Gauthier Inaction: Vote of Confidence or Admittance of Defeat?

*Skip down to the bottom of the blog for a MAJOR TCL-Habs announcement!

Believe it or not, I've actually gone through several drafts of this potential post-deadline blog (I'm trying really hard not to call it a post-mortem).

I actually kind of get it. The Canadiens were stuck between a rock and a hard place heading into the 2011 NHL trade deadline. Injuries had forced GM Pierre Gauthier's hand into acquiring three defensemen, and even that may not have been enough to replace the players the Canadiens lost. Add to that a few big contracts that Gauthier's predecessor handicapped him with, and a lot of pending free agents and Gauthier's job was likely more difficult today, and in the last few weeks, than any of us can imagine.

Gauthier spoke out a few hours after the final bell rang, comparing "the Canadiens' situation to that of someone who has set aside money for a summer vacation only to discover his roof had to be replaced." (Habs Inside/Out), really the only interesting thing he had to say. And I get it, I guess. The money that may have been spent on acquiring players to "improve" the team had to be spent to instead "fix" the team.

No one could have foreseen three different defensemen going down with season-ending knee injuries (the third, Jaroslav Spacek, hasn't been confirmed as season-ending, but who are we kidding. How silent the Canadiens are being on the matter speaks for itself). And the Canadiens did some decent patch work with what they had. Could I have envisioned better defensemen than Paul Mara and Brent Sopel on the Canadiens' radar via trade? Definitely. But they made a good move acquiring James Wisniewski, and really the defense has made due without Markov, Spacek, Gorges and at times Hal Gill.

But the Canadiens have more issues than just on defense. They have a severe problem scoring goals, and they haver little to no toughness on any line. And despite the generous amount of cap space remaining thanks to long-term IR replacement, Gauthier did nothing to address these issues on trade deadline day or even in the days and weeks leading up to today. And, really, no amount of excuses can allow me to accept these lack of "improvements".

Many fans on Twitter and the like were quick to breathe a sigh of relief when the 3PM deadline hit and they found out that the only deal Gauthier has made was a minor one for AHL goaltender Drew McIntyre from their new favorite trade partner, the Atlanta Thrashers. It seems as if many people thought that in order for the Canadiens to make a trade to improve the team, the only feasible option would be to trade a member of this team's core that has been deemed "untouchable". I'm talking about the Subbans, the Paciorettys, the Leblancs.

Well, I don't buy it. The Canadiens don't have many options, but you're telling me they couldn't put a respectable package together for a forward? They couldn't find a draft pick to give up for someone like Chris Neil? Or find their own David Steckel to trade for a Jason Arnott? There were plenty of reasonable trades made not only today, but in the days leading into today's deadline.

And I'm sorry, but when I hear Pierre Gauthier say that the Habs "have an established identity and style of play," that they "had success in the playoffs last season with this nucleus of players," that he doesn't even believe that the Canadiens lack of size and toughness is an issue, it makes me wonder whether Gauthier even tried to make any acquisitions of any kind to help a clearly overworked group of forwards.

Moreover, Gauthier's "vacation" analogy really doesn't sit right with me. It's like saying that the playoffs for this team are really an extra, a treat for the Canadiens and their fans, not the essential. It's like saying the Canadiens were planning on making a long playoff run, but because of injuries they're better off staying home and playing Xbox because, oh well, they can't afford it anymore.

It's definitely a change from the normal "we tried but couldn't get anything done" and the "it's hard to make trades" spiel that we've become used to from mostly Bob Gainey in recent years, but it's not a welcome change.

Either Gauthier isn't watching this team play, or he has trouble watching and dealing with them objectively. Sure, the Canadiens have some good players, some good veteran leadership and even players who proved they can perform when the going gets tough and the games become important in the playoffs. I'm obviously not a general manager, but if I were, I'd take a step back and look at whatever team I've built (or in Gauthier's case, inherited) objectively instead of simply stating my satisfaction with my work so far.

