To many fans of Canadian teams, the closest thing to seeing their team in the final rounds of the playoffs is to follow their next crop of superstars in the AHL playoffs. For the Montreal Canadiens, there couldn't be a better indication of the future of the most storied franchise in hockey history than the play of their AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. While many never expected the Bulldogs to be leading the Calder Cup Final 2-1 over the Chicago Wolves, many Canadiens fans would point towards the fact that their current pool of prospects is ranked in the top 3 of all teams in the NHL and so this shouldn't be as much of a surprise as it appears to be. Definitely not with the play of Carey Price.
The 5th overall pick of the 2005 draft who (rightfully) has been overshadowed by phenom Sidney Crosby has been 'thrown to the Wolves' (no pun intended) in this year's AHL playoffs, while Yaroslav Halak played in this year's Worlds. Nobody, even Bob Gainey, would have expected such a stellar Roy-esque performance in the AHL playoffs for a goaltender that was only playing in the OHL 20 games ago. While the 6 ft 212 lb Price has posted a 93.4% save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average since joining the Bulldogs, many are already comparing his stellar performance to Patrick Roy's soar to excellence prior to his own call up to the big club back in the 80s. It now seems only a matter of time before Price steals the starting position from all-star goaltender Christobal Huet, who fans used to call the 'Crystal Wall' 20 AHL games ago. Such is life in Montreal when a new phenom emerges.
But will Price out-duel Huet and Halak to the starting goaltending position in training camp with the Habs for the 2007-08 season? That is the magic question for fantasy hockey owners across Canada who've seen Price play this post-season. The conservative fan would appeal for patience in allowing Price to play a full season in the AHL prior to being called up to the big club. But if he is really ready to play in the NHL, does general manager Bob Gainey take the conservative approach or allow Price to join the ever-growing number of young players in the Habs lineup that already consists Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and others? What implications would this have on Huet and Halak, with the former having a significantly greater trade value? Would Gainey keep the more experienced Huet to split games with Price next season? Or deal him to find another piece to Gainey's puzzle? Or do fans wait impatiently until 2008-09?
There are many questions to ask. What we can be sure about is that nobody knows what Gainey is actually thinking. And we may or may not find out at the draft in mid-June, depending on if Gainey wants to wait until training camp, or even mid-season before making a decision. What we can also be sure about is, with the play of this year's Hamilton Bulldogs, come 2010, the Habs should be a strong force and contender for Lord Stanley's mug.
If the Ottawa Senators aren't able to come back against the Anaheim Ducks from 3-1 down (and truly anybody who thinks Daniel Alfredsson actually meant to wire the puck at Scott Niedermayer because he was frustrated, when the Sens just tied the game 2-2 at the end of the second period is crazy), Montreal in 1993 would still be the last Canadian team to win the Cup. With Carey Price's play in this year's Calder Cup final, we can be sure that we'll have several more chances to win at least a few more.