The Canadiens' roulette wheel of black or red fourth-line centres has rolled to a stop on Blair Betts this year. He'll displace Red 61 as the default Habs' designated PK/faceoff guy. He follows in the wake of such luminaries as Radek Bonk, Glen Metropolit and Jeff Halpern.
Betts is a good pick up. The Habs needed someone with size on the fourth line, who can play some minutes, kill penalties and win important draws. They needed someone who could let Tomas Plekanec off the hook as the team's go-to PK centreman. His presence means Andreas Engqvist goes to Hamilton.
That underlines a small issue with the Habs prospect pool. The Canadiens have traded first and second-round picks for the last four years, and that's left a gap between the guys who are breaking into the NHL now and those who are three to four years away. The guys who should be knocking at the door, filling that fourth-line centre or number-six D spot are playing for other teams.
It was a nice gamble to trade a first for Alex Tanguay, and a second for Robert Lang. Those didn't work out long term, but then management traded a second for Mathieu Schneider, another for Dominic Moore and yet another for James Wisniewski. While nobody denies those guys filled important roles when they were desperately needed, now we can all see the gap in the Habs developmental pipeline because of those trades.
Picking up undrafted people like Engqvist were admirable attempts to fill the gap with astute scouting and gleaning gold from other teams' chaff. It's not the same as picking guys you know you'll need and letting them develop within the organization. Sometimes those outside gambles pay off. More times, they don't.
In the end, Gauthier claimed Blair Betts off waivers because he gambled away the team's youth to fill other holes, which left new holes. The good thing about this pickup is that, while Betts will do nicely on the fourth line this year, he didn't cost anything. Neither did Chris Campoli in his role as fifth defenceman. Gauthier, if he's learned anything, has figured out picks are the most important assets a team can have. So, if he can grab a guy off the scrap heap in September, like Campoli, or a guy off waivers like Betts, who can fill important spots for minimal cost, it's all to the team's benefit.
That leaves the draft picks intact, so, if they're used wisely, the team won't have to look for another Campoli or Betts outside its own organization. In the meantime, we hope to see the best of those guys and minimize the hurt of moving the future for the rapidly-fading present.