In Montreal, or what can be affectionately referred to as Canada's version of the New York Media Machine, the crowning of the next Patrick Roy has begun again. It's almost like a semi-annual event up there. What I'm referring to is the enormous pressure to perform that has been put on seemingly every person who has stood in the Habs' net since Roy left in December 1995.
Let's start the morning with a little history lesson, class.
First, there was Jocelyn Thibault, who was received by Montreal in the trade for Roy. His fate was sealed from the start, despite putting up decent numbers during his tenure. The fact is, you can't replace a legend, not matter how much the end of his time in Montreal crashed and burned.
After Thibault, French Canadian Jose Theodore was anointed as the next young netminder to put the Habs on his back and take them to the promised land. We're all young enough to remember how that ended up. His relationship with Montreal could be classified as bipolar at best. In 2002, he led the team to the playoffs while winning both the Vezina and Hart trophies. The following season he posted a 2.90 GAA and the Habs missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. He rebounded with a great season in the last winter prior to the lockout, but after the lockout, nothing would ever be the same.
During the 2005-06 season he only played 35 games in Montreal before being shipped to Colorado, just like Roy. Theordore held a unsightly 3.46 GAA and .889 save percentage during his half season in Montreal that year. The straw that broke the camel's proverbial back was his banishment from international play for two years due to doping allegations. It was later revealed that Theodore had been using the hair growth drug Propecia legally, but the damaged had already been done.
The latest incarnation of Roy was supposed to be an actual Frenchman, Cristobal Huet. He took over in net after Theodore was let go, and finished the 2005-06 season with a 2.20 GAA, the best save percentage in the league at .929, and helped the Habs get back to the playoffs. Sound familiar? In the off-season, he was briskly rewarded with a two-year, $5.75 million dollar deal. Last year, Huet fought late season injury and poor play, but ended up winning the starting job by default after David Aebischer collapsed early on. Huet would finish the year with a 2.81 GAA and a .916 save percentage, but Montreal missed the playoffs. Sensing a pattern here?
Now that you know the long back story, imagine my surprise (I mean, lack thereof) after seeing what TSN and the Montreal Gazette had to say about Canadiens' rookie camp. If those two media outlets are any indication, then the engines on the nearly 15 year man hunt for the next netminder to lead the Habs to a Stanley Cup are revving up again. Both outlets anointed 2005 first round pick Carey Price as the new savior of the Canadiens. The headline in Sunday's Gazette put it bluntly; "Price relaxed despite task of proving he's no. 1 man... Rookie goalie Must convince Canadiens he's good enough to hold top job and not be backup with the NHL club." The first line of the accompanying article was just more of the same, saying that "there's no player in the Canadiens' rookie camp who is facing as much pressure as goaltender Carey Price."
TSN's coverage was more toned down, despite the fact that an article and photo of price were given front page exposure on TSN.ca all day Tuesday. The first line of that article reads; "Carey Price has passed every test so far in [Juniors and the AHL] and no one doubts he can ace the next one - making the Montreal Canadiens out of training camp."
To their credit, all of this is not without justification. By all reports, Price has played stellar in Montreal's rookie camp so far. The Habs' official website even went so far as to call the young goaltender a 'puck-stopping machine.' That being said, it's a little bit early to start anointing this kid, and at barely 20 years old he is just that -- a kid, the next Masked Savior of Montreal. The Media Machine of Montreal is tough to deal with, and who knows how that could affect a 20-year old rookie.
We all knew this day would more than likely come at some point, though. When the Canadiens used their first round pick in the 2005 draft on a goaltender, the fifth pick no less, you knew there would be sky-high expectations the second his name was read at the podium, even if his name was, say, Sammy "Swiss Cheese" McGivesUpGoals. Luckily for the press in Montreal, Price is a lot easier to spell and pronounce than McGivesUpGoals.
This isn't the first we have heard of Price. If it's the first you're hearing about him, you obviously do not live in Canada. Price put up stellar numbers in juniors, and followed that by dominating the AHL playoffs this past spring. He only started in two regular season games for the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, but during 22 playoff games he posted a 2.06 GAA along with a stunning .936 save percentage. Hamilton went on to win the Calder Cup, thanks in no small part to Price. Fittingly, he was named Calder Cup MVP. If that didn't hype him up enough, he backstopped the Canadian Junior Team to a Gold medal at the World Junior Championships, where he gave up only seven goals in six games, including two shutouts.
By all indications, this kid is in fact, the 'real deal'. Then again, so was Huet, who also put up stellar numbers in the AHL and Thibault was a former thirteenth overall pick. Never mind about them, though. Thanks to the overwhelming attention being given to Price, the final chapters in Huet's time as a Canadian are probably being written as I type. At this point, he is only another name to cross off on a long list of guys who have either cracked under the pressure of the Montreal Media Machine or been given the boot by the next 'can't miss' goalie.
June will mark the 15th anniversary of the Habs' last Stanley Cup victory, which is also the longest Cup-less drought in team history. Patrick Roy helped lead the 1992-93 version of the team to glory, and since then, Montreal has been grasping at straws to find someone that can uplift a mediocre team and carry them through to glory in June. It's funny how things work, though -- the same people that lift up each of Roy's successors are also the first ones to bring them down and toss them to the curb. Just ask Jose Theodore or Cristobal Huet.