For many of you who are fans of obscure Canadian wilderness geography like me, you probably know that Anahim Lake is deep in the central British Columbia boonies, on Highway 20 about halfway between Williams Lake in the east and the port town of Bella Coola in the west.
If you are a muscular seagull with ambition, fly due north from Forks for a few days, and you’re there. The freshwater fishing, I’m told, is great.
If you are, like me, a sports follower with nascent interest in the new shop in town, the Kraken, you also may develop curiosity about Anahim Lake (pop. 1,500), because it is the hometown of the most intriguing figure in the National Hockey League expansion draft.
Wednesday, when the Kraken will load up on veteran talent, they will have an opportunity to draft Anahim Lake’s hero, Carey Price, one of the best goalies in Canada’s hockey history.
Price is nearly as well-regarded in Montreal, where has spent all of his 14 NHL seasons, none bigger than the most recent one. For the first time in 28 years, the Canadiens made the Stanley Cup finals.
While Mariners fans will scoff at such a meager effort at franchise futility, a massive Cup drought in hockey-drenched Quebec for one of the Original Six franchises is an unparalleled provincial shame.
The fact that Montreal lost in five games to Tampa Bay was a disappointment, and not Price’s fault — in 22 playoff games, he had a 2.28 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. But the prospect of losing the face of the franchise for no return in an expansion draft would seem repugnant to many Habs fans.
As with all other pro team sports, however, business prevails over sentiment.
Price, 34 next month, has five years remaining on his eight-year, $84 million contract, an annual salary-cap hit of $10.5 million. In September, he has due an $11 million signing bonus, and a salary of $2 million.
Habs GM Marc Bergevin is hoping that the salary-cap hit will be too big for the infant Kraken’s liking. So he took the surprising risk of leaving Price unprotected when the eligible-draftee list was revealed for the first time Sunday morning (complete list here).
Bergevin did protect a well-regarded goalie, Jake Allen, 31 next month, who played more regular-season games than Price (29-24) mostly because of injuries. So it’s not as if the Canadiens did a completely foolish thing with Price, especially in view of the fact that the NHL salary cap will be at $81.6 million for a third consecutive year.
Since all NHL teams are squirming under the cap, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Habs didn’t have to pay Price’s salary the next five seasons.
Which brings us to the Kraken and GM Ron Francis. Guess how much cap room he has?
All of it.
There’s no more worthwhile position to spend money on than Price’s.
Price agreed to waive his no-movement clause to be eligible for the draft. And he didn’t waive it for anything else, meaning the Kraken can’t trade him without his consent.
Seems Price has some built-in affection for the Northwest.
Starting in 2002, he played five seasons of junior hockey with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. He met and married a Kennewick woman, Angela. The couple and their three children have a home in Kelowna, B.C., about 300 miles from where he grew up.
More than half of Anahim Lake’s population is indigenous, mostly the Ulkatcho people, who are part of the Carrier First Nation. His mother, Lynda, is the tribe’s chief. She and her husband, Jerry, a goalie drafted by Philadelphia in 1978, moved from Vancouver, where Carey was born, to Anahim Lake when he was three. That’s where, the legend goes, dad taught son to play goalie on a frozen creek.
Never a place of affluence, the town was recently cut off on either end of Highway 20 by wildfires, in forests decimated by a pine-beetle infestation that crushed local timber operations,
Price’s affection and concern for the people of his hometown were reflected at the apex point in his career. After the 2014-15 season, he won not only the Vezina Trophy as best goalkeeper, he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.
At the annual NHL Awards show in Las Vegas, the foremost thing on his mind wasn’t hockey. Price finished his speech by saying chanalya — thank you in the Dakelh language of his people.
A group of Cree kids from a small town heard Price’s words and found a way via Twitter to express their appreciation.
Francis has had more than two years on the job to prepare for the pending whirlwind, which will include picking a single player Wednesday from each of the 30 NHL teams (the Las Vegas expansion “sister” is somehow exempted), then conducting the Kraken’s portion of the NFL amateur draft Friday. After that is the opening of free agency July 28.
The intensity is preposterous.
But as a guy who played 23 seasons and is in the NHL Hall of Fame, Francis knows a little bit about overcoming tough situations. After 14 years in the NHL and a childhood in a hard place, so does Price.
Francis seems an unlikely candidate to be swayed in personnel decisions by marketing considerations. But if the choice of goalie to open the season comes down deadlocked between Price and a younger, cheaper choice, it would be splendid to spend some of that $81.6 million on the tiebreaker of a good backstory out of the BC wilderness.
Francis can always call upon film producer and Kraken part-owner Jerry Bruckheimer to inquire about the value to an audience of a compelling narrative.