BROSSARD, Que. – Uncertainty.
No word better describes the Montreal Canadiens heading into the franchise's first offseason without a playoff appearance in five years, and perhaps no player on the team is feeling more of it than goaltender Carey Price.
The Canadiens are currently undergoing a search for a new general manager after Pierre Gauthier was fired two weeks ago and the future of coach Randy Cunneyworth is hanging in the balance.
Meanwhile, Price says he is still feeling the effects of the first concussion of his life, leaving him unsure of how long it will take before he can start working out again and definitely putting his usual offseason rodeo moonlighting on hold for the foreseeable future.
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The injury also adds to the tension surrounding his expiring contract without a general manager to negotiate with.
"I want to play here for a long time," Price said Monday as he and his teammates conducted end of season medicals and headed their separate ways for the summer. "So, obviously, when we get a general manager we'll cross that bridge."
Price will complete a two-year, $5.5 million contract July 1, making him a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. That contract was signed when Price was coming off the worst season of his young career, and also in the aftermath of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak being traded away to the St. Louis Blues in order to make some room for Price to become the franchise goalie.
Circumstances are very different now, and Price's new salary will surely reflect that.
But he says his top priority is to return to Montreal next fall.
"I think we have a lot of really good pieces in this dressing room, we have a lot of positive upside moving forward. It's definitely a place I want to be," he said. "I know I want to play here for a long time. I have a house here and I feel pretty settled in to this organization. I'm just kind of waiting for an offer right now."
He's not the only one.
The Canadiens only have four unrestricted free agents on their roster in Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche, Chris Campoli and Brad Staubitz. But in addition to Price there are several key, young components who need new contracts, starting with defenseman P.K. Subban and continuing with fellow defensemen Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz and center Lars Eller.
"I've enjoyed the time in Montreal, I love the city, I love the fans and my teammates," said Subban, who revealed Monday he will represent Canada in the IIHF 2012 World Championships. "I want to play in Montreal for a long time. I guess I've been dodging [the contract question] all year but the season's over now and you can't really dodge it anymore, it is something that needs to be addressed. But it will happen in time, and hopefully it happens soon."
Another player eagerly awaiting to learn his fate is center Scott Gomez, who has two years left on a contract with a cap hit of $7.357 million but whose actual salary drops to $5.5 million next season and $4.5 million the season after. Still, that is a hefty price tag for a player who has produced 49 points in 118 games played over the past two seasons.
"I don't think many people know what's going on right now or what's going to happen," Gomez said when asked to address the possibility of him not returning. "There's going to be changes, but those are questions I can't answer. I'm not on that side of management. I guess we'll all find out."
He made it back from consecutive ACL surgeries on the same knee to play in 13 games at the end of the season. He logged 18:00 of ice time per game, but looked nothing like the dominant puck mover the Canadiens had prior to Markov hurting his right knee during the 2010 playoffs and then again seven games into his comeback last season.
Markov's absence until March 10 hurt the Canadiens immensely, but unless he can find his game in time for next fall's training camp, the Montreal blue line may be a source of weakness for a second season in a row even if Markov is there from Day 1.
"The first 10 games, maybe, it wasn't easy adjusting to the speed," Markov said. "But the last three or four games I felt pretty good and much more comfortable on the ice with the speed. But that's my plan for the summer, to improve my knee and to be better."
With so many questions, the Canadiens players who will be leaving town over the next few days may be feeling a little uneasy.
But for defenseman Josh Gorges, the wind of change that owner and president Geoff Molson hinted at when he fired Gauthier on March 20 makes him excited to be back for training camp in the fall.
"I really think this will be a different team next year because of the steps that ownership and management will take this summer to rebuild that winning atmosphere of the Montreal Canadiens of the past," said Gorges, whose six-year, $23.4 million contract goes into effect July 1. "There's an expectation of this organization, not just from the people here but from the entire League, they expect the Montreal Canadiens to be a playoff team and that's the way it should be. I think they're going to make the necessary moves to put us in that position again."