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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

So What Do Habs Fans Think of Pierre Gauthier Now?

Yesterday's news that the Montreal Canadiens had traded disgruntled forward Sergei Kostitsyn, to the Nashville Predators, marked the fifth volley fired this offseason by the still relatively new Habs GM, Pierre Gauthier.

When Bob Gainey stepped down as General Manager, in late February, the hope was that the Habs braintrust would go out and perform a proper executive search for his successor.

Much to the chagrin of most Habs fans, in the same press conference where Gainey announced his decision, the team announced that his assistant GM, Pierre Gauthier, would be taking over Gainey's job on a full time basis.

The fact that there was no interim tag that came with the position was extremely bothersome to most, myself included, as fans felt that it was time for the Habs to go in a different direction.

Gauthier took over the reigns of an up and down team that was a few months away from having to make some very crucial decisions, namely what to do with his goaltenders—Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak—and his first line center—Tomas Plekanec.

In addition, he was tasked with tweaking the team by or before the trade deadline.

Gauthier was relatively inactive at the deadline, making only one move to bring in Dominic Moore for a second round pick. But that move proved to be a boon for the Canadiens as Moore provided a spark to the Habs third line.

While most Habs addicts were happy to have Moore on the team, there was a disturbingly ominous feeling that not trading Halak or Price at the deadline would prove costly in the offseason.

I think that this was because fans had gotten used to Gainey letting assets walk away for nothing. As such, many were worried that they were seeing a replay of previous years.

That was not to be, however, as Gauthier has jumped to action since the end of the season.

While Gauthier does share Gainey's poker face and tends to be very low key, he seems, at least so far, to be executing what looks like a well thought out plan.

Gauthier's first move was to start negotiations with Tomas Plekanec during the season.

For those who haven't followed the Canadiens the last few years, former GM Bob Gainey had an unofficial policy of not negotiating with free agents during the season.  Unfortunately, Gainey's theory was proven wrong last season, as he lost several valuable assets for nothing.

I can't stress enough how important it is to get something, anything, for your assets in the salary cap era. You either have to trade them or sign them, because letting asset after asset walk away for nothing, year after year, is a recipe for disaster.

But I digress.

So in breaking from Gainey's policy, Gauthier was showing fans that he perhaps had a different philosophy.

Once the offseason started, Gauthier's first move was to trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues for two prospects. While many fans were upset and believed that the Canadiens should have gotten more back in the trade, Gauthier essentially got a first (Lars Eller) and third round (Ian Schultz) pick for Halak.

That's not that bad, if you ask me.

The other thing that Gauthier did was to create cap flexibility going forward. This is another requirement of the salary cap era: teams need to manage their cap in the present and for the future.

By trading Halak, Gauthier anointed Price as "his man" and saved himself having to go through a tough negotiation with Halak that would end with the Canadiens having to pay more than they wanted to.

The next move Gauthier made was to sign Tomas Plekanec to a six-year, $30 million contract. This too was a bit of a departure from the Gainey years where he would negotiate with his free agents up to July first, only to lose them for nothing on the open market.

Gauthier wanted Plekanec on his team and he made that clear to him during the season.  In signing him long term, Gauthier made the decision to retain an asset that was drafted, developed, and properly cultivated from within the Habs organization.

That is something that we have not seen for a long time and is a refreshing change for this organization.

Once Plekanec was signed, Gauthier turned his attention to the draft.  While there was a ton of speculation that the Canadiens would make some kind of draft-day trade for a roster player, the real drama took place with the prospects.

The Canadiens traded up from the 27th overall pick to the 22nd position—by swapping first round picks and giving a second round pick—to draft hulking defensemen Jarred Tinordi.

For those who haven't heard, Tinordi looks like a can't-miss prospect and brings a combination of grit, toughness, skill, and leadership to go with his 6'6" 205 lbs frame.

He should become a powerhouse on the backend, playing in the Habs top-four within a few years.

With the draft behind him, Gauthier quickly signed Tom Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot to one-year "let's see what you can do" deals, before turning his attention to the stone in his shoe called Sergei Kostitsyn.

With yesterday's announcement that the Canadiens had traded RFA Sergei Kostitsyn to the Predators for UFA's Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd, the Habs fan base was energized.

How was Gauthier able to get so much for such a devalued asset? Well the truth is that there are no guarantees that either Ellis or Boyd will sign with the Canadiens and as such, it's maybe not such a big deal for Nashville to have given up the rights to both players.

Even if the Canadiens can't sign either player, this deal still works out to addition by subtraction and the Habs come out ahead.

