A lot of Habs fans will spend this morning wringing their hands and crying about the Canadiens late-evening re-acquisition of Paul Mara from the Ducks yesterday. While it's true the guy's been a Ducks' healthy scratch for pretty much the last month, and was no great pillar of D in his abbreviated stint with the Canadiens last season, Pierre Gauthier wasn't nuts to trade a fifth-round pick to get him back.
There are two facts fans need to consider when evaluating the trade. First, the Canadiens are in deep, deep trouble on defence. Second, Gauthier has neither the assets nor the motivation to make a blockbuster deal to fix the problem.
To the first issue, the admirably steady play of P.K.Subban and Yannick Weber has masked the seriousness of the defence's problems. While it's impressive that the Canadiens sit in fifth place while missing Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges (imagine the Wings missing Lidstrom and Kronwall as a comparison), they've been surviving on veteran depth. Removing Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek from the equation leaves Roman Hamrlik as the only experienced blueliner who actually plays solid defence. This is a D-corps in big trouble. It's nice that young Brendon Nash (who, incidentally, Gauthier got for nothing more than a rookie free-agent contract) handled his 12 minutes of NHL ice time very well. It's also reasonable to expect he'd be a bit more exposed against a top team like the Canucks.
On the second front, we have to expect that, with so many injuries on defence and important pieces of the team in various stages of early development or mid-career suckage (yeah, you, Gomez), the Canadiens are not favoured to win a Cup this year. The kids are blossoming into what could be the core of a really good team in a year or two, but they're not there yet. The Habs are a good team. Philly, Vancouver, Detroit and possibly Boston are better. Considering the trade bait available to Pierre Gauthier right now, which basically consists of whatever prospects haven't yet been called up, draft picks or underperforming veterans, there's not a whole lot available to deal for the kind of player that would make the Canadiens contend.
Since contention via trade isn't really possible, Gauthier will tweak and hope the horses he has have enough heart and strength of character to outplay their limitations. That's where Mara comes in. He's a veteran defenceman with some size, who's capable of playing a steady, if unspectacular, game. He's a better bet than the untried Nash, or the wildly unpredictable Alexandre Picard. He's also a good teammate who won't rock the carefully-developed chemistry in the dressing room.
For fans who bemoan the 2012 fifth-rounder Gauthier paid to get Mara, just consider the pick started out as Anaheim's fifth in the first place; the one they paid for Maxim Lapierre. And, knowing Gauthier, he'll probably pick up another draft choice to replace it before next year anyway.
The Mara acquisition was made out of prudence and desperation. Considering the driving factors, Gauthier could have done a lot worse. Fans who will spend today screaming about how they wanted more, or ridiculing the move because Mara's not what they expected, should take a step back and ask themselves whether they really think the Canadiens are contenders for the Cup this year. If they're honest and admit that the Habs are probably a dark horse at best, they then need to ask what they'd be willing to give away for a slightly better chance at the brass ring. Would they move a first-round pick that could be part of a contending team in the next few years for a soon-to-be-UFA like Kaberle or Phillips? Gauthier has already done something similar in giving up a second for Wisniewski, and there are only so many assets a team can afford to give up just to stay afloat.
Paul Mara's got a great attitude, and he'll be servicable. When you're bargain shopping for emergency repairs, sometimes that's enough.