Serge Boisvert, Ryan Jankowski, Vaughan Karpan, Christer Rockstrom and Ken Morin hired to the Canadiens Player Personnel Department, hire Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Pierre Allard.
There were a few new faces in the Canadiens organization on July 27th.The need to replace scouts who had been let go was apparent and new personnel were needed to fill out the holes in the organization's scouting department.
Serge Boisvert was hired to take over scouting operations in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a full-time scout, which should increase hopes that no more Claude Giroux's or Kris Letang's are missed by the Canadiens in their own backyard.
Ryan Jankowski is the Canadiens new scout to work in Western Canada and United States, he'll be expected to find the Canadiens the big, tough players that populate the Western junior leagues to increase the team's depth in that area.
Vaughn Karpan was selected to fill out the Canadiens professional scouting staff, a good choice as it's good to have additional eyes and ears in the NHL as the Canadiens look for potential trades and free agent signings.
Christer Rockstrom was chosen as the new man in charge of Amateur and Professional scouting in Europe and has some notable credentials in that record. He spent five years as the head of Player Personnel for Europe with the New York Rangers, was a scout for the team for sixteen years before that and had a five-year stint as a European scout for Detroit between 1984 and 1989. It will be interesting to see what Rockstrom finds for the Canadians, as he is now doing the work that three scouts were doing in earlier years.
Ken Morin was hired as a "Hockey Information Coordinator", a position where he studies current video and coaching trends in order to assist the Canadiens in preparation for games during their season and adapting their own methods.
On this day, Pierre Allard became the 3rd Strength and Conditioning Coordinator the Canadiens have had in 3 years. This position may have been an influence of Jacques Martin as well, who was reported to be displeased with the conditioning of the team at the start of the 09-10 season and wanted a different approach to the system. So far, I wouldn't say the Canadiens have been caught as being out of shape, mental preparedness seems to be their issue more, aside from half the defence of the Canadiens battling a case of being old. At present, one can't complain about this particular hire.
This was a series of moves to adjust the scouting department changes overall and while the names hired sound promising, it will take years to see the fruits of these decisions. Given the drafting misses by the organization in the 1st round of the draft in the last 8 years however, I would argue that this could be a very positive step with fresh eyes looking for the talent the Canadiens need for the "new" NHL.
C Louis Leblanc signed to 3-year, 2.7 million $ Entry-Level contract.
The signing of Leblanc to his first professional contract originally struck me as a bit curious. There was another year remaining on Leblanc's status before he had to be signed by the Canadiens to retain his rights when the deal was inked.
However upon reflection, it could be viewed as the Canadiens having signed Leblanc as an incentive to have him leave his relatively weak hockey program at Harvard University and take the next step in developing into a professional hockey player by letting him understand how invested they were in him and show the organization had confidence in his ability to turn pro.
Leblanc's contract signing soon led to Leblanc leaving Harvard and committing to play the 2010-11 season for the Montreal Juniors in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. This move had advantages, Leblanc would begin to get used to a longer schedule, he had only played 31 games in 2009-10 and would be playing a potential 68 in the QMJHL, plus potential berths with the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship Team for Canada, the QMJHL playoffs and if the Montreal Juniors were to win the QMJHL league championship, a place in the Memorial Cup Tournament. Leblanc's adaptation to a longer schedule and higher-level hockey are all positives provided he responds well to the challenges.
Leblanc will be a key step in the continuing push to transform more of the Canadiens 1st-round draft selections in to NHL players, whether his signing to a pro contract early and accelerating his development benefits the organization will likely not be known for another two or three years but it can never be considered a bad idea to push forward on getting a prospect further along the road to becoming an NHL player. For those who would critique Leblanc only leaving Harvard after signing a pro deal, I would remind people that signing a contract is not a guarantee he was going to have a future in the NHL and this is a gamble on his part, there are risks to playing in higher-level hockey and there is no guarantee he'll make it.
23rd Transaction: July 30th: D Alex Henry signed to 2-year, 1.025 million $ contract.
Arguably a move not worth reviewing, but retaining the career AHL blueliner was a very good move for the organization as it ensures a strong leadership base in Hamilton where various Canadiens prospects will play and come to need some guidance from career professionals. Henry was often the defensive partner of fan-favourite prospect P.K. Subban, who protected Subban from having to fight and give him guidance on improving on play away from the puck. Henry's authority as an AHL veteran and willingness to defend his teammates has kept the Hamilton Bulldogs a well-organized and
A strong farm team is an important part of an organization's future and while Henry will never be a Canadien, he can help guide and support those who will one day pull on the CH.
