I was talking to a political reporter today who said, in reference to tomorrow's resumption of Parliament, "Politicians like to look forward, not backward. They hate looking behind them because they don't like explanations." The catch though, is if a politican fears turning to a pillar of salt by looking behind him, he fails to learn from the mistakes of the past. And as Santayana said, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." The same can be said for NHL general managers.
The Canadiens are a funny organization that way. The Habs sell history as their greatest commodity, but it's a revisionist history. Nobody seems to be admitting to or learning from the last seventeen years of futility at all. Bad trades, failed free agent signings, blown draft picks...it's as though they never happened as far as management is concerned. Early indications don't give me a lot of optimism that Pierre Gauthier will be different, and judging by the huge lack of silly trade proposals cropping up among Habs fans in the last couple of months, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in my mistrust of Gauthier.
The Canadiens are not a contending team (again) this year. They are a team that needs to keep draft picks and develop youth successfully to become stronger. Trading those assets for a chance at eighth place is another step down the Mediocre Highway we've been travelling for nearly twenty years. So Gauthier's first move; trading a second rounder for Dominic Moore, was pretty suspect.
Now Tomas Plekanec's agent says he and Gauthier talked over the Olympic break and will do so again after the deadline. This is not good. Plekanec is, with the goalies and Andrei Markov, the Canadiens' most valuable asset. Gauthier really needed to lock him up before the deadline. I'm assuming the reason he didn't is because the two sides are at least close to being on the same page and there's optimism about them reaching a deal. The risk is huge, however. Without the power to trade Pleky, the post-deadline balance swings in favour of agent Rick Curran. If Curran decides that Pleks deserves a bit more money or a longer term than Gauthier had originally offered, the Canadiens have no leverage. Plekanec can simply walk to a team that will meet those demands. Without the option of trading him if negotiations break down, Gauthier has thrown open the door to losing him for nothing in July, or paying considerably more than he'd intended to keep him. Either outcome is bad management.
Both the Moore trade and the Plekanec negotiations are indications Gauthier is not looking at the Canadiens with the long-term in mind. He's going for the last-ditch playoff berth for this season. If he'd looked at all at the last several years, he'd know trading building blocks for mud to chink the cracks on the current team doesn't work. The team might make the playoffs, but it won't have the strength to go far. And there's an equal chance it might not make the playoffs at all, which means the building blocks are gone for nothing.
If Gauthier makes a move before tomorrow, I hope it's for the future. He needs to keep his good young players unless he can get a better young player in trade for them. He needs to hold onto his draft picks unless he can get a better young player than he's likely to be able to draft. And he needs to seriously consider offers for veterans who will no longer improve, but might bring a return of good young players or draft picks. At least, that's what a sensible GM who can accurately assess his team's strengths, weaknesses and outlook should do. I'm not sure Gauthier fits that description. I fear he's more interested in not missing the playoffs this year than he is in making the post-season in a stronger position for the next ten. I want him to prove me wrong, but I know I'm going to be spending a pretty uncomfortable thirty hours waiting to see which way he goes.
To call on the words of another great man, Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Pierre Gauthier should remember that applies to mediocrity too.