Sunday, June 03, 2007

Could Price Become A Better Pick Than Crosby?

A question for a nation of hockey afficianado's: Could Carey Price turn out to be a better draft pick than Sidney Crosby?

Seems like a ridiculous notion, doesn't it?

Maybe, and then again maybe not!

Straight off the top, and honestly, I don't entirely buy my own question - at least not yet, anyways. But the fact that I find myself asking the question, it begs an answer.

The onus on the question is better PICK and not better PLAYER - if one chooses to split hairs.

I will though, admittingly acknowledge, that myself or anyone reading this article in all knowledge, cannot predict the future. Draft day hindsight is always 20/20.

Remember Montreal fudging on Mike Bossy in '77 or Doug Wickenheiser in '80 - anyone?

Much of what is learned about the future, often comes from lessons in the past - and the examples are endless.

Those lessons, as often as they are revealing, can just as often be misleading. Occasionally, coincidences line up, allowing for hopeful excursions into dreamland, however fact based one finds it.

So I'll call this bit of intuition, just a hunch, based on fanatical hockey knowledge and a sense of deja voodoo.

Follow me back, if you will, to the 1984 NHL entry draft, where a Laval Voisin centerman named Mario Lemieux had just finished destroying all Canadian junior hockey league records with a 133 goal, 149 assist season. Lemieux had broken a record for goals, 130, set by Guy Lafleur in 1971, while being two years younger. It's a no - brainer that he is the absolute best pick in the 1984 entry draft.

A blind man could see it, a mute could hear it, possibly even a dead man could sense it - it was that clear cut.

The Montreal Canadiens had their gaze firmly settled on Lemieux years earlier when they dealt disgruntled center Pierre Larouche to the Hartford Whalers for a 1st round pick they dreamed might become the 6' 6" Montrealer.

It was a nice try for Les Habitants, who ended up choosing 5th overall, and selected a shy and skinny Czechoslovakian defenseman with good puck moving skills named Petr Svobada.

In hindsight, Lemieux would become the second best player chosen that draft year. Svoboda wasn't even close.

The honour of the best player from the 1984 crop went to a goaltender, who flew so far under the radar that season, he wasn't plucked until the 51st pick.

This goaltender, who played for the perennial cellar dwelling Granby Bisons, had registered consecutive seasons in which his goals against average in three seasons of junior hockey read a horrifying 6.26, 4.44, and 5.55.

If you were to predict that such a puck bruised goaltender could become a worthier player than Lemieux down the line, you'd surely be off your rocker.

The goalie in question was none other than Patrick Roy.

For trivia buffs, the Canadiens aquired the 51st pick in the 1984 draft in which they chose Roy, by dealing off Ken Dryden's backup goaltender of several years, Michel "Bunny" Larocque, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Robert Picard. The towering rearguard that was Picard failed to live up to expectations in his 3 seasons with the Habs and was dealt off to the Winnipeg Jets for a 3rd round pick in the 1984 draft whicht landed Patrick Roy in Montreal.

If it is a stretch of the imagination that a 51st pick overall can turn out better than an overwhelming first overall choice like Mario Lemieux, can it be that farfetched to consider that Carey Price may eventually top Sidney Crosby as far as career acheivements go?

In terms of who was better - Roy beats Lemieux 4-2 in Cups, and 6-2 in Stanley Cup final appearances. All stats along the way are just storyline fodder.

Cups, my friends, are the bottom line!

Just as Pittsburgh and Montreal had the first and fifth picks respectively in 1984, the same order played itself out in 2005, this time via a draft lottery.

The deja voodoo angle has much to do with what is happening to Price and the Hamilton Bulldogs, as of this writting.

( I'll get around to Sid the Kid, the Wizard of Cros, and those comparisons, later in this piece. In 1984, Sidney's father Troy, just happened to be a goalie the Habs chose in the draft, much later than the one Carey Price is often compared to.)

Just as Patrick Roy was promoted late season from a less than stellar junior team in the late season to join an AHL team on the brink of coming together, Carey Price, with a gold medal in hand from the World Junior Championships, where he was a unanimous MVP choice, has backstopped the Hamilton Bulldogs into previously undreamed of territory.