D Alexandre Picard signed to 1-year, 600,000$ contract.
This was a thoughtful pre-camp signing by Pierre Gauthier that can be considered relatively minor, but useful. The Canadiens always prefer to travel with some defensive depth especially with Jacques Martin as their head coach so the signing made sense with Andrei Markov not available to go at the start of camp and the need for a potential fill-in defender if other injuries struck the team.
Some have argued that Picard hasn't performed well, in relation to his contract its arguable the Canadiens are pretty much getting what they paid for. He's a plug defencemen to fit in when a regular defencemen isn't healthy and he played well enough when he's been asked to do so.
Picard has so far, 3 goals and four assists in 33 games, including a game-winning goal which is something no active defencemen can claim to have other than P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski. Will he be relied upon in the playoffs? Not unless injury strikes but the key is he is a seventh defencemen who can be sat in the press box without concern of hurting the development of a young player. He's been signed as a 7th defencemen and has performed as such.
G Cedrick Desjardins traded to Tampa Bay Lightning for G Karri Ramo
In a move that upset the language critics of the Canadiens roster more than anyone with a more critical eye on the farm, Pierre Gauthier dealt the backup goaltender of the Hamilton Bulldogs, 25-year old Cedrick Desjardins for the 24-year old Karri Ramo, who had enjoyed a productive season in the KHL on the path to rebuilding his game.
Desjardins had good statistics on the 2009-2010 Hamilton Bulldogs team, but Curtis Sanford had similar stats and Desjardins had never managed to steal away the starting job from Sanford. The organization also had Robert Mayer, three years younger than Desjardins and had just won a championship co-MVP award in the ECHL.
At present, the trade appears to have been won as swapping prospect goalies this year clearly favours the Canadiens as Karri Ramo is arguably the top goaltender in the KHL this season, with a record of 31-6-4 on his season and has helped place his KHL team Avangard Omsk at 1st place in the league, his Goals Against Average good enough for 2nd overall in the KHL at 2.01, his save percentage a very respectable .924. Cedrick Desjardins this season has had 22 starts in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals with a 14-6-1 record and 2.56 GAA, .906 save percentage. At the moment, one player seems to be outperforming the other in all statistical categories and Ramo players in an arguably higher-level of competition league.
Where this deal will truly be able to be read is how the team will use Ramo. His rights belong to the Canadiens but I doubt he's interested in starting next season in Hamilton or play only 15-20 games backing up Carey Price after being a Number 1 goaltender in the KHL for two seasons. There is always the option to deal his rights, but the trick will be finding a team he'd be willing to sign to. Ramo was put in a terrible position by the Tampa Bay Lightning when he got his first crack at becoming an NHL goaltender, behind a porous defence and a poorly coached team that saw him bombed out of nets on many nights. Ramo may not be eager to repeat such an experience and want to play for a stronger NHL team. He may just want back in to the NHL, but a goaltender that was once basically burned by a team looking to stuff anyone in nets to go through their games may be cautious about his NHL future.
The results of this deal can likely be judged during the summer and what decision comes from Pierre Gauthier and Ramo himself, at present Gauthier has come out ahead in terms of dealing for a better quality goaltender than he was previously giving away, to date I'm not of a very strong opinion Cedrick Desjardins will ever break out of the AHL.
G Carey Price signs a 2-year, 5.5 million $ contract.
The signing of Carey Price was an ongoing drama for the fans during the summer. Jaroslav Halak had been dealt and the future of the franchise's goaltending rested squarely on the shoulders of Carey Price, but he was not yet signed to a contract when Halak was dealt and so became a long-running drama over the summer, at least for the fans.
What was an appropriate salary, what was an appropriate term? The numbers were discussed at length and all manner of questions were raised about what was Carey Price doing over the summer to get ready for hockey? Few were impressed when it was discovered he was doing amateur rodeo in his home province of British Columbia. However less well reported was that Price had been consistently training with goaltending coach Pierre Groulx during the summer, refining his techniques and getting into the best shape of his life in preparation for a long season. Price knew he'd be taking on the lion's share of work in nets for the coming season and needed to be prepared, to date, it appears he was well-prepared. While many would criticize his risky choice of offseason activities, I imagine there were more than a few NHL players who got drunk and engaged in things just as risky as what Carey Price was doing sober in the summer as well. If you didn't know, former Canadien and Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Robinson played Polo in his off-season when he was an NHL player and that was hardly the safest thing he could be doing with his time. If it helped Carey Price get going for the season, this writer certainly won't complain, everyone needs their outlets in life.
