Among the great many clichés that clog the flow of actual information in the NHL like zebra mussels in a sewer pipe, shimmers this classic gem: “doing things the right way.”
In hockey, as in daycare, there is A Right Way and A Wrong Way of doing things.
Right way: respect your opponents, show up on time, work hard, put team above self.
Wrong way: absence of any of the foregoing.
Oh, and Roland Melanson.
The current goaltending coach of the Vancouver Canucks, has committed a grievous and shocking sin against NHL rectitude.
He turned off the deflavourizer in an interview with l’Acadie-Nouvelle, a New Brunswick newspaper, and gave a frank assessment of his former pupil, Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price, and his successor with the Habs, Pierre Groulx.
You can read the translated quotes here.
Suffice it so say, words like “slipping” and “all over the place” and “he let things slide in practice” aren’t exactly complimentary. Nor is suggesting that Groulx cared more about being Price’s buddy than helping him improve.
It’s disingenuous in the extreme for someone who works in a business whose meat and drink is loose talk, controversy, and ill-kept secrets, to criticize people for extemporaneous outbursts of candour. So perhaps we might begin by praising Melanson for actually saying a real, live thing.
All too often, the hockey world recoils from people who refuse to play the “take it one game at a time” game - witness the uproar over Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson facing facts and admitting that his team probably wouldn’t overcome a 1-3 deficit against Pittsburgh in the second round.
There is a side to hockey that isn’t so much pro sports as it is an exercise in Edwardian manners.
This state of affairs is, of course, as ridiculous as it is entrenched - for a sharp, intellectual exploration, which includes lots of fancy cultural references, check out Ellen Etchingham’s recent post at thescore.com.
So hooray for Rolie for smashing the taboo.
Shame that what he said is, well, not really supported by the facts.
Double shame that his comments have brought a gust of wind into the burning coals of goalie hating in Montreal - a phenomenon that tests the outer bounds of civility and sanity.
There’s a tendency, based on Price’s sudden loss of form over the last month of the season, to think he has regressed.
Maybe. Or maybe the Habs are a flawed team that lacks defensive depth and elite scoring.
Hockey is about more than goaltending; around the same time Price started losing games in bunches - the middle of April - several other things were happening.
Alexei Emelin dropped out of the lineup with a bad knee, Andrei Markov started slowing down, production from David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty started to stall, and the Habs were on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
Once they clinched, the engine stalled.
This isn’t to sugarcoat Price’s playoff showing, or to excuse a what in retrospect was a deep four-week slump (in his last 11 starts, including playoffs, Price went 3-8 with an abysmal 0.869 save percentage).
Price was the first to admit he has to be better if the Habs are going to be contenders - for a long stretch of the season, including the playoffs, he didn't play like an elite number one goalie.
But to say he has regressed?
If you exclude the games he played after the Maple Leafs shellacking, Price had a 20-8-4 record and a .915 save percentage (his career average).
That’s a subjective cutoff, granted - by then he had showed flickers of declining form for a week or two - but it simply illustrates that a solid season became a bad one because of a four-week collective nosedive that happened to include Price's worst career start (three goals on four shots against Toronto before getting pulled 10 minutes in).
The goalie has an important part to play in team success or failure - Price’s numbers on the penalty kill, for example, were among the league’s worst - but it’s not as simple as blaming one player.
Melanson said Price hadn’t been putting in the work in practice - how would he know? - but the team basically didn’t practice in March and early April because of the compressed schedule.
In fact, coach Michel Therrien at one point started switching Budaj and Price’s roles on the rare days they did practice in order to have the latter see more pucks.
In the end, the numbers were dismal: Price finished the season with a pedestrian 21-13-7 record and a .905 save percentage.
It was the second time in his career he has slipped to .905. The first? In Melanson’s last year as his position coach.
He, like Groulx, who revived Sens goalie Craig Anderson’s career in Florida, was relieved of his duties.
The next year, Price posted stronger numbers on an injury-hit team, and the year after that, he had a career year, earning an all-star nod.
In 2011-12, where the decimated Habs finished last in the conference, Price was arguably the best thing about a horrible season.
Next season will help show whether 2013 was a blip or the second data point in a downward trend.
Thus, maybe people should hold off a little longer on judging the 25-year-old netminder in the fashion his former coach seems to be.
There’s been lots of discussion on social media sites about Melanson’s motives.
To the extent that matters (it doesn’t), these are the sorts of comments that hockey people make all the time in informal situations; like most coaches, players and front office types, Melanson has been known to have freewheeling, off-the-record chats with reporters he knows (I’ll exclude myself from that group).
It pays to consider whatever is said in its broader context.
There are good reasons why Melanson is no longer in Montreal.