LAVAL, Quebec – The word "transition" was used often at the Montreal Canadiens' annual charity golf tournament on Monday.
Goalie - MTL
GAA: 2.52 | SVP: .917
General manager Marc Bergevin
and coach Michel Therrien
used the word immediately to explain their decision to go without a captain for the second time in team history this season, instead naming Andrei Markov
, Tomas Plekanec
, Max Pacioretty
and P.K. Subban
to serve as alternates.
The group represents the past, present and future of the team, and it's possible a new leader will indeed emerge from that group to replace the departed Brian Gionta and become Canadiens captain next summer.
But it is just as possible, if not likely, that the actual leader of the team was unofficially named when the team decided to forego naming a captain.
Goaltender Carey Price cannot be the official captain of the team according to NHL rules, nor can he wear a letter on his sweater. But everywhere you turned Monday, you heard his name.
Therrien reminded reporters not to forget about Price on more than one occasion. He made sure of it, and with good reason. Therrien said he used to convene Gionta and his alternates last season for meetings. He will do the same with his group of four alternates this season with one notable difference: Price will be invited as well.
"One guy we don't want to forget is Carey Price," Therrien said. "If the League would allow us to give him a letter, certainly he would have [had one] considering his position with the team. But he's part of that group. Carey's a good leader for us, the way he handles himself on the ice, off the ice. Certainly he's going to be part of it when I meet the players. In the past, every time, I was having meetings with the captain and the assistants. This year, [Price] is going to be there."
The position of captain does not hold nearly the sway it once did in the NHL, and if you speak to most players they will say that within the dynamics of the dressing room, it is of little consequence. It definitely remains an honor to be named captain of the team, especially one with as rich a history as the Canadiens, but over the ebbs and flows of a season no one checks the stitching on a jersey when a player speaks.
But sometimes players will stand up and take notice, depending on who is doing the talking. And Price is seemingly one of those talkers on the Canadiens.
Bergevin made a point of mentioning Monday when Price addressed the team during the second intermission of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Boston Bruins. The Canadiens allowed a power-play goal late in the second period, cutting their 2-0 lead in half, and entered the dressing room with momentum swaying away from them.
"It wasn't much," Price said that night, after the Canadiens held on to win the game 3-1 and eliminate the Bruins. "It was just a reminder to live in the moment. That's all I really said. That's the truth."
It may not have been much in Price's eyes, but it meant a lot to his teammates, and that's what Bergevin remembers most.
"Carey's not a guy that talks for no reason. When he talks, people listen. It carries a lot of weight, and he did that," Bergevin said. "I'm not saying that's the reason why we won, but when you have one of your top players that's quiet and says, 'Guys, go have fun and enjoy yourselves, we're a good team,' I'd like to believe it made a difference."
Officially naming Price to serve as some sort of unofficial captain probably would not have been the right move, considering how that experiment proved disastrous with Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks.
It also would not have been the right move because it would have been entirely unnecessary.
"He's a leader," Pacioretty said in the immediate aftermath of that Game 7 win in Boston. "He's the guy on this team."
On the other hand, by leaving the captaincy open, Price can fill as much of the leadership void as he feels comfortable with.
Perhaps that is the true "transition" we are talking about here.
Price tried to downplay his role as a leader on the team, saying it comes with his position as starting goaltender, much like it would if he were a quarterback in football.
But talking to everyone else on the team, it was impossible to avoid the sense that Price's role is something more significant than that of a simple starting goaltender.
"I think a letter is more ceremonial than anything," Price said. "Personally, I think it's just a reason to go talk to the referee. I really don't think you need a letter on your jersey to be a leader on a hockey club."
Price should be living proof of that this season.