This article was originally written in December, 2013.
The Montreal Canadiens recently faced the St. Louis Blues, making it the fourth head to head battle of former Canadiens crease-mates Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price.
Halak vs. Price was a constant refrain in Montreal during the Spring of 2010, one that forced then General Manager Pierre Gauthier to make an enormous decision on the future of Canadiens net minders, as both were Restricted Free Agents who wanted to be number one goalies.
Halak has posted a perfect 3-0 record against the Canadiens since the surprising trade that sent him to St. Louis in June of 2010, just one month after he carried Montreal to the Eastern Conference Finals. Halak was the main reason the 8th seeded Canadiens were able to oust the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in consecutive grueling seven game series.
However, Gauthier decided to roll the dice and hand the keys to the crease to Carey Price, when, much to the dismay of the fanbase, he dealt Halak for youngsters Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. The move was met with plenty of criticism from fans of the Habs, as Halak had endeared himself to the city during the improbable run to the NHL’s semi-finals.
Gauthier was mocked mercilessly for this move, and the Gauthier era is not recalled fondly by most fans of hockey’s most historic team.
Congrats to Pierre Gauthier…#habs first team to use both compliance buyouts
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) June 24, 2013
However, in hindsight, the Halak for Eller deal, as well as the Gauthier era as a whole, turned out favorably for the Canadiens.
Pinning the team’s future hopes on Price was the first major decision made by Gauthier as GM of the Canadiens, and it has proven to be a very wise move. Add to that, Eller is developing into an impressive, big, two way center that the Canadiens have been searching for, for several years, and Gauthier hit a home run with this high risk move.
Gauthier’s Impressive Trade History With Montreal
Gauthier began calling the shots as the main man in Montreal in February of 2010 when incumbent GM Bob Gainey stepped down. With the Canadiens battling for a playoff spot, Pierre dealt a second rounder for veteran center Dominic Moore, who would help the Canadiens squeeze into the postseason. Moore would then score the game winning goal in the seventh game against the Washington Capitals, putting the final touch on one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history.
Gauthier would make several small deals, moving Sergei Kostitsyn before he bolted for the KHL, and moving up in the 2011 NHL Draft to grab hulking defenseman Jarred Tinordi – filling a huge need on the Canadiens roster. Gauthier would then deal Ryan O’Byrne to the Colorado Avalanche, as he was unimpressed with O’Byrne’s defensive play, and slow development.
O’Byrne would only last two more seasons in the NHL, and is now plying his trade overseas in the KHL, but Gauthier received Michael Bournival in return, a young player who has really impressed the current Canadiens management as a rookie NHLer this season. Bournival’s speed and tenacity appear to have him locked into the Canadiens lineup for many years to come.
When Andrei Markov was lost for all but seven games of the 2010-11 season, Gauthier was able to fill the void by trading for James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders. Wisniewski was acquired for a very reasonable price of 2nd and 5th round draft picks, and would contribute 30 points in the 43 games he wore a Canadiens sweater.
More Gauthier Trades In Following Years
With the Canadiens closing in on a playoff spot in 2011, Gauthier added a pair of veteran defenders for cheap, when he sent a 4th rounder for Brent Sopel and a 5th round pick for Paul Mara. Sopel was a solid shot blocker and penalty killer for the Canadiens, who would give the Boston Bruins a scare in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. Montreal would ultimately fall in overtime of the seventh game against the Bruins, who would then go on to win the Stanley Cup.
In the offseason, Gauthier would realize that Wisniewski’s price tag would be out of range for the Canadiens to bring him back, so he dealt his rights to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fifth round pick. It does not sound like much, but the Canadiens used the pick to select Charles Hudon who is one of their top forward prospects, and is gearing up to play for Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championships in Sweden next week.
— Matthew Macaskill (@Habsology) September 18, 2013
The 2011-12 season is the one Canadiens fans associate most with Gauthier, and blame him for the team crashing to the cellar of the NHL. Montreal would finish that year 28th overall in the NHL standings, and since one bad season cannot be tolerated in the city of Montreal, it would cost Gauthier his job.