Gauthier himself came under fire from fans for taking so long to get the deal done, although it should be pointed out other restricted free agents of similar importance to their teams like Loui Eriksson and James Neal of Dallas and Bobby Ryan in Anaheim took about the same amount of time, or even longer to finally agree to terms with their teams. It often takes time to get a deal done with a restricted free agent of importance because both sides are not often under pressure to get a deal done, the agent wants to go for the best possible terms and can stretch out negotiations trying to force the GM to give a better deal as the date for training camp approaches. However the drama ended with the deal and leaves one to examine the substance of it.
Carey Price will be collecting 2.75 million this season and next and so far, has outplayed goaltenders collecting far heftier salaries than his own. Gauthier's deal in financial terms made sense, if Price played to reasonable expectations it was reasonable salary for a starting goaltender and it was a steal that if Carey Price beat expectations and played like the team's MVP which he has. He's been among the league leaders in wins for months now despite the Canadiens missing a full third of their defensive core. He's stolen games numerous times, beaten his career totals in shutouts in his previous three seasons and been invited to an All-Star Game not based on fan votes but sheer merit. He's a comeback story, he's outplayed his former goaltending partner Jaroslav Halak and isn't showing any signs of slowing down. A clear win by Gauthier so far in choosing which goaltender to keep with the Canadiens.
Was the length of the contract too short a deal since in two years, armed with a pair of potential 40-win seasons Price's agent could be in a very strong bargaining position as Price's next restricted free agency period will give him salary arbitration rights? Then again, two years does not lock the team into any long-term contract issues if Price falters in the future and falls short or develops injury problems. However when the next negotiation period comes around there is no indication that the two sides would not be on good terms, Gauthier invested in Price being the goaltender the management believed him to be and was rewarded for it. At the same time, Price has a comfortable situation as an unchallenged top goaltender in Montreal while he chases new career heights.
In the 2011-2012 season, Gauthier will be under the gun to extend his All-Star goaltender, but the two sides should be expected to reach good terms if the young goaltender feels he is being well-treated and the team is on the right path. At present, Gauthier's best signing as he has ensured a solid goaltending future for the team but he will have to be careful in the next contract negotiation with Carey Price to ensure a good deal that works for the team and the young goalie, as an overly expensive contract may handcuff the team to signing players at another position. This may become a sticking point of those who become obsessed with the salary cap and protest that Gauthier did not sign the young goaltender for the lower cap hit for longer, but this signing was still a risk for Gauthier when the deal was made and this contract may become the lynchpin of all of Gauthier's future plans for the Canadiens to contend for the Stanley Cup. A deal that works in the present and may become a key part of the future. It's what a team needs when building towards future success, it is almost impossible to win a Stanley Cup without consistent goaltending and Price offers great promise as he is arguably still years away from reaching his prime.
C Jeff Halpern signed to 1-year, 600,000$ contract.
Pierre Gauthier chose to make another economic signing before the Canadiens began their camp, acquiring the services of faceoff specialist and defensive forward Jeff Halpern. In terms of value for money, Gauthier made an astute move to pick among the many third and fourth line players in the NHL still looking for work and find possibly the best of the lot. Halpern has been a hard-working defensive forward that has allowed the Canadiens to feature one of the finest penalty killing systems in the entire NHL.
Halpern's offence has mostly stalled after his initial production in the first two months of the season, recording only two goals and five assists since the start of December. However his ability to run an efficient penalty kill and keep either the third or fourth line ticking along, not often scoring goals but generally ensuring none are scored against when he's performing his duties. At times, he's also helped get more energy and effort out of players who are difficult self-starters like Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot by hard work and example. His ability to kill off penalties, win key faceoffs makes him easily the best value signing of Gauthier's administration so far.
D Ryan O'Byrne traded to Colorado Avalanche for C Michael Bournival
A move that has sparked the general level of controversy that comes when a player that is dealt sees an initial lift in performance upon arriving on a new team was the trade of Ryan O'Byrne. The relationship between O'Byrne and Jacques Martin had never been that solid, O'Byrne had a tendency for gaffes such as delay of game penalties or being caught out of position and for a coach that preached intelligent, defensive hockey O'Byrne could be a major headache when he played without confidence, which was often during his tenure with the Canadiens. Some have suggested he never really got over his own-goal in the 2008-2009 season and it's haunted him ever since.
