Asset management is the top priority for every General Manager in hockey. Getting something for players you move keeps a franchise afloat, however getting nothing for an asset can set a franchise into ruin. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, Pierre Gauthier got a whole lot of nothing for many of his assets.
In today’s era of free agency, salary caps and money hungry agents, players switch teams with more frequency than ever before. Player movement is inevitable, however, the difference between the Canadiens under Gauthier and successful NHL franchises is the fact that the top teams received significant returns on their prior investments. Instead of losing a player for nothing, the best teams make deals that can help them in the future.
Montreal has for too long been afraid to move an upcoming free agent for fear they would drop out of the chase for the final playoff spot. Obviously making the playoffs is every teams goal, but moving future draft picks for Dominic Moore or James Wisniewski only to show them the door at season’s end, kept this team treading water as a mediocre team for years. This past season the roof finally collapsed, resulting in the worst season in recent Habs memory.
During the Gauthier/Gainey reign as head of the Canadiens, the team lost many good young players while gaining little in return. As a matter of fact the players that left the Canadiens in the last few years could arguably make a stronger team than the current Habs lineup. The lineup of current NHLers who are former Habs would look something like this:
Tanguay Ribeiro Cammalleri
A. Kostitsyn Grabovski Ryder
Higgins Koivu S. Kostitsyn
Pyatt Chipchura Lapierre
This roster would squeeze in under this years cap, according to www.capgeek.com
This is a roster that certainly has more scoring depth than the current edition of the Habs, a much tougher D and without getting into the Halak vs. Price debate, the goaltending is nearly the same. Whether you consider this roster better or worse than today’s Habs isn’t really the point, the fact is a comparable roster left town, all within the last six years and there is almost nothing to show for it.
Teams lose good players all the time but has any team lost this much talent, all since the lockout? To make matters worse, for this entire roster the Habs received in return, Lars Eller, Rene Bourque, Scott Gomez, Janne Niinimaa, Dustin Boyd, Pat Holland, Ian Schultz, Greg Pateryn, Mike Busto, Dan Ellis for a week, Brett Festerling, David Aebischer, Leafs 2nd in 2010 (which was later traded for Robert Lang), Nashville’s 2nd in 2012, Nashville’s 2nd in 2013, Calgary’s 2nd in 2013, Anaheim’s 4th in 2011 (Magnus Nygren), Anaheim’s 5th in 2012, Columbus 5th in 2012, and Dallas 5th rounder in 2007 (Andrew Conboy).
So, basically a playoff caliber roster left town for Lars Eller, a couple decent prospects in Pat Holland, Ian Schultz and Greg Pateryn, two cap killers in Gomez and Bourque, guys who will only play a handful of career games at most after arriving in Niinimaa, Boyd, Busto, Ellis, Festerling and Aebischer along with a handful of draft picks, none of which are firsts. Eller and 2nd round picks are fine but not quite enough to justify losing a very respectable NHL lineup.
Only a handful of Habs on the current roster were brought in via trade and few could be considered good trades. Gainey hit a home run when he acquired Josh Gorges and a 1st from San Jose for Craig Rivet back in 2007. He made it even better when he used the pick to select Pacioretty. The next best return would be getting Eller, but that cost Jaro Halak. The rest of the players brought in on the trade front are Kaberle for Spacek, the aforementioned millstones in Gomez and Bourque for McDonagh and Cammalleri. As well as Nokelainen, Palushaj and Geoffrion who were brought in for Brock Trotter, Matt D’Agostini and Hal Gill.
Coming out on the losing side of trades and movement so often is what led to Montreal finishing with the third worst record in the league this past season. If Bergevin is going to do a better job than Gauthier, he must find a way to receive a return when parting ways with his players.
Management for years has been satisfied to chase the 8th playoff seed with the roster they had and then lose players to free agency in the offseason. Giving up to quickly on young players such as Ryder, Grabovski, Higgins and Sergei Kostitsyn, coupled with a few desperation trades to bring in Bourque and Kaberle instead of future pieces, this franchise is farther away from the Cup than they have been in years. The only positive to take away from having so many good young players leave is the fact that Montreal has been great at drafting talent.
It is now Bergevin’s job to look to the future and build the Canadiens back into a yearly contender and not just a team built for one season at a time. It will be a tall order, after so many seasons of moving draft picks to patch a hole for half a season, but the cupboards are not completely bare.
I suppose that before building a beautiful monument a hole has to be dug in the ground first.
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