If, however, Gauthier can actually sign one or both of these players, then the deal looks even better as Ellis could be a great second to Price, and Boyd is a bigger, tougher, cheaper, and faster version of Glen Metropolit.

So now, on the eve of free agency, how are Habs fans feeling about their new GM?

How do they feel about his moves so far?

With one announcement after another, Gauthier's plan is slowly unfolding and with each move he is inspiring more and more confidence in himself.

When Guy Boucher was hired by the Tampa Bay Lightning, I remember having a discussion with a Habs addict on Twitter about the move and Habs management in general.

While neither of us was sold on Gauthier and Coach Martin, I told her that I was at least willing to give Gauthier the benefit of the doubt. I thought that since Gauthier was here to stay, that it was better to just see what he did with the team rather than being upset about the situation.

Well, so far, I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. It’s nice to see the Canadiens GM taking strong, purposeful strides in sculpting the team the way he sees fit.

Gauthier still has several important decisions to make including signing Price and a backup, and deciding whether to trade Andrei Kostitsyn and Roman Hamrlik or not, so he is not done yet. Whether it all works out or not remains to be seen, but so far, Gauthier seems to be shaping this team into one that should get better, year after year.

So what do you all think of Gauthier now? What do you think of the moves he has made and what do you think he will do for the rest of the offseason?

6 comments:

My entire post when Gauthier was hired:
Worst. Decision. Ever.
End blog.
That was mostly due to the fact they hadn't even looked – as you point out – for something different and had simply committed to the easy pick. Or so it seemed.
Gauthier's days of being a pleasant surprise won't last long because his obvious talent won't shock us for any length if he keeps making solid decisions, one after another.
Popular or not, he has not been afraid to do what's best for the team – short and long term – and has yet to make an unsure choice. That's what the Habs needed, it's what they got, and Habs fans get to reap the benefits for years to come.
GREAT job so far, I'm excited to see what else he accomplishes.

Pretty much what Shmitzysays. I had the same reaction to the Gautier hiring. I'm still waiting for Eller and Schultz to pan out before I'm happy with the Halak trade, and I don't mean 5 years from now either. I'm happy with the Pleks resigning, because IMO the alternative was to downgrade due to salary cap issues. I think Tinordi was a good move. I think by offloading SK, Gautier took a risk, but in his place I'd have probably done the same. There was really no way SK was going to be hitting the ice in a Habs jersey next season, so take what you can get and see what happens. I can understand.

Ellis seems optimistic, and I think Boyd will be an easier signing, but we'll see. I'm not prepared to give PG full props yet, but he's certainly done more than I thought he would, and my confidence in him is growing.

Hey Shmitzy and thanks for the post! Ya, I remember reading your post when PG was appointed. And hey, I was also not a fan of the rush to make Johnson president when Kennedy was killed....errr....you know what I mean ;-)

That being said, it has become apparent how focused PG is right now and he is taking steps to better this team short term and long time.

A surprising turn of events I'd say, given his track record. Hey, maybe he learned a thing or two while working for Gainey!

Tyg: insightful as always.

Re: Halak trade, yep that can only be judged once we see what happens with Eller and Schultz, but more specifically Eller.

SK: he was a goner and like Mike Boone said, most Habs fans would have traded him for a dog and then shot the dog. LOL!

re PG: You and I had discussed him at length—to which I elluded in the article—and while neither of us were fans of his appointment, coup d'etat style, I wanted to see what he was going to do before judging him.

That being said, I truly did not expect such decisive, measured steps. His moves and the speed at which he made them, cannot help but inspire confidence.

Let's see what else he does!

So what do you think he'll do with AK46? Trade him? Keep him and see if he can play without his brother around? What about Hamrlik?

What do you guys think?

I didn't like the Gauthier hiring then, but I'm loving it now. I agree that he seems to be making a statement and moving with purpose. I think we should hang on to AK because he has no value anyways, and is playing for a contract without his distraction of a brother around. I think he'll be great this year. I do think we should dump Hammer if we can, tho I think it'll happen closer to the deadline when our younger D have been evaluated, and Hammer's expiring contract will be more of a bargain for teams looking for experience on the back end.

Well said, Anonymous, and I tend to agree.

IF AK is NOT traded, I think he has a chance at putting up career numbers this year, freed from the distraction that is his problemed-child brother.

As for Hamr, I agree that he is a great candidate to be moved close to the trade deadline, if he is not moved this summer.

Either way, Gauthier is slowly winning us over. Let's hope the strong moves continue!

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