Michael Bournival is an interesting prospect so far, a player who came very close to making the 2011 World Junior Championship Team for Canada and is likely on the radar for the 2012 team. He's obviously a player of good character, not one of the most talented players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League but one of the most hard-working certainly and was thought highly enough of by his coach to be named captain of his QMJHL, the Shawinigan Cataracates at age 18. Bournival seems to be another step by the Canadiens to draft very strong character players with natural leadership and can handle pressure. With the nature of the beast that is playing hockey in Montreal, it's not a bad move. However Bournival is just a prospect and O'Byrne has shown evidence of being a capable NHL defencemen in the present.
Ryan O'Byrne to some is what the Canadiens do not have right now, a towering defencemen who can lay out a big hit, fight, block shots and isn't over 35. He had a bit of a career revival upon his joining Colorado, however the 'new-team' effect that trades usually have to boost a player's abilities upon his arrival seem to have worn off. O'Byrne has played under 20 minutes a game in four of his last six games as Colorado's defence, which is quite weak by NHL standards this season has continuously failed to keep the team in games of late. I'd also remind people that O'Byrne's ice time is a direct result of Colorado having very few choices to who they can play on the back end and O'Byrne is one of their best options, while he would not be on stronger NHL teams. His primary issue seems to be either confidence or a sense of consistency. These are typical issues for many players in the NHL but I honestly have concerns that at O'Byrne's age of 26 they may not be issues he is capable of resolving in the intense market of Montreal or will allow him to be more than a 5-7 defencemen on an NHL team if he isn't playing next to a player of Markov's, or in Colorado, John-Michael Liles' abilities.
O'Byrne still has plenty of time to write his own story in the NHL though. What that story will be will take time to see though. Many NHL-capable players can be undone by not having given the opportunity or the coaching to overcome the obstacles they have holding them back. Confidence is a fickle thing though, some people can never become truly confident enough in front of big crowds to perform to their abilities. O'Byrne has time to show at the very least he can be a tough defensive defencemen who can give out the big hits. His hit on Washington's Nicklas Backstrom in the 2010 playoffs, who at the time had been terrorizing Montreal was a key turning point in that playoff series. O'Byrne's battle will be to prove he can be a consistent, reliable defender, with whatever ice time he is entrusted. Whether he wins that battle may be up to him and his coach and potential coachs in getting that out of him.
To call this trade a win or loss is premature since Bournival has yet to play in any 'big game' situations such as the World Juniors or any pro hockey games but if he doesn't make it to the show at all and O'Byrne grows into a consistent defencemen than it will be a loss for the Canadiens. But this like many of Gauthier's dealings will require a longer-term view.
2nd-round pick from 2011 Entry Draft and a conditional 5th-round pick from 2012 Entry Draft traded for D James Wisniewski
The coup in Gauthier's trading history so far as the Canadiens GM in this writer's opinion, he underpaid for a very valuable defencemen who has ignited the Canadiens since his arrival. Wisniewski was losing valuable time in his career on an arguably wasted season of serving on the New York Islanders, a team without hope of making the playoffs. Gauthier identified the need for a new defencemen, especially with knowledge that Josh Gorges season was finished and he needed to recruit someone to fill in for the giant hole now in the Canadiens plans, a full third of their preplanned defensive core for the 2010-2011 season was now out of action.
Since arrival, Wisniewski has delivered what was expected of him, scoring 2 goals and adding 11 assists, including a dramatic game-winning goal against the Florida Panthers in overtime in his fourth game as a Canadien. The power play has had far more jump since his arrival and he has not been afraid of physical play. While he will not be considered a marvel on the defensive side of the puck, he does not make too many mistakes and of his 15GP so far, only one of them could truly be considered a terrible game on his part. With the age of half of the defensive group of the Canadiens being over 35, the 26-year old Wisniewski will likely be a key cog in making sure minutes are spread out and the entire defence is well-rested for the final playoff push. So far, he's held up to the stress of playing in Montreal which is a good indication of his staying on after the 2010-11 season concludes.