Last year in the playoffs, the Canadiens got lucky against the Caps and the Pens, and when they faced a real challenge against the Flyers, they hit a wall. Regardless of what happened in the 2010 playoffs, do you really think that teams like the Capitals and the Penguins have forgotten what happened last year, that they'd let that happen again? Do you really think that the Canadiens stand a chance against the Flyers and the Bruins, teams that will just beat them into submission? Against the Tampa Bay Lighting, a team that will be extra motivated to beat them thanks to certain local flavor? Things aren't exactly as rosy as Gauthier likes to put it, and not doing anything to improve his team at the deadline signals a sign of defeat, not a sign of confidence.

I've mentioned some of the players that interested me in terms of forward acquisitions. Jason Arnott, Ales Hemsky, Chris Neil all seemed like players within the Canadiens reach. It wouldn't really be fair for me to speculate what could have gone the other direction in terms of an actual trade, but when looking at the market, and looking at the Canadiens' assets, you can't tell me that Gauthier couldn't have put something together. To be honest I would have accepted another Dominic Moore type of deal, because the Canadiens actually needed that as well. Instead, we get patchwork on defense, we get Gauthier re-shingling the roof to the Bell Centre.

I really don't want to sound overly negative, but you can't say that Gauthier's actions and his words are exactly reassuring. Yes, the Habs will likely make the playoffs, and in all likelihood they'll probably be competitive no matter who they face. But this group, with their injuries and their lack of toughness stands no chance against any of their potential competition in the grand scheme of things. And to me, that's called mediocrity, and it seems as if GM Pierre Gauthier, the man who proclaimed that he wanted his team to be amongst the best teams in the East season-in and season-out one year ago, is completely ok with it. And to me, that's unacceptable.

Hoard your assets all you want Habs fans, but as good as you may think the Tinordis and the Leblancs are, as much as you want to sacrifice the present to have a glimmer of hope in the future, don't come crying back to this blogger when the Canadiens can't seem to compete come playoff time. And frankly, so long as the team, and many of its fans, have this attitude, the mediocrity, the low-risk moves and the middle-of-the-pack finishes aren't going to go away any time soon.

So one has to wonder, was Pierre Gauthier's lack of moves a vote of confidence for a players, or simply a camouflaged admittance of defeat, after being unable, or possibly unwilling to make the moves necessary to improve the team in the here and now?

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Because it's how they roll, watch the Habs prove me wrong with a win streak. The Habs are back on the road all week, with games against the Thrashers Tuesday, the Panthers Thursday and Lightning Saturday. Next week will be a tad more important, with games against the Bruins, Blues and Pens. It's the stretch run, and things are very close to getting tighter in the Eastern conference playoff race, probably too close for comfort for the Habs. How will they respond after Gauthier's inaction on Monday? Will they take it as a vote of confidence, or will the players feel discouraged to find out the cavalry won't be coming in to save them?

Join us at TCL as we cover the action game in and game out!

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BIG HABS ANNOUNCEMENT

I promised a big announcement at the top of the blog, and here it is!

TCL is looking to add a new Habs blogger to the team. As you all know, I run The Checking Line, as well as our sister siter, BetterWithPopcorn.com, and can sometimes habe my hands full. Jay Pietroniro does a great job with his pre-game blogs, but you could probably tell that there may be a lack of really complete hockey coverage for your Montreal Canadiens. And since we don't the Flyers to steal all the attention, we're going to counter with our own measures to ensure that the Habs coverage on the site will be second to none going forward.

Instead of just picking from a slew of great Habs writers with their own blogs, we're going to try something different. Throughout the month of March, we're going to hold a contest. Those who sign up will be asked to provide a blog as a sample. That blog will serve as either a game preview or a recap to an upcoming Canadiens game, at random, and will be posted on our main page for everyone to see with full props for your twitters, blogs, etc.

After a couple of weeks, and after all the entrants have participated, the TCL staff, with input from our readers, will choose one,possibly two of the entrants to join the TCL staff as the next great Canadiens writer( s )!

You can check out the full details for the contest and enter in our forums!

Sign up and let all your friends now today!

Prax
www,twitter.com/GeorgePrax
www.betterwithpopcorn.com

3 Comments

George Prax's picture

To be fair, they didn't have a second round pick and I guess they didn't want to give up their first. But both those deals seemed doable still, not to mention there were other d-men on the market too. Sopel I don't mind, but Mara's already been a scratch and they wasted a pick on him.