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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In Defence of Pierre Gauthier

 
Pierre Gauthier often gets a bad rap amongst Montreal media and fans.

And why shouldn’t he? He is at the helm of the worst team in the Eastern Conference and his cold, professorial demeanour is most off-putting. His whole treatment of the Jacques Martin firing and Randy Cunneyworth hiring leaves much to be desired as well.

But, when one looks behind the frigid facade and inability to deal with the media, it becomes clear the Gauthier deserves credit for making moves that will benefit the Canadiens in both the short and long ru.

From the beginning of his term, he has sought to make the Canadiens a bigger team – a point which has been argued in this space before. The likes of Michael Blunden, Rene Bourque and Brad Staubitz have been added to the squad while the team’s system is populated by sizeable players such as Alexander Avtsin, Andreas Engqvist, Alain Berger, Joonas Naattinen, Nathan Beaulieu and the hulking Jarred Tinordi. Over the last two drafts, only two of the team`s 12 picks are listed as shorter than six feet tall.

Speaking of size, Gauthier also managed to lure the perpetually indecisive Alexei Emelin over to North America and convince long-time Habs nemesis Erik Cole to join the team for four years.

Both acquisitions have proved fruitful thus far.

In spite of sitting out games earlier in the campaign, Alexei Emelin ranks ninth in the entire NHL with 215 hits.

Second in goal output behind Max Pacioretty with 26 tallies, Erik Cole also leads the Canadiens with four game winning goals and eight power play markers.

Most importantly, though, Pierre Gauthier made the right call when it was time to choose between Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price.

Although many, if not a majority, of fans and pundits advocated for Halak’s retention, Gauthier made the decision to keep Carey Price.

In fact, Price has played so well since Halak’s departure that he has been named to the NHL All-Star team twice and is currently in the conversation for Team Canada’s Olympic roster in 2014.

Mind you, Jaroslav Halak is certainly not a bust. The Slovak netminder has posted solid numbers since arriving in St. Louis and is having a superlative season this year. Then again, the Blues are also the best defence in the league, having allowed the fewest shots and commited the fewest giveaways. That kind of support helps any keeper.

Overall though, both netminders present fairly similar statistics over the past two seasons. Since the trade, Jaroslav Halak has a combined save percentage of .917 while Carey Price presents a .919 save percentage.

However, Price has shown he can maintain his strong play over much longer periods, having played over 30 more games than his former teammate.

In addition, not only did Gauthier make the correct decision, he obtained good value for Jaroslav Halak, fetching both Lars Eller and Ian Schultz in return.

While the jury is still out on Ian Schultz, who appears to be a longer-term project, Lars Eller is slowly emerging into a legitimate top-nine forward. 

With a bit of good fortune, the Danish centre could obtain 20 goals for the first time in his career this season. It certainly is not unreasonable to expect him to hit that plateau on a yearly basis.

Nonetheless, it has become painstakingly obvious that the Canadiens are in need of an organizational makeover. The sense that the team is lacking clear direction permeates many of management’s more recent decisions.

Yet, Pierre Gauthier deserves some credit for his work. By adding size to most positions in the organization and shrewdly handling the goaltending dilemma, he has set a very good table for his successor, whoever that may be.


---
Louis is an Associate Editor at HabsAddict.com. Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval.

His writing has also appeared on HabsWorld.net. He currently resides in Ottawa and works for the Coaching Association of Canada. Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas


(Photo by André Pichette / La Presse) 

30 comments:

You brave, brave man, Louis. I imagine it will be a matter of minutes before you start getting flamed!

That said, I can't entirely agree with your assessment. Especially the part about PG trying to make this team bigger since he took over.

I think making the team bigger was something that started last offseason with the signing of Cole, but not before.

As it sits right now, there are SO many different stories swirling about what is going on at the management level.

Larry Carriere is rumoured to already be running the team.

Another story has Gauthier already pushed aside for a secret GM, already in place, but not to be announced till the off season.

I'm not sure I believe either story but, either way, the moves made "by Gauthier" to make this team bigger just don't seem to fit his M.O.

Staubitz, a Gauthier pick up? Please.

Feels like someone else (or even a quaram) is pulling the strings.

The Kaberle move? That feels more like a Gauthier "act-now and deal with the consequences later" kinds move. For more on that, see his years in Anaheim.

All that said, I don't think his reign has been entirely bad, as you point out with the Halak trade. But, overall, I think he is a terrible GM who doesn't know how to run a team under the salary cap.

Moreover, he is horrible at pro scouting, a position which he has overseen for almost a decade and where the Habs have been sorely lacking.

No, Gauthier hasn't been all bad, but mostly and it is high time he hit the unemployment line.

But that's just me.

