MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens were expected to start the season without their number one goalkeeper, but certainly not for this reason. On Thursday morning, the NHL announced that Carey Price will be entering the NHL and Players’ Association’s assistance program.
Since the program is confidential, the reason Price requested assistance is unknown. The program helps players with addiction problems (for example, drugs, alcohol, gambling) or mental health concerns.
The announcement sparked many reactions. Tomas Plekanec wrote on Twitter that he has “the utmost respect” for his former teammate’s decision. Paul Maurice, head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, added that “if we do it right as an organization, the 12-year-old boy who wears a Price jersey won’t see him as a bad guy. He’s a guy who showed bravery for himself and for his family.”
Many reactions, but little information. On Instagram, Angela Price, the goalkeeper’s partner, stressed “the importance of putting mental health first not just by saying it, but by showing up and doing the work to get better. Carey’s showing up for himself and our family and making the absolute best decision possible for us.“
Former Canadiens goalie coach Stéphane Waite discussed the matter on the radio station 98.5 FM. He said he exchanged a few text messages with Price on Thursday morning.
“It has nothing to do with drugs, it has nothing to do with alcohol, it has nothing to do with gambling,” Waite said. “I heard he may be addicted to meds because of all of his injuries. It has nothing to do with that. He takes care of his body, of everything he does, of everything he drinks.”
“It’s mental health, I know that, and I can confirm that. He’s a guy under a lot of pressure.”
Waite said his former protégé’s morale had taken a hit lately. “He lost in the Stanley Cup final, and that was tough for him. Then he had his operation, then (rehabilitation),” he said.
The Sherbrooke resident described Price as a “perfectionist,” a personality trait that can become “heavy.”
The length of Price’s absence is impossible to guess – it is not simply a “four to six weeks” ankle injury.
“It’s a minimum of 30 days, but it could be more. That’s not what’s important to me and the team,“ said Marc Bergevin, general manager of the Canadiens, who met with media Thursday morning.
He said he believed 30 days was the minimum duration imposed by the program. He said it was “most likely” that Price would be absent for a month. “But it’s not certain. It could be longer.“
Bergevin responded with a confident “yes” when asked if Price would come back this season.
“Asking for help shows courage. I sincerely believe that everything will go back to normal,“ he said. ”But you’re always worried when you are close to the person. I want him to be okay. But I don’t want to trigger a bunch of things if I say I’m worried. But yeah, I think about it.“
The manager was moved when asked about his relationship with the goalie. Price and Brendan Gallagher are the only two players on the team who have been there since Bergevin was hired by the Habs in May 2012.
“Carey is a sensitive young man. I am sensitive. We are similar in that way,“ he said. ”It’s not a weakness. We handle it in different ways. He’s been very successful here so he’s able to handle a lot of things. At some point, there are things that happen. Yesterday he decided he needed help. I support him 1000%.“
The news caught everyone off guard. Bergevin said he learned about it on Wednesday. He added that the decision to acquire goaltender Samuel Montembeault on Saturday was unrelated to Price’s announcement. Over the summer, Price underwent a knee surgery and his rehabilitation was not going as quickly as expected.
“I saw when Carey came out of the rink and his knee was swelling a bit. It was nothing abnormal, but I had a hunch,“ Bergevin said.
Montembeault will likely start the season as second to veteran Jake Allen.
Price is the second Habs player to leave the team for personal reasons in 2021. In April, Jonathan Drouin also left. In an interview two weeks ago, the forward said he suffered from anxiety disorders and insomnia.
“The cases are completely different,” Bergevin said.
Drouin’s decision to leave could have encouraged other players to speak out. “Gradually, not just in hockey, but everywhere, people are more open, more sensitive to (asking for help), more ready to open up and to seek assistance, because it is not easy,” said Dominique Ducharme, the Habs’ head coach.
He added that the team was not reconsidering its approaches to dealing with its players after two left the team.
“I would tell you the opposite is true. If the two had the courage to do it, it is because they felt they are supported,” he said. “I don’t think it’s related to the way we do things on a daily basis. I think that’s life in general.“
Still, it’s a new hurdle for a team that has faced many struggles since making it to the Stanley Cup final three months ago. The team will be without its captain, Shea Weber, for the entire season, while his career is in jeopardy. But Bergevin said it won’t hurt the team’s season.
“I think we have a good group,“ he said. ”Webby left a legacy, how to act like a pro and put teammates first. Carey will be back; I believe in him.“
What is the player’s assistance program?
The official name of the NHL and Players’ Association support program is the Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program (SABH program). As the name suggests, it applies to both substance abuse issues and mental health and addiction issues (to video games or gambling, for example). It is essentially the equivalent of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered in many workplaces. Access to the program is through a 1-800 telephone line. The program is confidential – if they don’t miss games or practices, a player can take advantage of it without letting their team know. Price will miss games, making the announcement necessary. However, the goalie’s permission was required to share his decision, otherwise the team would have had to come up with another reason to explain his absence.
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