Stu Cowan: Carey Price’s return to the Canadiens remains uncertain

Now that the NHL has pulled out of the Olympics and the Habs are out of the playoffs, the goalie’s only reason is to hurry back if he wants to switch.

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We now know for sure that NHL players will not be attending the Beijing Olympics in February due to COVID-19 concerns.

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The big question for Canadiens fans is when will Carey Price play again?

Price has yet to play a game this season after undergoing surgery in July to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. After the surgery, the Canadiens said they expected Price to be ready to start the regular season, but that was before he joined the NHL / NHLPA player assistance program in early October for substance abuse problems.

Five months after his knee surgery, Price has yet to practice with his teammates.

“He’s continuing his treatments,” Canada’s head coach Dominique Ducharme said on Monday when asked about Price’s status. “He had to meet – or rather, he had to see his doctor when we had to travel to New York (last week). It’s clear that the situation changed. It is possible that he may not have taken the trip anyway because of (COVID-19) outbursts within the team and also across the league.

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“But that was the plan originally, so he will almost meet with his doctors,” Ducharme added. “And after that, we will continue to evaluate the situation and continue his treatments to help him return. We said it would be difficult to give an exact date for his return, that there would be steps to follow, and each step would be difficult to estimate in terms of how much time it would take. He has gone through the steps but he certainly still has work to do. So we’ll see. so on, so in that sense he has followed his plan. ”

Price has not spoken to the media this season, but you have to believe that the 34-year-old would have loved to play at the Olympics once again after helping Team Canada win a gold medal at the 2014 Games in Sochi, as he posted a 5-0 record with 0.59 goals against the average and a save percentage of 0.971. The NHL did not participate in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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Team Canada was certainly interested in getting Price back if he was healthy in time for the Beijing Games.

“I personally had a conversation with him, and it was more just, ‘Take your time. We’re not going anywhere,’ ‘Team Canada’s GM Doug Armstrong told The Athletics’ Pierre LeBrun last week after it was decided that NHL players would not go to the Olympics.

“‘What you have achieved in your career and what you have achieved in the playoffs indicates that you are the alpha male of the Hockey Canada goalkeeping team,” Armstrong added of his conversation with Price. “‘And we will give you as much time as necessary. We support you in every way on and off the ice.’ And let it be. “

Price was one of six goalkeepers, Team Canada, to be named to his Olympic long list in October, along with Marc-André Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, Jordan Binnington, Carter Hart and MacKenzie Blackwood.

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As LeBrun wrote, it was clear that Team Canada would “bend backwards” to make room for Price on the Olympic list if he felt he was ready to play.

You have to believe that Price would really push himself in the new year in hopes of playing some games with the Canadiens to prove he could be ready for the Olympics.

Now that the NHL has pulled out of the Olympics and the Canadiens are already out of the playoffs, there is no reason for Price to push himself hard. He should take as much time as necessary to make sure he is physically and mentally ready before returning to the Canadiens.

“The Olympics were one thing,” Ducharme said of Price. “But wanting to play at the Olympics or being able to is another thing. I think Carey also cares as much about the Olympics as he does for our team. It’s a matter for him to get back in good shape. form and be ready to play. ”

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Canada’s goalkeeping situation took another hit on Monday when Jake Allen was placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list, with Sam Montembeault getting his first start since Nov. 16 Tuesday night in Tampa.

Price has four seasons left on his $ 84 million eight-year contract with an annual salary cap of $ 10.5 million, and it certainly looks like the Canadiens are heading for a rebuild under Jeff Gorton, the new vice president of hockey. operations.

It seems unlikely at this stage of his career that Price – who has a complete no-movement clause in his contract – would want to keep being rebuilt. However, his contract will not be easy to swap (the Canadiens would probably have to eat about half of that) and Price must also prove he is still capable of playing at the level he did during the playoffs last season.

At this point, it’s the only reason it makes sense for Price to push for a return to the Canadiens as soon as possible.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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