:-)

Gauthier is so awkward that he announced Markov's return on the Bulldogs' radio!! Not even on RDS or TSN Radio!

@Kamal

Gauthier has had a focus for size since he began. His first move was getting Palushaj in exchange for the diminutive D'Agostini. Did he win that trade? Probably not. Was size a consideration? Seems so. And look at the draft record, 10/12 players 6+ feet.

Mind you, I agree that the team needs a management shakeup. As for Kaberle, that's my next piece. Yes, I will defend that to.

@Fred

Gauthier is awful with the media. No way around that.

Something you missed: The organization was a mess when he took over, poor drafting and more than one bad contract on the books.

Yes, the way the coaching was handled was idiotic.

Lars Eller has top six written all over him for a long time to come.

@ Louis.....ummmmm not sure why you brought up the Palushaj trade but Palushaj is 6'0 183 lbs and D'Agostini is 6'0 201 lbs. Not sure how this got us bigger? Plus St.Louis clearly won this trade with D'Agostini having scored 30 goals and 34 assist and Palushaj with 1 assist.

Secondly I am not sure you can look at the draft as a means of his direction. I mean Timmens is the guy who runs the show and gets the nod to make the choice for every selection. Sure Gauthier can veto it but Timmens is usually the final choice.

Third I can admit when Gauthier does some right like the Gill trade, bringing in Emelin, etc.. but his negatives far out weight the positives. For a cap tight team to part with a UFA D-man making $3.83 million for a player nobody wanted with a 3 years deal making $4.5 million is a big mistake.

Trading Cammalleri the way he did without looking around the league to see what was available was a mistake.

IMO picking up Staubitz when a week earlier he could have picked up a guy like Anthony Stewart for nothing again was a mistake.

Signing Campoli, Diaz, Weber, then trading for Kaberle shows a complete lack of direction when it comes to the make up and style he wants to play.

Publickly announcing that size is not important and then a year later annoucing size is important, again shows a complete lack of a plan and direction.

FInally the Price/Halak trade. Did we really win on this? I am a fan of Price and would chose him over Halak but their numbers are really not that different and ask yourself this. Halak got us Eller so what would teams have given up for Price?

Would St. Louis have parted with Backes and a young D-man like Pieterangelo? The return for Price would have been far greater than what we received for Halak thereby securing other positions.

So I wonder if the right choice was made.

@Louis: Diminutive D'Agostini? He's listed at 6' 201 lbs. Palushaj is 6', 183 lbs.

Hmmmm...

As far as drafting record, that is Timmins, not Gauthier. And, if, as a GM, you tell your head scout to select anything other than the "best player available" when you pick, you're setting yourself up for failure (unless you're picking, say, top-5).

I don't think it is a trend any more than a coincidence that they have drafted bigger players of late.

@KP.....did you just copy and paste what I wrote?

@Bryan: I think you bring up a great point in the cap situation. Bob Gainey made a mess of the cap and Gauthier made it worse.

That Kaberle contract will haunt the Habs just like the Gomez contract is right now. Even if there is an amnesty clause put in the next CBA, it will surely not allow for buying out more than one contract at a time.

As for Price and Halak, well, looking at the numbers is a bit foolish, imo. Halak is playing behind a clearly superior team to Price.

Yes, Price could probably have gotten more on the open market, but I think the Habs made the right call. Price will be proven to be the better goalie over the long-term, imo.

Not to mention that he'll surely be on the Canadian Olympic squad next year and perhaps even push for the staring job.

@Kp

In regards to the Halak/Price thing I am just mentioning the what If's.

Like when people knock McGuire for not wanting Price at the 2005 draft. Well what if we took Staal or Kopitar. Again we still had Halak in the system.

But back to the trade, can you imagine if we dealt Price for Backes and Pieterangelo......I mean Backes would be that big mean center we have long wanted and Pieterangelo would be our #1-a D-man with Subban......how different would this team look and how much better would we be?

Halak did wonder on pretty much this very same team so add Backes, Cole, and Alex and I guarantee we'd be in the playoffs with a much much better team.

With that said give me Price ahead of Halak any day of the week.

In short, whatever good, someone else (Timmins, Management in general)

Whatever bad, Gauthier.

As for D'Ags vs Palushaj, perhaps not the best comparison. Always had in my mind that Palu was a few inches taller.

Regarding Cammy not being shopped around, I have opinions about that whole notion, but its also quite a rant. I'll save it for later.

I think PG has been trying to get bigger the entire time, but with Martin behind the bench is there really any reason to go out and get Staubitz? Martin would never have played him. I think Cunneyworth is making great strides with the young players but lacks the ability to motivate this team on a consistent basis.