It is eerily similar to Roy's pre - NHL exploits - leading the overwhelming underdog Sherbrooke Canadiens to the 1985 Calder Cup.

Mario Lemieux never won big games until getting his hands on the Stanley Cup in 1991, and again one year later. There are no junior league or World Junior championships in his resume, nor any Memorial Cups.

Sidney Crosby fared better than Lemieux, winning the QMJHL league title, as well being a member of the 2004 Canadian WJC winning team.

While the 19 year old Crosby has piled up the accolades in two short seasons and is destined for a Hall Of Fame career, Price is presently making huge headlines of his own while helping to turn the Hamilton Bulldogs into giant slayers. Should Price continue his mimicery of Roy's ascention to greatness, and win a Stanley Cup in the not too distant future, it might leave many in the NHL's hockey braintrust rethinking their moves on the day of the 2005 draft.

I am not suggesting that Price should have been chosen ahead of Crosby in 2005. Only a lucridously foolish and mentally incapacitated GM would have been willing to risk his reputation on such a gamble. Even Bob Gainey raised some eyebrows in choosing Price, considering that Jose Theodore, fresh off a Hart Trophy win two seasons earlier still took up all the space in the Montreal goal.

( I'm getting to that Crosby comparison, bare with me.)

I vividly recall that summer day two years ago, when I played hooky from work in order to place myself in front of the TV for the NHL Draft Lottery. Heart pounding, palms sweaty (I'm not exaggerating!), I watched the Canadiens last until the fifth pick, when all my hopes of seeing Crosby in a Habs jersey came crashing down.

The upside was, of course, quickly apparent. The fifth pick in place of what normally would have been a middle first round choice, was a big bonus fron the Gods of the hockey world.

Disappointment quickly turned to titilation (love using that word!) when I realized that this was one very deep draft, and that the Canadiens would be getting their hands on what could amount to a franchise player. While this player would be no Crosby, he would certainly be the foundation of something prosperous.

Scanning the reading material found in hockey publications such as The Hockey News and other paper sources, I held out hope that the Habs would grab either Gilbert Brule, or a longshot from the under developed hockey nation of Slovenia named Anze Kopitar. Knowing full well that Jack Johnson and Bobby Ryan wouldn't be around by the 5th pick, that Benoit Pouliot's late bloomer tale was too risky for me, and that Luc Bourdon had an longshot outside chance, I still pinned my hopes on Brule or Kopitar.

Carey Price wasn't even in my thoughts - the Habs hardly needed a goalie, and that notion was quickly dismissed.

I anticipated the draft for a good week, pondering all scenarios until the day arrived.

When the Habs Trevor Timmins stepped to the podium to make the Canadiens choice, I figured Brule was in the bag. I thought offhandedly of the detrimental consequences his billingual name might render in the French Montreal media. Brule, loosely translated into English, means burn, burned, or burnt. This could work many ways I thought. I saw headlines in my head that read "Gilbert Brule Les Bruins" or even "Brule On Fire". At worst, it would be "Brule Is Burnt". Better yet, "Brule Burns Flames On Hot Streak".

Maybe a good thing, then again, possibly not. Either way, it wasn't meant to be
Truth is, I did not prefer Brule over Kopitar - the Canadiens needed a centerman, and still do.

I was absolutely floored, THN magazine in hand, when Timmins announced, "The Montreal Canadiens select, from the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, Carey Price."

Commentators on TSN predicting Brule were caught off guard. My reaction was to helplessly fling my THN copy straight up into an awaiting ceiling fan, that slashed several pages, before sending it across my living room.

I was repulsed and disgusted. Confused, betrayed, and stumped. "What do I know", I thought.

(Yes, I'm about to zero in on a comparison to Crosby - I'm building a point.)

Soon after, I began learning of who Carey Price was, his background and parents, and his hockey pedigree. It spoke volumes in terms of character, coolness, dedication, and perseverance - one of Patrick Roy's favorite words.

I quickly started thinking that there was alot more to choosing Carey Price than I first imagined.