One of the few bright spots on a disastrous season was the 35 goals scored by Erik Cole, who was the biggest signing Gauthier made in his two offseasons as the Habs GM. He would also sign Peter Budaj in July 2011, and Budaj has proven to be the perfect backup for Price over the past three seasons.
Desperation Forced Gauthier’s Trade For Kaberle
His biggest blunder at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens was trading Jaroslav Spacek for the over-the-hill and overpaid Tomas Kaberle. This trade was made on December 9, 2011, with the Canadiens struggling mightily, and Markov once again on the shelf for a prolonged period of time. Kaberle had been struggling himself, with the Carolina Hurricanes, but Gauthier thought he could give the Habs anemic power play a boost, and help the team climb the standings.
Kaberle did help boost the man advantage, scoring 22 points in 43 games, but his 4.5 million dollar per year contract had two more years remaining on it, and Kaberle was possibly the worst defensive defenseman in the league, and getting worse. It would not have been such a terrible trade if Kaberle was in the final year of his contract, but the salary cap implications going forward, and Kaberle’s effectiveness accelerating in the wrong direction, made it a major blunder.
It was a move made out of sheer desperation, as Gauthier knew what would happen to him if the Canadiens did not climb out of the bottom of the standings, but with Gainey’s biggest bust Scott Gomez still earning over 7 million per year against the cap, the Habs did not have the space to retain a player like Kaberle.
Gauthier’s Draft Picks Paying Off For Habs Already
Just over a month later, and with the Canadiens still struggling and now needing to shed payroll, Gauthier dealt 6 million dollar sniper Mike Cammalleri, who – much like everyone on the roster at this time – had been struggling. Cammalleri had been brought to Montreal to be an elite goal scorer, but had just nine goals in 38 games at the time of the deal.
Cammalleri was sent back where he came from, Calgary. He was dealt alongside goaltender Karri Ramo who had been playing in Russia, for big winger Rene Bourque, Canadian Junior sniper Pat Holland and a second round pick that would be used to select Zach Fucale. Though Bourque only shows up to play sporadically, Holland has impressed with the Bulldogs this season, and earned his first big league callup, and Fucale appears to be a steal of a second round pick, and will be between the pipes for Canada at next week’s World Jr’s, and could be a star for the Canadiens down the road.
Gauthier would add several more picks as the trade deadline approached and the team’s fortunes never took a turn upward. In separate deals with the Nashville Predators, the Canadiens received 2nd round picks for Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn. One of the picks would be used on Dalton Thrower, and another would be used to select Jacob De la Rose out of Sweden, who is an excellent two way player for Leksands in Sweden’s top league. De la Rose will also be suiting up at the World Jr. Tournament in his home country at the end of the month.
Exceptional Use of Few Picks Gauthier Kept
Pierre also had a considerable amount of success at the two drafts he was in charge of, especially considering he traded his 2nd and 3rd round picks both years for veteran help to get the team into the postseason. His two first round selections are now the top two prospects in the Canadiens system – Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu and he was able to make several value picks later in the draft. In 2011 the Canadiens picked Magnus Nygren in the 4th round and Darren Dietz in the 5th. Both defenders showed exceptional potential at their first NHL training camps this past fall, and had success at the AHL level with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Gauthier’s biggest steal at the Canadiens draft table, was selecting Brendan Gallagher 147th overall in the 5th round of the 2010 draft. Trevor Timmins gets most of the credit for any success the Canadiens have at the draft, but the final call is always up to the General Manager, and Gauthier was willing to take a chance on Gallagher, who would seem to be the last thing Montreal needed at the time, a small winger. As it turns out, he is one of the most important players on the Habs roster already.
Players from the 2010 NHL draft with more goals than 5th round pick Brendan Gallagher: Hall, Skinner, Seguin. That's all.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) November 15, 2013
Looking Back on Gauthier
Pierre Gauthier is no longer a part of the Canadiens management group, and most Habs fans are thankful for that. However, his fingerprints are all over this team and will remain to be on this team for a long time.
When those fingerprints include Carey Price, Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher, Jacob De la Rose, Charles Hudon, Zach Fucale and Michael Bournival, I would say it is time for Habs fans to give a little thanks for the Gauthier era.