stuff. May I lead the charge in getting Thompson to do the 2020 NHL Awards, and maybe become as much of a fixture during these ceremonies as he’s been a lifer with SNL? Just throwing my vote (which doesn’t count for anything) out there.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Carey Price pulls out of 2019 NHL All-Star Game to ‘rest and recuperate’

UPDATE 1/8: The NHL has announced that Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will be Price’s replacement.

The NHL All-Star Game will be without another star player as Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is pulling out of the weekend in San Jose to rest up after overcoming a “nagging injury.”

He’s the second player to announce that they’re staying home to rest following Alex Ovechkin decision last week. And like the Washington Capitals forward, Price will be suspended one game either before or after the All-Star break.

From Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin:

“We took the time to discuss the situation with Carey and the medical group earlier today, and we all agreed that the best decision for him would be to rest and recuperate during the upcoming All-Star Break. Carey has had a nagging injury for some time, and we want to make sure to have him healthy and rested for the second half of the season. Carey is honored to once again have been named to the NHL All-Star Game, and he is on board with the Club’s decision.”

The 31-year-old Price missed Montreal’s final three games of 2018 with a lower-body injury (which also allowed him to spend extra time with his new baby girl and wife). Before that, he said he had been playing through the injury for seven weeks; so you can see why the Canadiens wanted him to not take any chances in the 3-on-3 tournament later this month.

[NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters]

Shea Weber is the Canadiens’ representative in the Last Men In vote, so if he misses out, and barring any injury replacements, the team will not have a player heading to San Jose for the event.

As the Metropolitan Division looks to name a replacement captain in Ovechkin’s absence, the Atlantic Division now needs another goaltender to join Jimmy Howard on the roster.

Who are the best options? The top three are Andrei Vasilevskiy, Carter Hutton and Jaroslav Halak. Frederik Andersen will be considered for his stellar first half, but he’s been dealing with a groin injury and the Toronto Maple Leafs would sure prefer him to avoid aggravating it in an event that isn’t kind to netminders.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
Backstrom, Kopitar, Laine, Skinner highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Should Canadiens let Carey Price play again this season?

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On Monday night, Carey Price made his return to the Canadiens lineup after he missed 13 games with a concussion. Price didn’t play in last night’s game against the Panthers, but the fact that he dressed as the backup means it’s just a matter of time before he ends up back between the pipes.

Under normal circumstances, this would be great news for the Habs, but most fans don’t want to see him suit up again this season. With nine games to go and the team way out of playoff contention, some don’t understand why Montreal would risk playing him in meaningless games.

It’s important to remember that Price has had his share on injuries over the last few seasons. Still, that won’t stop Claude Julien from using his franchise goaltender down the stretch.

“I don’t think that’s the right approach or the right example to set for players,” Julien said of shutting Price down for the season.

“He’s healthy, he wants to play. He’s not coming back at 90 percent, he’s 100 percent healthy right now. You can’t hold a player back, especially a player like Carey, and tell him you’ll miss the next 10 games. I don’t think that’s the right message to send.”

Shutting Price down for the rest of the season certainly makes sense in theory. His eight-year, $84 million extension kicks in at the start of next season and the Canadiens don’t have anything to gain by letting him play this year. On the flip side, it’s easy to understand why Price would want to play.

First, he’s a competitor. Most athletes would prefer to play if they’re fully healthy. They clearly don’t approach these situations the same way fans do. They’re professionals, they want to win and sitting on the sidelines as a precaution is unnatural to them.

Second, he may not want to go an entire offseason wondering how his head will respond to a live game. If he comes back, plays a couple of games, stays healthy and plays well, there will be nothing to wonder about over the summer months.

Third, like his team, he’s had a pretty bad year. He owns a 15-22-6 record with a 2.98 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage. Some of that is on the play of the players in front of him, but don’t get it twisted, he’s been mediocre, too.

The Risk

So, we’ve gone through the reasons why he should play. Now, we’ll look at the obvious risk of allowing him to see game action.

Anytime any NHL player steps on the ice, there’s a risk that he could get injured. For Price, those concerns have to be magnified. The 30-year-old is just two years removed from a knee injury that cost him several months and he’s been sidelined on two different occasions this season (10 games for a lower-body injury, 13 games with a concussion).

If the Canadiens were in the chase for a playoff spot, there would be no argument here. Everyone would want him back as soon as possible. Unfortunately for Montreal, they’re 18 points behind New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East. So in other words, it ain’t happening.

There are legitimate points on both sides of the argument. It’s easy to see why some people aren’t interested in having him play out the season. The reasons for him to get back in action are also simple.

In the end, none of this will matter…unless he gets hurt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The top 15 saves of 2017 (PHT Year in Review)

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(Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and much more as we bring you the best of 2017.)

There might not be anything more satisfying in hockey than seeing a highway robbery in progress between the pipes.

The late flash of the leather, the desperation save off the paddle of the stick or the elusive two-pad stack. They are all things of beauty and should be cherished as such.

So as we get ready to ring in the New Year, PHT looks back at some of the best thieveries in the past 12 months.

15. The Kontinental Hockey League can be a treasure trove of great highlights that not everyone gets to see on a regular basis. This save by SKA Saint Petersburg’s Mikko Koskinen is no exception. Simply outstanding.

14. How often does a save of the year candidate come around for a goalie? What about two in the same game? Garrett Sparks of the Toronto Marlies accomplished this rare feat.

13. The stanchion can sometimes be the goalies worst enemy. Sometimes enemies must be conquered. Joseph Woll did just that for Boston College.

 

12. Talk about timely. University of British Columbia Thunderbirds goalie Derek Dun’s save was not only spectacular in nature, it also sent his team to the playoffs.

 

11. Perhaps the best save at the World Championships this past year, Philipp Grubauer got the tip of his stick on the puck to make an outrageous save on Kaspars Daugavins.

10. Dominik Hasek retired several years ago now, but some of his magic still lives on in the NHL. Jonathan Quick did his best Hasek impression with this kick save.

9. The goalie stick isn’t very wide in relation to the size of an NHL net, but there are still where it plays a pivotal role in stopping a puck from crossing the goal line, as seen here by Matt Murray.

8. Sometimes pucks take a weird deflection off the boards. Sometimes they result in the flukiest of goals. Goalies are often caught out of position, but as Pekka Rinne will now demonstrate, it’s not all lost:

7. Two-pad stack alert. Thank you, Martin Jones.

6. Robin Lehner dislocated his entire body to stone Bryan Rust.

5. Carey Price in overtime, what a sight to behold.

4. Jonathan Bernier on Damon Severson. If you’re Severson, you can’t even be mad, right?

3. Poor Henrik Zetterberg. A wide open net and surely a goal, but then…

2. Deke… open net… no goal. Devan Dubnyk does the unthinkable against Gustav Nyquist, who probably still can’t sleep.

1. We don’t all agree with John Tortorella at the best of times, but when he called this the best save of the year, he wasn’t lying. This is simply majestic from Bob, so smooth. No sketch, to borrow a term from skateboarding.

Previously:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck