If you were to ask around for opinions about Pierre Gauthier, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, most of the Habs faithful fans would probably sing you a couple of lines from the old classic by Ray Charles: “Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more”. So in the spirit of fun, let’s take a look at the many songs of Pierre Gauthier.
“Blame it on the Rain” – Milli Vanilli
To be fair to Pierre Gauthier, the current composition of this team is not 100% Pierre Gauthier’s fault. He wasn’t the man sitting in the GM’s chair during the summer of 2009 when the core of this current edition of the Canadiens was put into place. That was Mr. Bob Gainey, the man who traded for Scott Gomez and his albatross of a contract. Gainey was also the man who signed free agents Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill and Travis Moen. The idea at the time was to put together a team of solid veterans that would bring experience to Montreal and also the Stanley Cup. But what that also did was take up 22 million dollars of cap space for 5 players at a time where the salary cap was in the 55 million dollar range. Unfortunately for Mr. Gainey then and Mr. Gauthier now, those players have not and are not living up to expectations.
“Lonely End of the Rink” – Tragically Hip / “Only the Lonely” - Roy Orbison
Pierre Gauthier hasn’t only made bad decisions since taking over as GM of the Habs (for all you fans laughing right now, might I suggest the song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Don’t worry, the negatives are coming soon). But Gauthier does not, in my humble opinion, get enough credit for his good decisions.
After the unlikely and exciting playoff run in 2010 when the Canadiens upset the more talented Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins back to back, Gauthier had to make a crucial decision: trade Jarosalv Halak or Carey Price? Much to the chagrin of Habs Nation at that time, playoff hero Halak was on a flight to St-Louis, and Carey Price was once again anointed the #1 goaltender in Montreal. At the time, almost all fans thought that was a mistake. Two years later though that decision is now generally accepted to be the right one. Carey Price has developed into the goalie everyone thought he would be, playing in an incredible 72 games during the 2010-2011 season (38 wins) and he has played already another 44 out of 51 during this current season. Halak meanwhile had only 27 wins in 57 games last year and this season he is splitting time in the crease with Brian Elliot in a 1A / 1B tandem.
Gauthier has also made some other good moves. Included on this list is the free agent signing of Erik Cole this past summer, who is easily the best forward on the Canadiens roster today. He also signed David Deshranais to a 2 year contract, one-way contract. Desharnais, along with Cole and Max Pacioretty have been great as the number one line. He re-signed Josh Georges to a new 6 year contract at a reasonable 3.9 million per year cap hit. He somehow managed to shed the team of Cammalleri’s 6 million dollar per year contract, bringing in a cheaper, bigger, more physical Rene Bourque in the process. Finally, he managed to get Alexei Emelin to come across the big pond and play with Montreal after years of Emelin staying put in Russia.
“Loser” – Beck
I’m not even sure I can put together a comprehensive list of all the mistakes Pierre Gauthier has made but I’ll try to hit the highlights (or low-lights if you prefer). Let’s start off the ice. The firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn only a couple hours before a game was wrong. So was the firing of Jacques Martin right before a game-day morning skate. There is a time and place for everything and in both of those cases the timing was wrong even if the end result was ultimately for the best. Being entirely unprepared to deal with the media outrage that followed the hiring of the uni-lingual Randy Cunneyworth as head coach is also inexcusable. The trading away of Michael Cammalleri MID-GAME is mind-blowing. What, it couldn’t wait until after the 3rd period against Boston? Also, the way Gauthier apparently handles business is ridiculous. Word across the NHL is that he didn’t make Cammalleri available to any other teams except Calgary. Gauthier was also accused of doing business this way during the Halak trade. How can any NHL general manager expect to get the best deal possible for his assets if you limit yourself to only one trading partner?
Concerning the product he has put on the ice, he has also made some awful moves, starting with re-signing Andrei Markov to a 3 year, 5.75 million dollar per year contract this past summer. How do you give a 3 year deal at that money to a player coming off consecutive seasons with major injuries where he was limited first to 45 games 2 years ago and then only 7 games last year. We are now 51 games into the 2011-2012 season, we have just past the All-Star break and Markov has still not played a single game on his new contract.
To make matters worse, Gauthier went out and signed Chris Campoli right before the season. When that shockingly didn’t work as a replacement for Markov (sarcasm intended!), he traded away Spacek, a pending UFA, for Tomas Kaberle, who was under-performing in Carolina and arrived in Montreal with a cap hit of 4.25 million for this year and 2 more seasons. Despite, or maybe due to, making what can only be described as panic moves, the Canadiens power play continues to be one of the worst in the league this season.
When Cammalleri was traded, one of the reasons Gauthier gave in explanation of the trade was that the Canadiens brass has identified a need to get bigger up front. Really? The Montreal media and fans have been saying this for years. Mr. Gauthier only now has had this revelation? Who is he trying to kid, us or himself? He also tried to lie to the media and fans that this trade was in the works for about a month and Cammalleri's statements about the Canadiens playing like losers the day previous had nothing to do with the timing of the trade itself. That statement is so laughable it should have it's own headline show at the Just for Laughs Festival.
I could go on, but there’s no point. It’s obvious that despite his good moves, Gauthier has eliminated them with more then enough bad that has helped regress a border line playoff team over last few seasons into a cellar dweller this year.
“The End” – the Doors
In conclusion, it doesn’t really matter what I think, what the Montreal media thinks or what Habs fans think about Pierre Gauthier. The only thing that matters is what Geoff Molson thinks. Mr. Molson is going to have to make a choice. He can decide to “Stand by Your Man” (Tammy Wynette) or he can decide to turn Gauthier into so much “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas). Here’s hoping Geoff Molson makes the right choice. Otherwise the faithful Habs fans may be singing a new tune during the 2012-2013 NHL season: The Rolling Stones “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction”.