Fast forward to the present, where Price is now on the verge of making quite a name for himself as an AHL'er in Hamilton. I think of all that I've learned about him in two years, and I cannot help but think that I've seen this movie before.

Price's story so far, is so similar to Patrick Roy's, it's uncanny. Their beginnings seem to match one another, step for step.

Oddly enough, personality wise, they are absolute opposites in many ways. Price's fire is a constant, persuant simmer, where Roy's drive was electrically combustable inferno at the flick of a match.

Recently, Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig, who owns part of the Tri City Americans attested that he knows Carey Price has never broken a stick after a bad goal. Kolzig, who has tutored Price on occasion, has offered to his star, that a goaltender must never be visable in frustration to the opposition. It's a very deep piece of advice!

Seemingly, Price comes about his composure quite naturally, that it is almost a self taught reflex.

Added all up, we can surmise that Price is much more than a goalie of talent and imposing size, currently posting very interesting statistics, while being a greenhorn AHL rookie thrown into the fire with a playoff underdog.

The boy has the mental capacities for greatness and achievement. Words associated to him most oftenly are: calm, stoic, unflappable, dedicated, disciplined, and focused.

These are the traits of greatness in a hockey player, and one does not learn them while playing for brutal to average junior teams as a teenager. Point blank - one does hardly aquire these qualities, they are part of the being of a person.

These are, in essense, the makeup of the goalie that is Carey Price.

( Now, finally, back to Crosby and why Price might turn out better in the longer haul.)
Sidney Crosby, the number one pick in the 2005 draft, record breaker, phenom, Art Ross trophy holder, and newly appointed youngest captain ever, shares a good majority of the traits and qualities used to describe Carey Price mentioned above. As great as he has been, he will undoubtably only get better, and soon enough his name will be hammered into the silver of Lord Stanley's mug. It's inevitable.

But Crosby does have the odd character flaw that allows him to become undone.

I recall cheering Crosby on in the 2004 Memorial Cup final against the powerful London Knights, Crosby thrived in the spotlight, carrying his team to the championship game. Once there, the Knights committed all their boundless energy into tying him up and bogging him down, using every possible irritation on ice to crawl under his skin and render him ineffective. It worked wonders, and the Knights walked off with the Cup. It was no random game strategy, the Knights coach was none other than Dale Hunter, a career pest capable of the worst indiscriminations on ice in the name of winning at all costs.

Oddly, Hunter never won a Stanley Cup, and would surely be an NHL coach at this point were it not for his ownership of the London squad, and the fact that they are raking in millions annually - but that's a whole other point for someone else's blog!

A long time Crosby opponant and irritant, who could liken himself a Dale Hunter wannabe, is none other than the Habs Maxim Lapierre, who knows a thing or two about finding the Crosby ire. Lapierre was very effective at certain times, in getting Crosby's focus compass to spin like a tornado. Crosby is hardly an unknown quantity to Lapierre, as he has faced him for two his seasons in the QMJHL. "Mad Max", to his credit, even registered a hat trick in a game against him once.

Crosby posseses great media savvy, but on ice he wears a totally different game face that has worked for him for years. He is not beyond the occasional sideshow antic, when and where he feels the need for it. His propensity for whinning quickly became known in his rookie season, and he hardly toned it down in his sophomore year. It has garnered him a reputation among officials, that is not shared by fans, but is understood by foes. He may eventually learn to display a more focused gaze, but for the time being, he's offering an open wound for salt.

Having said all that, I love the player, and look forward to witnessing his career unfold over the coming years with tremendous delight.

It's just that he has that chink in his armour to work on.

Carey Price will never lay his cards on the table in the same exposed manner that Crosby, in all his nature, cannot avoid doing.

Coolness under fire will always win out over oil poured on fire.

Shutting down a forward easily unfocussed is much easier to deal with than a goaltender unsolved, whose mysteriousness gets inside a players head.

That might make all the difference. It might also make Price a better bet in long run that Crosby.

But don't believe me. I'd trade them one for one in a nanosecond!

Would you?

Think about that again.


Anvilcloud said...

You are quite the analyst and writer. Good for you.

moeman said...

Yup. Just found this blog via an avid NS Habs fan and I must say the writing is good, thoughtful and fun.

As for Carey Price, I predicted he'd be the Canadiens pick when Sid was bagged by PIT. Those that ragged the CH and Price (yes I'm talking about tsn's magwired) will rue the day.

Robert L said...

Gentleman, thank -you for the kind words. They are always appreciated and very motivational here in the domain of unpaid freelances!

Maguire is certainly an energetic annoyance. He's pretty well informed when it comes to most things but usually dead wrong when it comes to the Habs. It's a treat sometimes to hear him make a fool of himself.

I'd love to see him one day in a coaches corner like tandem with Brian Burke, correcting him at every syllable - uncensored!

Giovanni said...

Excellent article...I also would like to point out...Price as a goalie has more longevity in terms of nhl career...less chances of injuries etc...

World's biggest habs fan : )

Anonymous said...

What is the Mike Bossy, Doug Wickenheiser comparisson? Bossy was drafted in 1977 and Wickenheiser in 1980. Denis Savard went third in 1980...

Robert L said...

There's no comparison between the 2 to speak of. The comment "draft day hindsight" refers to the second guessing that can go on years after a draft is over.

15 GM's overlooked Mike Bossy in 1977 and the Habs chose Mark Napier. The Montreal media still hasn't forgiven Irving Grundman and Ron Caron for taking Wick over Savard in 1980.

Wickenheiser played in the Memorial Cup, scored 89 goals in the WHL, and was a 6'3" centerman. All 21 GM's rated him the #1 pick, even though Cornwall's 17 years old Dale Hawerchuk made mincemeat out of him in the tournament.

The Montreal media wanted little (5'9", 170 lbs) Denis Savard in a Habs jersey, of course.

I sided with the Wickenheiser pick at the time, had they not messed with his head, he'd have been a good one.

The reasoning at the time for passing up on Bossy was that he got soft come playoff time - not entirely true. When Wickenheiser came up lame in the Mem Cup - they ignored that reasoning, as it misleadthem once before.

Best player in the 1980 draft turned out to be Paul Coffey.


Duane said...

Excellent article. It speaks volumes about Price and his talent and upside that the question is even being posed., IMHO, Crosby will always be the cream of the 05 crop, but Price will eventually be a very close second. Great job by Timmons and Gainey for seeing the talent in Price that very of us arm chair GMs saw,

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out something about the 2005 draft. The person that did call Carey Price was not Timmins but Elmer Benning, Mtl Scout for Western Canada. He was the one to bring up Price to Timmins and Gainey and they asked him to call him at draft day. I know the guy. I went to see him after the draft. My choice was also Kopitar. I couldn't believe what Mtl had done. He told me that they were less than certain about Kopitar but said wait and see about Price. They were right!

Robert L said...

Anonymous - Thank you for pointing that out. Would I be correct in assuming that Elmer Benning is the father of former NHL'ers Jim and Brian Benning? Jim's middle name is Elmer, as far as I could research.

There surely is an interesting story behind the elder Benning making a case for Carey Price with the Habs brass. If you know of anything in that regard, please feel free to share it...and don't be so anonymous next time!

wingpat said...

Robert: not sure what happened but I just saw that my second post never went in.
Anyway, you are correct in assuming that Elmer is the father of the Benning's brother.
There is not much that I want to add about that story. One thing I can confirm you is that not everyone (Mtl scouts) agreed with the choice of Price. They were looking at another player. So far, that player isn't accounting for much which show that Price, for the moment, was the best choice.

wingpat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert L said...

Thanks wingpat, I would imagine Benning has a great story to tell that will unfold one day.

Got to wonder who the mystery player is? My guess would be Brule.

Thank goodness the scouts settled on Price. In hindsight it looks like a clear choice. People forget that drafts aren't done in hindsight but scouts wear their errors for years.

How is it that you know Mr. Benning?

Drop me an e-mail, if you prefer not to post in comments.

Thanks again for the clarification, my memory of that detail of the draft is attached to the photo of Timmins and Gainey with Carey.