Monday, March 1, 2010

Dreading the Deadline

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'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.


Anvilcloud said...

Let's hope that he pleasantly surprises us all.

pfhabs said...


-important point you make re Curran holding all the cards post 3 pm tomorrow and one I forgot given the Olympic break

-given the past 7 years as his history as the chief of pro scouting, Gauthier and excellence are strangers. your fear is shared by many--who and what gets sacrificed in this yearly ad nausea drive just to make the playoffs rather than build a superior team


Anonymous said...

The habs remind me of a sputtering engine. Perhaps there is a major malfunction requiring a complete tear-down and rebuild, or perhaps the engine just needs a timing adjustment or new spark plugs to start purring. So let's look at the components. Goaltending and special teams are among the best in the league, no problem there. But the team is among the league's worst in goals for, 5-5 goals, shots for, and shots against. They should be one of the leagues's worst teams based on those stats, yet somehow they are holding a playoff spot. How do you explain all of this? No wonder Habs fans are confused and in need of therapy.

Looking at some of the other components, our top two lines (both forwards and defense) have been good when healthy, and 7 of the 10 top line players are positive in plus/minus on a minus team. (Gionta, Gomez and Hamrlik are minus). The Olympic tournament showed that any top line can be shut down, so you need two lines that can score if you want to win, and the 3rd and 4th line need to chip in an occasional goal. I think our second line can be effective with AK back and SK playing well, and even better with Cammalleri back.

But when you look at Montreal's bottom two lines, it gets ugly. D'Agostini, White, Lapierre, Bergeron, Mara, and Pyatt are all double digit minus in plus/minus, despite only playing 8-15 minutes a game. They get badly outplayed 5 on 5 and give up a lot of shots. This is where the engine is sputtering. They need a 3rd and 4th line that can compete. Darche has been a pleasant surprise, giving some jam to the forecheck a la Brenden Morrow, just not as fast. Is Dominic Moore an upgrade? Hard to say yet. Moore-SK-Darche, Metro-Moen-Lapierre does seem like an upgrade on the 3rd and 4th lines we have had with the likes of Laraque, Bergeron and D'Agostini. Metro and Moen started the season well, but have really tampered off, and Lapierre has been aweful all season. They may lose their jobs to some of the kids coming up. Pyatt has seemed to elevate his game on his second call up, so maybe the 3rd and 4th lines need to be mostly bulldogs.

On defense there are definitely some components that need replacing. I think the top 4 are fine, but they need an upgrade in depth defensemen, the 5th, 6th and 7th guys need to be better. Maybe Gill as a PK specialist and small minutes is okay as the 7th guy. You can keep O'Byrne and hope he keeps improving, but he needs a stronger playing partner. If the habs can land a bonefide NHL defenseman to play with O'Byrne, maybe the engine starts purring. Maybe Subban is ready?

To summarize, I don't think a complete rebuild is required. One impact defenseman before the deadline, and finding a way to improve play from the 3rd and 4th line from within the resources of the organization, and maybe the engine starts to rev like we have seen at times.

jew4jah said...

excellent post, as always.
it really is getting harder everyday to be a habs fan.

DB said...

Churchill - "There is nothing to fear, but fear itself".

Relax a little bit and let's see what Gauthier actually does as GM before we judge him. The talks between Gauthier and Plek's agent will progress as they see fit. Worrying about who has the upperhand at this point serves no useful purpose, especially when we have absolutely no idea what has been discussed and what the tone of the talks have been.

I also think management is well aware that they haven't won the cup in 17 years. I don't see them denying it, but I also don't expect them to dwell on it. I expect them to relentlessly focus on winning the cup while we fans get to sit back and second guess their every real and imagined move.

Anonymous said...

Sadly J.T. we are both smart enough to know the answers to your questions. The day Geoff Molson made Gauthier our new GM without performing due diligence in seeking out the best possible candidate our fate was sealed. It is status quo on the good ship Titanic. Nothing short of a disaster of epic proportions will cause change in Montreal. Dollars and profit are the driving factors not something so crazy as long term thinking and the Stanley Cup.