I think PG deserves one more year. The team is playing some good hockey right now with a rusty Markov and without Gionta. Yea the Dogs are lacking in the depth department right now but wait...Gallagher, Holland, Bournival, Kristo, Tinordi, Beaulieu and Ellis could be on that team as early as next year.

So please montreal media give PG one more year, it makes me sick to my stomach when Maguire's name starts getting thrown into the mix of potential replacements.

I can't disagree more with this article. Yes we have Lars Eller who to some will be a top 6 forward. I don't see that yet. But assuming he will be, do you think he got adequate return for a goalie with the upside of Jaro Halak? Did he even bother asking other teams for offers? Any GM in their right mind would have gotten alot more back than what we did.

Aside from that, there is the Kaberle trade, he was integral part of getting Gomez, how he bungled this whole year by hiring a coach and then cutting his legs off 1 week later. I can go on but I think I made my point.

I agree with Habs_Junkie here, I think Gauthier could have gotten a lot more for Halak. Eller, while showing flashes of brilliance, is very inconsistent and has only 15 goals this season (4 of which came in a single game).

I just don't see Eller becoming a top-six forward any time soon!

@Anon

Not sure I would give this management group another yet, in spite of my defense of PG.

Too many old parts hanging around (Gainey, Gauthier, etc.) means there is a high risk of stagnation.

@Habs_Junkie and Fred

I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions around the league: the trade value of a goalie.

In recent years the market has almost constantly saturated with goalies with high upside. Just this summer, Bernier, Schneider, Harding and Lindback could all potentially be available. And, because of this high offer, the return is typically lesser than many believe is fair.

Roberto Lunongo was traded for essentially spare parts. Kari Lehtonen was traded for a former first rounder and a fourth round pick. Ben Bishop was sent off for a second round pick. Nothing earth shattering there.

Given this context, it seems to me that Lars Eller and Ian Schultz is a more than acceptable return.

One thing we all agree on is that PG is utterly inept in media / PR related matters. His handling of Cunneyworth's hiring was a disaster. I can only truly defend his hockey-related moves (yes, including Kaberle - editorial to come on that, you can lambaste me there)

IMO The reason they kept Price was he was the choice of BG and PG. He the thorobred,the future of the franchise, the man ,Moses who would lead them out of the wilderness. They couldn't trade him and keep a 9th round pick.They would have looked totally foolish trading him after passing on other picks they bypassed.

zak

@bryan
I have to agree with HabsJunkie on the Eller thing. While in a fan I have no doubt that pretty much any other GM could have reeled in more for Halak. With that being said, I'm not so sure PG could have gotten a significant return (like Backes and Pietrangelo) for Price especially after the season he had. I know GM's can recognize when a talented athlete has had a subpar season and so Price wouldn't be ignored on the market but after seeing what PG got for Halak (after a hell of a post season run) it's close to impossible to believe PG would have gotten full value for Price.

However one of PG's best moves which I'm surprised nobody mentioned was the re-signing of Josh Gorges. That is a move that I back 100%

@ Sean

I know it is speculation but the return for Price would have surely been at least double what they received for Halak despite the poor season.

But like you also mentioned Goat has done some solid moves as well.

1) Trading Gill for Geoffrion, a second and third.
2) Locking up Gorges
3) Finally bringing over Emelin
4) letting Wiz walk at $6 million a year,
5) staying away from Penner last season
6) picking up Moore and Wisniewski as rentals players for playoff runs,
7) signing Cole
8) trading Russell for Blunden
9) signing Diaz
10) And yes I will still say it, trading Cammalleri for Bourque, Holland and a 2nd.

6" tall is the bench mark for "big guy" now? Get a clue! The teams they play most like Boston have REAL BIG guys (not guys that would have been considered big 10 years ago in the NHL)! Just to make myself clear when I think of big I think of Chris Pronger, Ben Eager (who was a free agent last year), Chara and so on.

Let us also keep in mind that it isn't only size that is important in a big player or any player for that matter. The important thing is Grit and Toughness. Montreal doesn't have it! The players don't want to play because they are sick and tired of getting pushed around (because no one on there team is an enforcer). They are sick of being man handled while the GM turns a blind eye and sticks his head in the sand. Just in case you think I'm out of touch with reality the second largest player is their goalie. What does that tell you?

BTW who extended the rediculously large contract for the known slacker Scott Gomez? Who also got Thomas Kaberle (another known slacker) who is 214 pounds but most of that resides in his chin (or double chin if we are being technical). That would be your beloved GM Pierre Gautier. I will admit that the trade of Gill might end up being good (only because of his age) and getting Bourque may end up being a good trade (because Cammalleri. But lets not forget that historically Bourque only plays when he feels like it.

