MONTREAL – When it comes to playing again, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has a long way to go.
There are also some important steps along the way.
Sidelined by a lingering knee injury, the 35-year-old Price is on long-term injured reserve, and there is no timetable for his return. Price said Monday that his focus has shifted to his day-to-day life and not the potential end of his 15-year run in the NHL.
“We will have to take it step by step. I have no plans to retire at this moment,” he said. “Right now my goal is just to be pain free day to day. I still have trouble getting up and down stairs, and it’s hard to carry my kids up and down.
“So my first priority is just to get my body to a place where I’m pain free in my daily life and go from there.”
Price helped Montreal reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals — a surprising run that began with wins over two Canadian teams and then the Vegas Golden Knights — and then suffered numerous setbacks when he returned to the game. He underwent knee surgery and sought help from the NHLPA/NHL Player Assistance Program for substance abuse last year.
In June, he won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.
Price appeared in just five games last season as the Canadiens fell from their spot as Stanley Cup finalists. He then had a second opinion about his knee injury in Pittsburgh and the suggestion was another surgery.
The veteran goalkeeper said he was “not fond” of the idea and called the procedure “invasive”.
“The operation is called OATS,” Price said. “Basically, they take a plug of cartilage and bone from a lower area in your knee and put it in the cartilage damaged area. It’s pretty serious and the success rate is above 50%, and from a pessimistic perspective it’s like, “Well , there’s a 50% chance it can’t work or a 30% chance or whatever.”
“It’s something, unless I had to get through my life urgently, that I might consider at that point, but at the moment I’m looking at my young children and playing with them on a daily basis is the most important thing to me.”
For now, Price continues to rehabilitate the injury — a long, tedious process that has yet to be successful.
“That was the real frustrating part, but I talked to several people who had this type of injury and it took over a year for them to start feeling normal,” Price said. “So I’m still holding out hope. There’s a possibility of another injection, but we’ll have to see. We just have to continue to problem solve, but that surgery is a little concerning to me.”
There are no more spaces with Price’s name in the Canadiens’ locker room at the Bell Centre. It’s a telling change for Montreal veterans like Brendan Gallagher, who has lived through the highs and lows of the team’s recent history with Price.
“It’s different looking down and not having him here. He’s really been the focus (point) of this team, this organization for so many years,” Gallagher said. “It’s different, but I’m just lucky for the years I’ve spent with him, and he’s made me look good a lot of nights. I’d never say it to his face, but I owe him one or two .”
Price considers himself to be in a “grey area” when it comes to being part of the team. He was introduced to a standing ovation at the Bell Center as a non-playing Canadian during the season opener on Oct. 12. The fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft said he still tries to find a balance between staying close to the team as an injured player and respecting his teammates’ space.
“Any injured guy will tell you it’s a pretty weird position to be in,” Price said. “You feel like you’re part of the team, but you don’t feel like you’re part of the team.
“I don’t want to be there every day and use resources day to day. These guys come in here and they work hard every day. They see coaches every day and I don’t want to hinder their progress. I’m not going to be a part of this season of that process here, so I feel like I’m in the way. I’ll be there, I miss being with the guys.”
Montreal is 3-3 and has allowed 18 goals this season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.