|It's official: Carey Price will be Cristobal Huet's backup this season.
MONTREAL – The Canadiens' million dollar question was finally answered with the announcement of the final cuts on Monday: Carey Price
is staying put in Montreal.
With water coolers everywhere over the last few months abuzz over who was going to serve as Cristobal Huet’s understudy, in the end Price’s meteoric rise through the ranks proved impossible for Gainey to resist.
“Like all our young players fighting for a spot, Carey came in and worked hard. We’ve been watching him closely as he’s developed through our system,” said Gainey, following the club’s announcement of its 23-man roster to start the season. “It was ultimately my decision, but we have a committee of people in our hockey department that provided input, including our coaching staff as well as Don Lever and Ron Wilson who saw both Carey and Jaroslav Halak the most last season during their time in Hamilton.”
When asked whether the risk of moving Price’s development along so quickly had entered his mind considering the team’s usual reluctance to do so, Gainey stood by his decision.
“For every rule there is an exception,” said Gainey.
Also among those with reason to smile was Kyle Chipchura and speedster Mikhail Grabovski, who may find himself joined at the hip with Alex Kovalev this season. According to Gainey, whether Grabovski can help Kovalev bounce back from a disappointing 2006-07 season isn’t the point.
“Let’s not put the cart before the horse. I say why not see what a veteran like Kovalev can do for Grabovski,” suggested Gainey. “They looked good as a unit the other night against Ottawa. We’ve seen them skate together a fair bit at camp and they’ve shown good chemistry together.”
While Monday’s news was a bitter pill to swallow for Halak, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan O’Byrne, Gainey was quick to mention that the road from Hamilton to Montreal isn’t a long one.
“All three of those players are not far off from being here, both physically and skill-wise,” said Gainey, “It will be up to the players who are staying with us to keep their spots, if not someone else will step in.
“The decision in Maxim’s case was not an easy one to make,” admitted Gainey. “The competition for his spot was fierce, especially with the arrival of Tom Kostopoulos. Some time in Hamilton will be beneficial for Maxim. He will be able to work on his penalty killing and face-offs.”
Head coach Guy Carbonneau followed suit by making it a point to underline the value of maximizing your time in the minors.
“This isn’t a punishment for these players, nor a lost season by any stretch,” warned Carbonneau. “I myself spent two years in the minors before enjoying an 18-year NHL career. This is nothing more than an opportunity for these players to work on certain aspects of their game. If they dominate at that level for 10 games, they will obviously force our hand to consider calling them back up.”
As he looks up and down his roster with the regular season now 48 hours away, Carbonneau likes what he sees.
“I’m happy with the group of players I have to work with,” affirmed Carbonneau. “My job now is to put the 20 best available players on the ice. But injuries are an inevitable part of the game, so all 26 of these players could get a chance to play for us.”
The first test for the 2007-08 Canadiens will be a season-opening road trip beginning in Carolina on Wednesday night.Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com