Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Pierre Gauthier''s Year

Apparently today marks the first anniversary of Pierre Gauthier's time as the man officially in charge of the Montreal Canadiens.

Round and about, it seems to be the thing to give some kind of retrospective on him. At first, i thought I had no interest in doing this. That was until I read the glowing reviews he's been getting. I think the internet is calling for some balance.

Trades

The place everyone seems to start is with trades, so I'll start there too. Gauthier has made a total of nine of them in a year. In doing so, he has traded 5 players that were on last year's roster as well as a first, 3 second round picks and a 5th rounder with one prospect for two players on the current roster, 6 prospects, 2 free agents that are gone now, a first rounder, a 4th and a 5th.

Here are the trades:

1) 2nd round pick (TBD) in 2011 traded to Florida Panthers for Dominic Moore

2) Matt D'Agostini traded to St. Louis Blues for Aaron Palushaj

3) Jaroslav Halak traded to St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz

4) 1st round pick (Mark Visentin) in 2010 and a 2nd round pick (Oscar Lindberg) in 2010 traded to Phoenix Coyotes for a 1st round pick (Jarred Tinordi) in 2010 and a 4th Round pick (Mark MacMillan) in 2010

5) Sergei Kostitsyn and future considerations traded to Nashville Predators for Dan Ellis, Dustin Boyd and future considerations

6) Cedrick Desjardins traded to Tampa Bay Lightning for Karri Ramo

7) Ryan O'Byrne traded to Colorado Avalanche for Michael Bournival

8) 2nd round pick (TBD) in 2011 and a conditional 5th round pick (TBD) in 2012 traded to New York Islanders for James Wisniewski. 2nd round pick was NHL compensation for 1st round pick David Fischer not being signed

9) Maxim Lapierre traded to Anaheim Ducks for Brett Festerling and a 5th Round pick (TBD) in 2012


Trades 2) and 6) I'll call neutral. Basic prospect for prospect swaps. Factors like age and popularity of the players might play into this over time.

Trade 1) was a rental that paid off. So that's a victory. A 2nd round pick is steep for Dominic Moore. But a second round pick is cheap for a forward that significantly helps your team knock off two powerhouses and make the best playoff run the franchise has had in near two decades.

Trade 7) is another win for me. O'Byrne was essentially a dead-end prospect. Subban and Weber progressing properly made his worth to the team drop. Add in Picard who is at least as good, if not as big and there wasn't much place for Ryan in the future. Turning this guy into a potentially very exciting Quebec-born first rounder (who narrowly missed making team Canada) was very good for a Canadiens GM.

Trades 5) and 9) are widely viewed as addition by subtraction. As is standard procedure in these trades, the GM went to another conference. The problem is addition by subtraction is ultimately still subtraction. These can't really be viewed as wins, because other GMs have done more with less value. Gauthier needed to be more alert to the good trades out there and hold his cards. Andrej Meszaros was had for a 2nd rounder, Chicago was dumping players like Andrew Ladd. Even if we throw that out the window, the Canadiens GM in making these trades is just continuing the lazy tradition of jettisoning problems as opposed to facing them. 50+ point Ribeiro and 40+ point Grabovski join Kostistyn on the list of talent thrown away of late. Even though I fully subscribe to the idea that these players needed to go, I cannot endorse trading players for just anything. Talent has to be either managed or managed until value can be found in return. These trades are in the needs improvement column.

Trade 8) was a clear win. Wisniewski is a good fit and just what the team needed at the time. The price was OK considering the rental was long, and better if you consider he's auditioning for a future place.

The last two trades are examples of trades gone wrong.

The trade up for Jarred Tonirodi was a miscalculation, I think. For one thing there were more than 5 players of Tinordi's standard out there. And you know how I feel about taking defensive defencemen in the first round. To spend a second rounder for a fourth to get one on top of wasting the pick on one is pretty poor. I understand the scouts liked him and that's how it worked. But tell me, didn't the scouts see anything in say Tyler Toffoli who now has 44 goals in 50 OHL games (47th)? Or other second rounders who they might have been able to take as well as Tinordi if they risked him falling?

The Halak trade is being viewed at the moment through some mighty rosy glasses. From all the comments, you'd think that Halak was made of kryptonite to halt Price's superman. Let's assume for a moment that they are in fact separate people, and only made of organic matter that doesn't emit debilitating auras. Price if was going to be good, was going to be good. Halak had just come off an outstanding playoffs that laid to rest a lot of the thought at the time that his previous two seasons were flashes in the pan. He was an asset.

