Pierre Gauthier: Prone to Panic or a Man with a Plan?

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Pierre Gauthier: Prone to Panic or a Man with a Plan?
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Trading playoff hero Jaroslav Halak was one of Pierre Gauthier's toughest tests as the Habs GM.

Shortly after the Montreal Canadiens made it official that defenseman Andrei Markov would miss the rest of this season, I got into a twitter debate about the trading of Jaroslav Halak.

Believe it or not, this lively discussion about the Habs’ former goaltender stemmed directly from the conjecture about what GM Pierre Gauthier will do with the cap space the Habs have suddenly cleared.

I chose to remain optimistic, while my debating partner was a bit more cautious about Gauthier’s mindset. Both of us saw the Halak deal from different angles, though I have to admit mine has changed substantially from what it was in June, shortly after the Canadiens lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia.

When it was announced Halak had been dealt to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, my initial reaction was very negative and I spent a lot of time criticizing Gauthier as a result. I saw the move as counterproductive for several reasons.

I thought the pressure on Carey Price would increase exponentially, and was unsure he’d be able to survive the ensuing negative onslaught by the fan base. Happily, I was wrong about that.

I thought that it did not speak well of the Montreal organization that they would reward an excellent performance by immediately dealing away their playoff hero netminder. The harsh reality is that the Habs were never going to keep both goalies.

Both admitted to disliking the tandem, and Halak’s trade value had increased because of his postseason play. But it was also no secret that for years the Habs had always thrown their support first and foremost behind Price despite his struggles.

Then there was the added pressure of having to resign Tomas Plekanec, who was ranking in the top five on most lists of potential free agents. Sure Gauthier could go over the cap and sign Plekanec, and wait until later in the summer to deal Halak, but that would have also represented some risk on his part.

I think there was no guarantee that hanging onto Halak for a bit longer would have created a bidding war. A glut of UFA goaltenders meant low payouts, and Halak was obviously going to be a bit more expensive than most to sign because of his playoff heroics.

In a salary cap era, that meant Halak might be a better goalie than some available on the open market, but would also cost more. And if Gauthier waited too long, potential trading partners had plenty of available alternatives they could turn to.

So what does all this have to do with Markov?

In assessing his handling of the Halak trade, I argued that it means Gauthier will not get the short end of any deal that he subsequently makes now that he has the necessary room to plug some holes.

He has somewhere around $5 to $6 million in his pocket now and the Canadiens are still doing well enough to sit near the top of the Eastern conference. Should that change quickly, it may necessitate some urgency on his part, but otherwise I think he’s likely to sit back and assess all his options.

My debating partner saw the Halak deal as evidence of impatience and poor planning on Gauthier’s part, and would have preferred to deal him later in the summer, possibly for a better return. While I can understand the logic, I still maintain that Lars Eller is a decent return on investment for Jaroslav Halak.

What is interesting is that both of us agreed that Gauthier’s subsequent signings were safe and low-risk. This is important, because he walked into the job already hamstrung by heavy cap hits and long-term deals handed out by predecessor Bob Gainey.

There wasn’t a lot he could do with such little wiggle room, but then again the team had just been blown up, suffered huge injuries all season long, and still made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Plekanec, his most significant test, is proving to be a good and fair deal for both parties.

That in turn means I choose to remain optimistic that the Habs GM will not make a boneheaded deal, a la Brian Burke, when it comes time to go shopping. Barring another unforeseen injury, I think Pierre Gauthier will wait for a good deal instead of making any hasty moves.

That’s just fine by me.

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