Below I have attached Big T's first contribution to Lions in Winter where he examines the history and probable implications of the Campoli signing.
The signing of Chris Campoli last week seems to have sent a lot of different messages to the Habs faithful from Andrei Markov possibly being out long-term to Alexei Yemelin, Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber having underwhelmed at training camp. The truth is if Andrei Markov was in fact ready, everyone would be bumped down the depth chart one notch and Gauthier probably doesn’t sign Campoli.
However, considering that this was Markov’s second ACL reconstruction, the timeline on the recovery and rehab from that procedure is approximately twelve months. Since, Markov had the procedure done last November it would be foolish for Habs management to have not had a backup plan in place. In retrospect, it seems clear not only did they have such a plan but they had 3 plans in place.
The first as we all know was offering a one-year deal to Roman Hamrlik. While most Habs fans were ready to throw in the towel on the workhorse journeyman defenceman, Pierre Gauthier saw otherwise and offered the rearguard a one-year deal at a discounted yet healthy $3.5M which made a lot of sense in my eyes. We all know what happened next, Hamrlik declined the Canadiens offer countering that he wanted a two-year deal which he eventually got from the Washington Capitals.
So right from that moment one can deduce that Pierre Gauthier had planned for another veteran defenceman to be signed. Money was allocated and a roster spot marked down in both the general manager and coach’s clipboards. Diaz and Yemelin had both been signed at that point meaning that regardless of their outcome in camp, the Habs brass had still envisioned another veteran defenceman on the roster.
What we will never know of course, is who (if anyone else) Gauthier targeted during the free-agency period. It’s possible that some offers were presented but rejected and it’s also possible that trade discussions were fruitless. Although these are assumptions, what’s clear is that the Habs wanted another veteran defenceman and did not obtain him. It is very possible that at this point, a calculated risk was taken. Initial reports on Markov had been positive and Yannick Weber had put in an inpired playoff performance. Diaz and Yemelin both were coming to camp (not as kids) but as professionals who had multiple years of experience playing in a pro-league. It was thought that Markov would be good to start and should there be an absolute need hopefully one of Diaz, Yemelin or Weber would probably step up.
The gamble failed. Markov suffered a setback that pushed back his readiness and Weber had an overwhelmingly underwhelming camp. Yemelin and Diaz showed promise but both also showed that there will be an adjustment period and for a team striving to be an elite team in this league, you simply cannot have a defenceman eating up major minutes who is also adjusting to the North American game and rink.
The decision was made to go back to main strategy which was to shore up the back-line with a veteran NHL defenceman. Considering the time of year, the options were limited and with that, I would still say that Gauthier did well in signing Campoli. He’s a capable bottom pairing D-man that can log some minutes and help the top 4 get their rest on the bench. At the end of the day, a GM that’s been overly ridiculed and criticized for being too conservative actually rolled the dice, came up short and then was proactive in taking steps to correct a situation.
I don’t call that passive.