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Eligible for extension, expect Price to set high-water mark for goaltending salaries

Carey Price has been untouchable as the NHL's best and brightest netminder over the past three seasons, and with a potential extension incoming, the Canadiens keeper is deserving of a deal that pays him as the best in the world.

As their post-season came to a close and the Canadiens packed up to head home for the summer, Carey Price indicated that the next step in his career is finding a way to stay in Montreal. And with one year remaining on his deal, that means working out a contract extension that will keep him with the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge for the foreseeable future.

As Price enters the final year of a six-year, $39-million contract he inked back in July 2012, he becomes eligible for an extension on July 1. According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, that’s exactly what Price, his agent, Gerry Johansson, and the Canadiens, led by GM Marc Bergevin, are targeting as a date for the extension. But the biggest question facing Price and the Canadiens’ brass is what it takes, financially speaking, to get a deal done. And the answer could very well be the most lucrative contract for any goaltender in the league.

Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, the title of highest-paid puckstopper belongs to the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and with good reason. ‘King Henrik’ has been the backbone of the Blueshirts almost since his arrival on Broadway. In every season, barring the lockout-shortened campaign, Lundqvist has posted 30 wins and been among the top netminders in the league, battling his way to a Vezina Trophy, one trip to the Stanley Cup final and three appearances in the Eastern Conference final over the course of his 12-year career.

However, there aren’t many who would argue that Price — and possibly one or two others — has overtaken Lundqvist as the best the NHL has to offer. And based on Price’s numbers alone, it almost seems like a no-brainer that the Canadiens netminder could be in line to ink the biggest contract of any goaltender in the league. You don’t even have to pinpoint just one season to make Price standout. 

Over the past three years, of which Price missed nearly an entire campaign due to an MCL sprain, he ranks eighth in wins with 91. His .929 save percentage is the best of any starting goaltender in the league. Likewise, his 2.09 goals-against average is the lowest of any netminder who falls into the same category. And despite missing a whole year, over which time he could have racked up multiple clean sheets, Price still ranks sixth in shutouts with 14 to his name.

Price’s uncanny ability goes beyond his surface statistics, however. Come up with an advanced metric that you want Price to be leading in and he likely is. When it comes to 5-on-5 SP, Price’s .939 mark puts him ahead of every other goaltender with at least 4,000 minutes to his name. Price also has the best SP marks when you judge his numbers based on shot attempts or unblocked shot attempts, he ranks above average in low-danger save percentage, top-10 in medium-danger save percentage and, when things break down and the Canadiens need him in high-danger situations, Price has come up huge. Price’s .865 high-danger SP over the past three seasons is the league’s best.

When you combine base statistics with underlying numbers, the only goaltender who really comes all that close to Price is Braden Holtby. And that it’s Holtby that’s nearest to Price makes for an interesting comparison.

The Capitals keeper is less than two years removed from signing a five-year, $30.5 million contract with Washington. At the time of his signing, Holtby was coming off of the best season of his career and was clearly a netminder on the rise. He was paid as such, too. The $6.1 million cap hit was a rise of $4.25 million over what Holtby had been earning on his second contract, a two-year, $3.7 million deal, and his new deal made Holtby one of the highest paid netminders.

The thing about that, though, is Holtby signed his deal while facing restricted free agency. So, while Holtby had arbitration rights, the Capitals didn’t have to risk losing him on the open market. Rather, Washington had the chance to hammer out a deal while maintaining Holtby’s rights. The Capitals holding at least some of the cards worked Holtby down from the $8 million that was reportedly his asking price when arbitration was on the table to a more palatable $6.1 million figure.

Price’s situation is much different. First, Price’s new deal will come with the threat of free agency looming. While Price may never see the open market, that he’s one season away from being an unrestricted free agent gives his representation an additional bargaining chip. Then there’s the fact this will be Price’s fourth contract, not his third, and this could be the biggest cash-in deal of his career. On top of that, Price’s contract already carries a cap hit of $6.5 million and he’s set to earn $7 million in salary come 2017-18. Any new deal will likely pay him more than that in 2018-19 and beyond.

Which brings us back to Lundqvist, whose seven-year deal was his fourth contract and came as he was set to become a UFA after completing a six-year, $41.25-million deal. That doesn’t exactly mirror Price’s current situation, but it’s awfully close and surely points to Price being able to command $8.5 million or more as an average value on his next deal. 

What stands to put Price above $8.5 million per year on his next deal — should he want it — is the hardware he has to his name. Price is two seasons removed from winning the Vezina, Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award as league MVP in a campaign in which he dominated all competition with a brilliant .933 SP and 1.96 GAA.

The only thing that could be stopping Price from becoming the highest paid goaltender in the league, though, might be his own desire to win. On the basis of statistics and his importance to the Canadiens, Price could ask for $10 million per season and get it. The Canadiens would surely be able to afford it, too, with a projected $43-plus million in cap space for next season before factoring in inflation. But Price taking in a salary in the $10-million range each season for the next seven or eight years could prevent Montreal from building around him.

Think of re-signings or potential free agent acquisitions down the road, and compare it to the way a team such as the Chicago Blackhawks has had to say jettison talented players or find second-tier free agents because of high-priced deals for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. While there’s no second $10-million contract in Montreal — Shea Weber’s $7.86 million is the next-biggest cap hit — Price earning that much could potentially force Bergevin or whoever is at the helm in Montreal to make tough and ultimately costly decisions. Does it mean a fourth contract for Alex Galchenyuk is off the table? What about another deal for Alexander Radulov, should he only re-sign short term in the off-season? Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry will also be looking for new contracts in the next four years, with the Canadiens also surely desiring to dip into the free agent market to bolster their roster. That’s where the balancing act for both sides, Price and the Canadiens, comes into play. 

Ultimately, though, Price deserves to be paid for what he is, which is to say he deserves a salary befitting the best goaltender in the world, be it $9 million or more. His play over the past three seasons has earned him as much, and no one will be surprised if Price sets a new high-water mark for goaltending contracts.

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