MONTREAL – Carey Price has finally signed with the Montreal Canadiens, and now he wants to prove it was money well spent.
The 23-year-old goaltender, who spent part of the summer competing for fun in rodeo, signed a US$5.5-million, two-year deal on Thursday, ending two months of negotiations between the NHL team and the restricted free agent.
The Anahim Lake, B.C., native will arrive in Montreal to prepare for training camp next week looking to atone for a spotty 2009-2010 season. He will be trying to show fans that the Canadiens made the right choice when they traded his former rival Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues.
It was Halak who bumped Price from the starting job at the end of the season and led the Canadiens on a surprise run to the Eastern Conference final, knocking off powerhouse teams Washington and Pittsburgh.
Price compiled a record of 13-20-5 in 41 games.
“Last year was a long year,” Price said on a conference call. “It was a lot of fun but it wasn’t like I planned.
“This year is a brand new start and a good start would be for the best. It’s never easy not playing, but you have to learn lessons like that at a young age. I learned that ice time isn’t given to you, it’s earned.”
Price has spent his entire career in Montreal after being selected fifth overall in 2005.
He’ll start the upcoming season as the team’s No. 1 goaltender, with newly signed veteran Alex Auld as his backup.
The Canadiens could not keep both Price and Halak, and elected to keep the younger, bigger goalie whose talent is evident but who looked to be struggling with the mental side of the game last season.
Halak, meanwhile, was pulling off some spectacular wins, particularly in the playoffs, making his No. 41 the hottest selling jersey in town. Halak is due in Montreal on Saturday to sign autographs for fans at a shopping mall.
The Slovak goalie was traded for promising young centre Lars Eller, who is expected to make the NHL club this season, and right wing prospect Ian Schultz.
“I thought it was 50-50,” Price said on the speculation over which of them would be traded. “I knew they had to go one way or the other and I’m happy they chose me.”
Price will earn $2.5 million next season and $3 million in 2011-12. That’s a raise on the $850,000 he made in the final year of his entry-level contract.
“We are extremely happy that Carey has agreed to pursue his career with the Canadiens,” GM Pierre Gauthier said in a statement. “Carey is a key member of our club. He has proven that he has what it takes to be a good goaltender in the league, and we are confident he will perform to the best of his abilities for years to come in a Canadiens uniform.”
As negotiations dragged on—the Price camp reportedly wanted a one-year deal while the team preferred something longer—far-fetched reports of a holdout arose even though the goalie and agent Gerry Johannson had assured all along he would report for camp.
Price has been working with Canadiens goaltending coach Pierre Groulx in Kelowna, B.C. for the past week and plans to arrive in Montreal on Sept. 10.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It took a little longer than expected but I’m happy to have it done before heading back to Montreal.”
He said the two-year term was “an appropriate length.”
Some Canadiens players said they need to play better in front of Price, but the goaltender isn’t asking for favours.
“I know I have to play better,” he said. “I’m not putting the onus on anyone else.”
Teammates Josh Gorges and Travis Moen are among the group of pro players doing summer workouts in Kelowna, where Price said he is getting plenty of work.
Price arrived in the NHL with an impressive resume. He won gold for Canada at the 2007 world junior championship before leading Hamilton to a Calder Cup title later that year. Price was named MVP after both victories.
Now the Canadiens are looking for that standard at the NHL level.
“There are always challenges playing in Montreal, but the only real challenge is what I put on myself,” he said.
And rodeo, he added, is over for this year, after having wound up that season in Smithers, B.C. last week.
”It’s something I do for fun, not to make a living off it,” he said.