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Jack Todd: Montreal’s sports landscape on stronger footing for 2019

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has made nine appearances on the NHL’s injury/illness list since the 2015-16 season — scary news for a team that rests on the rather shaky bedrock of the goalie with the US$84-million, eight-year contract.

Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

The news brought 2018 to an end with a thud: Carey Price had yet another lower-body injury and would not be on the Canadiens’ year-ending trip to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Dallas.

Social media lit up. Panic, never much more than a rumour away, was general. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Some feared Price would never be the same, others thought it was a trick, cleverly arranged by the Canadiens, so Price could stay home with his wife, Angela, who gave birth to a girl they named Millie on Thursday night.

Another major injury? Or a hiccup during what has been, overall, a strong comeback season for the star goaltender?

Either way, Price’s lower-body injury will have a huge effect on the way fans in this city perceive 2019. Price is our biggest active star, the marquee figure on the franchise that defines the Montreal sports scene. Head coach Claude Julien has his exciting young team on the playoff bubble — but you can’t win without goaltending, and backup Antti Niemi has struggled mightily this season.

The latest news means Price is now a fully paid-up member of the Oft-Injured Club. In the wake of the Canadiens’ terse announcement Price would not be making the trip, TVA’s Matt Casavant dug up the fact this is Price’s ninth appearance on the NHL’s injury/illness list since the 2015-16 season — scary news for a team that rests on the rather shaky bedrock of the goalie with the US$84-million, eight-year contract.

Alouettes great Anthony Calvillo is joining Danny Maciocia’s Université de Montreal Carabins coaching staff.

Allen McInnis /

Montreal Gazette

There’s no point speculating on how serious the injury might be. We know it’s serious enough to cause Price to miss a few games but, beyond that, it’s possible at this point even Price and the medical staff can’t say when he’ll be back. With him, the Canadiens should go on fighting for a playoff spot; without him, it’s look to next year and a higher draft pick.

Price is not the only intriguing subplot for 2019: legendary Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo, fresh off a stint with the Toronto Argonauts, has signed a two-year contract to act as assistant head coach for Danny Maciocia’s Université de Montréal Carabins.

With Calvillo aboard, the Carabins will attempt to unseat the Laval Rouge et Or as the best team in Quebec and Canada. Calvillo should have an enormous effect on recruiting for the Carabins: If you’re a talented young quarterback hoping to make it to the CFL or even the NFL, who better to tutor you than the man who owns almost every CFL passing record?

The other football coaching subplot concerns the fate of Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman. The Als showed some small signs of improvement while going 5-13 under Sherman, but it wasn’t nearly enough — and after winning the Grey Cup for Jim Popp in Toronto, head coach Marc Trestman was unceremoniously dumped after quarterback Ricky Ray went down. That means the best coach the Alouettes have had since Marv Levy is out there somewhere — and the Wetenhalls love him.

The Impact, meanwhile, are on more solid ground with their coach, Rémi Garde. The Frenchman, brought in to bring some technical know-how and his European contracts to the floundering team, very nearly fell flat on his face out of the starting blocks. But Garde stabilized the team and the Impact made a good run before narrowly missing a playoff spot. In 2019, the Impact will be looking to put together a strong start and build on that rather than playing catch-up all season long.

The Major League Soccer season, at least, will be shorter. MLS will begin play March 2, about a week earlier than usual, and the regular season will end Oct. 6, two weeks earlier than last season. The playoffs will be single elimination rather than double elimination, so the MLS Cup will be played on Nov. 10, rather than Dec. 8 as it was this year, completing the season before FIFA’s November international window.

Montreal Impact Head coach Rémi Garde speaks to the media in Montreal on Nov. 1, 2018.

Allen McInnis /

Montreal Gazette

As always, Montreal tennis fans will be intrigued by the fortunes of Genie Bouchard, who continues to fascinate her legions of followers despite her struggles.

And behind the scenes, the Stephen Bronfman group will continue its stellar work to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal. The immediate focus will be on Tampa, where Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said during the winter meetings he would not seek an extension of the three-year window to explore sites in the area other than gloomy Tropicana Field.

One way or another, Montreal baseball fans will have to wait out the Tampa situation. Either the Rays stay in Florida and the Oakland A’s in California (in which case MLB will be looking to expand by two teams) or the Rays move — in which case Montreal should be the most likely destination.

Meanwhile, the focus will be on Price. If he bounces back quickly, 2019 could be a year to remember. If not, well — a lot of eyes will be focused on Habs prospect Cayden Primeau, the young American goaltender at the World Juniors who may someday become what Price has been for more than a decade — the latest in a long line of great goaltenders to wear the bleu-blanc-rouge.


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