MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has a long way to go when it comes to playing again.
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, with no timetable for his return. Price said Monday that his focus is on his day-to-day life, not the potential end of his 15-year run in the NHL.
“We have to take it step by step. I have no plans to retire at the moment,” he said. “Right now, my goal is to be pain-free on a day-to-day basis. I still have some trouble getting up and down stairs and my kids have trouble getting up and down stairs.
“So my first priority is to get my body to a pain-free point in my day-to-day life and go from there.”
Price helped Montreal reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Final — a stunning run that began with wins over two Canadian teams and then the Vegas Golden Knights — and then suffered many setbacks in the return game. He underwent knee surgery and sought help from the NHLPA/NHL Player Assistance Program last year for substance abuse.
He won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in June, 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 perch as Stanley Cup finalists. He then had a second opinion on his knee injury in Pittsburgh and the suggestion was another surgery.
The veteran goalkeeper said he “didn’t like” the idea and called the procedure “aggressive”.
“This surgery is called OATS,” Price said. “Basically, they take a cartilage and bone plug from the lower part of your knee and put it in the area where the cartilage is damaged. It’s very serious and the success rate is over 50%, and from a pessimistic perspective it’s like, ‘Well, it’s 50 to not work. There’s a % chance or a 30% chance or something.’
“It’s something, if I wasn’t so desperate to live my life, maybe I’d consider it at that point, but right now I’m looking at my little ones and playing with them every day is the best. Something that’s important to me.”
For now, Price continues to rehabilitate the injury — a long, grueling process that has yet to be successful.
“That’s the real frustrating part, but I’ve talked to a few people who have had these types of injuries and it’s taken them over a year to feel normal,” Price said. “So I’m still holding out hope. There’s a possibility of another injection, but we’ll have to see. We’ve got to keep trying to solve the problem, but that surgery worries me a little bit.”
There is no longer a space with Price’s name in the Canadiens’ locker room at Bell Centre. It’s a stark contrast to Montreal veterans like Brendan Gallagher, who have lived through the highs and lows of the team’s recent history with Price.
“It’s different looking down and him not being here. He really was the focal (point) of this team, this organization for so many years,” Gallagher said. “It’s different, but I’ve been lucky to have spent the years I’ve had with him, and he’s made me look good on a lot of nights. I’d never say it to his face, but I owe him a thing or two.”
Price thinks he’s in a “gray area” when it comes to being part of the team. He was recognized at the Bell Center as a non-playing Canadian player in the season opener on October 12. The fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft said he is still trying to find a balance between being close to the team. Respecting the space of an injured player and his teammates.
“Any injured guy will tell you, it’s kind of a weird situation,” 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 stay there every day and use resources every day. These guys come here and they work hard every day. They see the coaches every day and I don’t want to hinder their progress. I’m not going to be a part of that process here this season, So I feel like I’m on the road. I’m around, and I miss being with the boys.”
Montreal is 3-3 and has allowed 18 goals this season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.