It's refreshing to hear someone defend Gauthier. He cannot be faulted for the depletion of depth that has occurd the last few years as a result of injuries. Next year this depth starts to return, and when we call someone up it won't be Palushaj but Gallagher, and on defense Kaberle will play less, and Beaulieu, Tinordi or Patteryn will get called.

@concerned fan

Gauthier was the pro scout but he did not trade for Gomez nor extended him. That credit for acquiring him goes to Gainey

@Bryan

You listed some okay PG moves. What do you think was his worst hockey move?

@Concerned Fan

Glen Sather gave contract the drunken sailor contract. Bob Gainey pulled the trigger on the trade.

As for 6 feet being 'the new big', all discussions of size are arbitrary. But, when 10 of 12 of the team's last draft picks are at or above that height, it is a pretty sound indication the org. is trying to get bigger.

@louis.

To be honest this whole regime is a blurr to me. The Gomez deal was horrible and set us back significantly. Gainey pulled the trigger but Goat had a huge role in this no doubt. It's the worst move of any organization for a long time.

As for goat actually pulling the trigger as the head I am going to say it's not a single move but rather lack of a direction and flip flopping on his assessments. Saying one thing, changing his mind. No real direction.

But if I was to point it to one particular direction it would be his handling of the coaching staff wing fired, way he handled Cammallari, not doing his diligence with Cammy and the Kaberle deal.

@Bryan

And your answer supports my general argument. In terms of media, PR and personability, Gauthier is hardly a superstar. As I have long said, I sense the organizational culture in MTL is stagnant and needs a shakeup.

But, in terms of purely hockey moves, he has done many good things and only commited a limited amount of minor blunders.

People do not like his persona and, in some sort of halo effect, translate that to him being deficient in every area.

Well if you go back to my posts over the past year and a half you'd see I have supported Goat quite a bit because I have been a supporter of some of the minor deals he has made.

I just don't think he's the right figure head because he comes across as confused and out of his realm which is an important factor to lead a team.

Where he has failed IMO with his management is with the big ticket items. Acquiring the $4.5 million #6 dman. Trading away your star acquisition without his due diligence around the league. Trading away your young up and coming goaltender.

Goat comes across as confused and his deals often come across as rushed and not thought out.

That's why he's gotta go

Wow Louis!

You really hit a nerve with this one didn't you?

I agree Gauthier has made some good moves but as an NHL GM I can't imagine one that didn't make any.

The lack of a clear plan or direction and moves that smell of panic are the big issues. He just seems
to be winging it at times. He clearly has to go.

I think there is a problem in Mtl with fans overvaluing our local talent.
If Halak is that great, let's see him put up those numbers playing 65-70 games. I am not convinced he could. He plays his best Hockey when he is in a platoon situation. He lost his starting job to a very average back-up. Before anyone jumps all over me just remember where Brian Elliot was last year. This year is an amazing feat but he was washed up and headed for the minor leagues. I think he is even on a 2-way contract this year. I think both he and Halak owe a big chunk of their paycheck to a certain Ken Hitchcock.

As for Cammy, he was not performing anywhere near his ability or paycheck. There is always a lot of talk after the fact but I highly doubt PG went around saying give me your worst offer. I am pretty sure the entire league knew there was a good chance he was available well before the trade was finalized. I think the return, when you consider the cap savings was quite good assuming Bourque can give us 20+ goals and 45-55 pts next year. This year is a write off as he was traded to the worst possible situation in the league aside of Columbus.

@A concerned fan: You bring up an excellent point, re: size not being all it's cracked up to be.

Anyone remember Petr Popovic, the gentle giant?

Size is great, but, as you point, toughness and grit are even more important. Just look at a player like Ryan White, who isn't he biggest guy in the world but plays with the heart of a lion.

Speaking of lionhearts, I think the Habs former captain shows just how much attitude (toughness and grit) can counter-act a lack of size.

Habs would do well to get bigger, but also tougher and grittier.

I know that would put a smile on Bryan's face.

:-)

Break it down anyway you want but, the bottom line is we suck!!! 1 decent offensive line with a bunch of leftovers on the blue line is not a good recipe for success. Thanks god the PK has done well or things would be much worse. If that's even possible.

Goat is not fully at fault. Certain things went bust; that can happen. Now let's see how this team pulls it's self out of the basement! No more dumb trades & deals!! Price is an average net minder on his best days. Jaro Halack would have given us (5) quality years. I have not seen the kind of ecitement we saw in 2010 in a long time; man!

@Lawrence

Thanks for reading!

I agree it is not fully Goats fault, hence my piece. But to say Price is an average netminder is a stretch. Halak's - and Brian Elliot's - numbers are sginificantly skewed by St. Louis' incredible defensive prowess. They have the fewest shots allowed and giveaways in the league.

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