The Montreal Canadiens are off to their best start ever. Five games, five wins.
They had better take advantage of it because they are on the clock. When you have the best player in the NHL – goaltender Carey Price – the idea is to surround him with the appropriate talent to win a Stanley Cup or two as soon as possible.
Despite their terrific start, that does not appear to be happening. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin had better get on his horse and get him some support. Not only is the 28-year-old Anahim Lake, B.C., native the NHL’s best player, it could safely be argued there is not another player who is more important to his team than Price. That is both good and a little scary.
You see, if the Habs don’t surround him with more front-end talent, thereby reducing the impact he needs to make in order for the Canadiens to win, there could come a time when it's too late. Not that Price is in any danger of suddenly taking a drastic nose dive in. But in a 30-team league, you have to strike while the iron is hot.
The Pittsburgh Penguins came to this realization four years into Mario Lemieux’s career. Lemieux quickly became one of the best players in the NHL – his main competitor being Wayne Gretzky – by scoring 516 points in his first 292 games, but his team missed the playoffs all four seasons. It was clear he could not do it alone.
Eventually the Penguins came to the realization they needed more than just Super Mario to win the Cup. So they surrounded him with future Hall of Famers Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Joey Mullen and Bryan Trottier as well as impact players such as Jaromir Jagr, Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barrasso and Bob Errey.
How many future Hall of Famers are on the '15-16 Canadiens? Can Price have an off night and have the rest of the gang bail him out?
Last season the Canadiens had five players in the top 100 in scoring. Max Pacioretty was their top scorer and ranked 21st in the NHL with 37 goals and 67 points in 80 games. Tomas Plekanec ranked 52nd with 60 points, P.K. Subban 53rd with 60, Andrei Markov 89th with 50, and David Desharnais 95th with 48. All good and impactful players, they are. But let’s be honest, only Pacioretty and Subban are trending upward. With four goals and six points in Montreal’s first five games Pacioretty is serving notice he is aiming to be a top 10 scorer. Subban is emerging as an annual candidate for the Norris trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman, having already won one in 2012-13. The others are foot soldiers, but not of the high-end and impactful variety.
In a perfect world Plekanec would be a very good No. 2 center behind a more powerful No. 1 pivot. Sergei Fedorov to Detroit’s Steve Yzerman. Francis to Pittsburgh’s Lemieux.
Desharnais is a grinder and a leader, a valuable support player on a championship team. Markov still plays the game at a high level, but he’ll turn 37 in December. Montreal’s most significant addition in the offseason was right winger Zack Kassian, a tough guy with an eye for the net who has already flamed out with two teams at 24 years old. He is currently in rehab battling substance abuse.
Fellow right winger Alexander Semin is a roll of the dice for the Canadiens. He has undeniable skill, but is a classic underachiever who has two assists in Montreal’s first five games.
As for Price, he’s off to a sparkling start. He leads the NHL with four victories, has a 1.25 goals-against average, .957 save percentage and one shutout. Here’s the thing about Price being the best player in the NHL: he’s not the runaway winner. He has plenty of competition for the title. There’s Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Steven Stamkos. Some would throw Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith into the mix and it won’t be long before Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel could be knocking on the door.
The Canadiens are a very good hockey team. One of the best in the NHL. And who knows, maybe Price will carry the team on his back all the way to a parade down Saint Catherine Street. I just don’t like the odds. Price needs some help.