Pierre Gauthier: How You Like Me Now?
On the walls of the media hallway at the Complexe Sportif Bell are large individually framed posters of each Canadiens player on the roster. Two of the spots, formerly belonging to Jaroslav Halak and Sergei Kostitsyn, contain a simple Canadiens logo now.
Changes are underway as General Manager Pierre Gauthier shapes the Habs to his liking.
But with the first heatwave to hit Montreal in about 10years, perhaps it was time for Gauthier to hit the beach. On Tuesday, he convened the media to announce that the majority of the offseason moves were complete.
Trading Halak and the younger Kostitsyn were the two most discussed offseason transactions, but not the only ones. So how did he do? Get out your scorecards!
It's fair to say that Gauthier wouldn't find himself on many shortlists of NHL teams searching for a general manager. He has a spotty record as a GM and led the Canadiens pro-scouting department, considered by many to be the weak link in the Habs organization. Gauthier is known for micro-managing and being iron-fisted.
In February, when Gauthier was handed the reins of the Canadiens, President Pierre Boivin said, "You do your homework, make sure you turn over every rock, and you go with the best person."
The only rock turned over was the paperweight on Pierre Boivin's desk. Under it was Bob Gainey's coerced letter of resignation with a yellow Post-It attached from Gauthier saying "I'll take the job!"
A few days after his appointment was announced, Gauthier gave up a second round draft choice in 2001 to get Dominic Moore. While Moore was a key player down the stretch and in the playoffs, he turned out to be an expensive rental.
In early March, Gauthier acquired Aaron Palushaj from the St. Louis Blues for Matt D'Agostini. D'Agostini had worn out his welcome in Montreal. Palushaj is a former second round choice who is a solid player who isn't afraid to retrieve the puck along the boards.
Georges Laraque's contract was bought out for $500,000 for each of the next two seasons. This was an easy decision for Gauthier as Laraque refused to do the one thing he was brought to Montreal for: to protect his teammates.
On Tuesday, Gauthier announced that the Habs would not be pursuing unrestricted free agents Moore, Glen Metropolit, Paul Mara, and Marc-Andre Bergeron.
There should be no surprise about Mara and Bergeron. Mara competed with Maxim Lapierre for the worst plus-minus rating on the Canadiens during the regular season. Mara had not played since January 22 when his season ended with a shoulder injury.
Bergeron was intended as a short-term fill-in for the power-play while Andrei Markov was sidelined with injury. His presence was helpful early on but had only two goals in the final four months of the season. In addition to not scoring, Bergeron was a defensive liability with a league-worst minus-12 rating in the playoffs.
Glen Metropolit was respected for his warrior-like mentality. Citing his perserverance, Lyse, a regular All Habs reader wrote, "I'm still not over the fact he was overlooked for the Masterton [trophy nomination]." We certainly agree, but looking forward, there are many younger players in the organization who can fill Metropolit's role.
Gauthier may regret not trying to sign Moore. He is a smart player who performs well under pressure. Word is that it would have been difficult to sign him under the cap but there were some questionable decisions made where salary dollars could have been saved.
Signing Mathieu Darche was one of those curious moves. While I have considerable respect for Darche's character and work ethic, his footspeed is painfully slow on a quick team.
Toward the end of last season Darche faded, showing that he didn't have talent to be effective when the games became meaningful. He will occupy a roster spot that would be better filled by a younger player like Max Pacioretty, Ben Maxwell, or Ryan White.
While I am fully supportive of Gauthier resigning Benoit Pouliot, it does seem odd that he was given a substantial raise while only tallying two points in the final 12 games of the season. Pouliot was signed for one-year at $1.35 million, which is a generous bump above his salary of $800,000 last season.
Just prior to the draft, Gauthier decided to part ways with amateur scouts Pelle Eklund, Dave Mayville, Denis Morel, Antonin Routa, and Nikolai Vakoura as well as pro scout Gordie Roberts. Gauthier promised a restructuring of the scouting departments.
During the 2010 NHL amateur draft, Gauthier and Trevor Timmins selected Jarred Tinordi after trading up to get the player they wanted. Moving up five places in the draft came at a steep price with the Habs sacrificing their second round draft pick in exchange for Phoenix's fourth round pick.
Will Tinordi be a dominant shutdown defenseman or would the Canadiens have been better off with Tyler Pitlick or Brock Nelson and a player taken with their second round pick?
The Canadiens announced that David Fischer, their first round pick in 2006, would be released. Gauthier said, "We've advised his representative that we probably won't make him an offer and he'll become an unrestricted free agent on August 15." The Habs will receive a second round choice in 2011.
Essentially, that means that the rental of Moore cost the Canadiens their prospect Fischer.
Gauthier signed potential unrestricted free agent Tomas Plekanec to a six-year, $30 million contract. It was a rare occasion that the Habs got a hometown discount with Plekanec set to fetch $5.5 to $6 million if hie services were peddled on the free agent market.
It was a crucial signing for Gauthier and the Canadiens. Plekanec was the team's MVP during the regular season and did an excellent job completely shutting down Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs.
Now, let's look at the two moves that were the most controversial to Habs' fans.
Gauthier sent fan-favorite Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. The two prospects, particularly Eller, represent excellent trade value for Halak. Eller is a former first-round choice, taken 13th overall by the Blues in 2007. He is a skilled-center with good size and known primarily as a playmaker.
Halak signed a four-year, $15 million deal with St. Louis this week. It only confirmed what had been written many times that agent Alan Walsh's salary arbitration demands would not have fit under the Canadiens' cap restrictions.
The Canadiens acquired the rights to Dustin Boyd and Dan Ellis in a deal that sent Sergei Kostitsyn to the Nashville Predators. Boyd and Ellis became unrestricted free agents on July 1. Boyd signed with the Canadiens while Ellis joined Tampa Bay.
Hence Gauthier's deal amounted to little more than first dibs on a phone call to Boyd for his services. Some bitter fans would say that's all Kostityn was worth citing an attitude problem.
But as I pointed out when guesting on The Team 990's The Franchise show, Kostitsyn was a thoroughbread who was chained to a post with a short leash and poked with a stick all season.
It's not a surprise that Kostitsyn exhibited bad behaviour at the end of the season. He is a talented playmaker who could have fetched a higher price if his trade value hadn't been destroyed by coach Jacques Martin.
Let's end the review by including a non-move. Gauthier could have filled the vacant assistant GM position with his buddy Martin. Instead, he waved goodbye to promising coach Guy Boucher who was sought after by a number of teams but joined Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay.
The Canadiens lose a talented coach and retain the man behind the bench who will continue to be a poor match to his players.
So, tally your scores, and submit a grade for GM Gauthier in his first few months at the helm of the Canadiens.
All Habs rating for Gauthier is a solid B-minus. He has made some bold decisions, but some expensive ones, and some questionable ones. Despite the moves, he has failed to upgrade the Canadiens' two greatest weaknesses: coaching and scoring.
Unfortunately Habs' fans, we may be in store for another roller-coaster season.
(photo credit: Reuters)
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