So trading an asset. This is stuff to get excited about? Should be. Could be. Except that Gauthier decided to cut off his own legs. He decided that it was best to trade Halak before signing him to a contract. This decision meant that a) Halak was worth less and b) Price was worth more. Now we can argue about Eller until the cows come home,and  Price's contract looks like every good value now. Heck, Halak's record makes this look rosy too. But all of that misses the point. The GM needed to turn Halak into something much more valuable than Eller and Schultz. If Gautheir really believed that he was picking the right goalie, he needed to open this up to the Eastern conference, where goalies were most required. If the trade wasn't there at that time, he should have signed Halak and played salary games like the two teams that just made the Stanley Cup final did all last season.

This was a mediocre trade with extremely bad timing.


Overall, I have Gauthier down as an average trader who seems like he might be getting better (Bournival, Wisniewski). If trading was all there was to being a GM, then he'd deserve a pat of encouragement. If you're polar opposite on that Halak trade, I can see where the rave reviews are coming from.


Free agents
In terms of new faces, Gauthier did OK last summer. Basically, he added Alex Auld, Alexandre Picard and Jeff Halpern. None of these signings sets to world on fire. Yet none creates a salary mess either. Considering they've all played well, I'd say it's a good record.

If there's a criticism to be levelled with regard to free agents, it has to be about the resigning of the team's own. Pouliot stands out, since he got a 50% raise despite basically taking 25 games off at the end of last season. Halak wasn't signed (before the playoffs?) and we know what problems I think that caused and Price got a very hefty raise despite having 18 pretty average months on a contract that was already paying over the odds.

Again in retrospect these things look OK. I can't rely entirely on retrospect. When a player plays badly, he should not be rewarded with a hefty raise. it sets dangerous precedents for when a) that player plays well and b) other players come off below average seasons. Contract structure is all about internal precedents and one can only rely on so much good will from players who wish to stay. These two contracts netting a few hundred thousand more than they should have will likely mean the loss of a real roster player this summer.


Man management

Perhaps man management is entirely the duty of the GM, but ultimately he's the man who pushes the buttons and he can tell the coaches what he wants them to do as their boss.

A big red light went up this January when Andrei Kostitsyn asked for a meeting with Jacques Martin and finally found out what the coach wanted.

This is indicative of a problem that we thought had gone the way of Carbo. An environment where players and personalities are being managed on a daily basis. It's a problem. It's a problem because players like the ones I mention above as additions by subtraction become those players worth subtracting in these environments.

In a league as competitive for talent as the NHL, it's crazy to allow an environment that consistently puts up these problem players to persist. We've lost the talent held in Ribeiro, Grabovksi, Sergei and Lapierre for little in return, and it looks precarious in Andrei Kostitsyn's case.

I understand that Jacques Martin is a grizzled vet who is set in his ways, and in many ways holds more clout and credibility than Gauthier. However, Gauthier is the man charged with managing this group of talent. When sweeping problems under the rug until a trade comes up is the standard operating procedure, it's the GM's duty to step in and speak for the talent assets of the club.

I was willing to assume this was taken care of. That is until Andrei's recent revelations. Gauthier must do better here. Else more talent (talented guys do tend o have egos sometimes) will pass on by.


Results

ON results, Gauthier looks a star. The team, fighting for the playoffs when he took over, made it there and put in a great run. This season is the team's best since 2008, and probably better when injuries are tallied. Considering that, it's been the best 12 months (Feb to Feb) for the Habs since 1993. Gauthier is reaping the good favour for this in his reviews today.

Problem is, much of this has little to do with Gauthier's reign as sole man at the helm. The core of the team was put together with Gainey in charge (or so we thought). Carey Price is better because of goaltending coaches and better defence, not that contract or Halak leaving.

Gautheir is the GM of a very good team, but let's not make the mistake in thinking that he's the very good GM of an NHL team.

February is a telling time for a GM, as it's one of the few months many of them do any work. Trades made in the next month, or trades no made will give us a fuller picture on Gauthier. Another draft will reveal more about his steel and judgment, as will the contract season.

A year is far too little time to judge a GM properly. I've been hard, but not down on Gauthier. I felt some of the stuff glossed over by others needed to be brought to light. Until now, I'd say he's been adequate, doing little to indicate he'll separate from the pack. It could be worse. But in a thirty team league with only one team winning the prize each year, being adequate might not be enough.

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