The real evaluation of the value of the Wisniewski deal will likely be seen and evaluated in the playoffs, which this writer believes is well within the cards for the Canadiens and what happens with Wisniewski in the off-season. He will be an unrestricted free agent who with his scoring numbers would likely be able to command a strong salary since a puck-moving defencemen who can run a power play is always at a premium. This will be a heavy test of Gauthier's foresight and negotiating skills, with no defencemen under contract next season save P.K. Subban and in this writer's opinion, a visibly declining Jaroslav Spacek, what does he do? Wisniewski does have an injury history, a right knee that has been surgically reconstructed three times in his career. That would generally lead to lesser value, as many GMs would consider the sturdiness of Wisniewski and the wisdom in giving him a long-term contract. At present, Wisniewski is earning 3.25 million, but with a strong performance in the final stretch run could easily see that figure bumped to 4 million or more, but the market will play in to this. There are a number of NHL teams that can not afford to spend to the cap, others who will be facing their own cap issues and may be seeking solutions other than defencemen. There are reports already that the NHL salary cap will be raised again this year, by 2-3 million according to reports, useful cap space if the Canadiens chose to use it to solidify their defence. Wisniewski may also be looking for a permanent home, he's played on four teams in three years now and may want to see a more stable career path, perhaps willing to take less money to move again and only see himself passed around the NHL a couple more times.
A pressing thought remains though, The Canadiens have not selected in the 2nd round of draft in two years and barring a trade for a 2nd-round pick, it will be three consecutive years due to trading for James Wisniewski and for Alex Tanguay, Dominic Moore and moving up in the 2011 draft to acquire Jarred Tinordi. Now given that only a quarter of 2nd-round picks generally see any NHL action one might argue that is not a overly risky gamble to improve the team, but with only Tinordi remaining in the Canadiens system, it's a concern. There is always value in the 2nd round of the draft with names like Duncan Keith in 2002, Shea Weber in 2003, Brandon Dubinsky in 2004, Paul Statsny in 2005, Milan Lucic in 2006, Montreal's own P.K. Subban in 2007 and NYR rookie sensation Derek Stepan in 2008. These players are the exceptions rather than the rule, but it is hard to get these players if you don't have a chance to ever select them. I would conclude that this trade will only be a true success if the Canadiens find a way to get more than the remaining games in the 2010-11 season out of James Wisniewski. Youth and grit would be welcome additions to a Canadiens blue line that is older than anyone would like.
C Maxim Lapierre traded to Anaheim Ducks for D Brett Festerling and a 5th-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft.
A deal that seems to have been done more as a favour to Maxim Lapierre than in the interest of doing good business. Maxim Lapierre's career had never been consistent in Montreal, having been up and down with the team and the Hamilton Bulldogs in the 2006-2007, 2007-2008 seasons and then having a breakout year in 2008-2009 when most of the team was falling apart. This was marred by a poor performance in the 2009-10 season that was only saved by some brilliant moments in the 2010 playoffs, but was then again undone when his famous edge was mostly seen to be missing during the 2010-11 season. It was a problem for the Canadiens as they could not carry a role-player forward who didn't seem to think he really needed to go all-out until the playoffs, if he in fact would again repeat anything like what he did in the 2010 playoffs.
Lapiere's problem I find is often he's never quite sure of who he is supposed to trying to emulate, a cross of Claude Lemieux and Guy Carbonneau or when he's really overconfident, a bit of Guy Lafeur. Lapierre had an incredibly effective season in 2008-2009 as an agitator and defensive forward, but a nagging ankle injury slowed him down and saw him far less effective in the 09-10 season. The problem is when Lapierre scores a goal like this or like this he seems to become convinced he is a much better scorer than he actually is and tends to abandon his pest role in favour of one that doesn't suit him, with his general lack of a passing instinct and those moments of scoring brilliance are few and far apart.
Guy Carbonneau does not have much to hang his hat on for developing players, but I always felt one player he understood was Lapierre and tried to forge him somewhat in his own image to a certain level of success, especially in the 08-09 season. Jacques Martin perhaps did not quite understand that Lapierre was best in the role he had been playing and maybe did not endorse it and encourage it, but at the same time the fault also falls to Lapierre, at some point a player has to be able to be a self-starter and consistent, especially if he's a career 3rd or 4th line player and has been playing in professional-level hockey since 2006. Role-players have to be able to play their role without needing a lot of direction at the end of the day.
The return is what bothers this writer, Brett Festerling doesn't like he's capable of being anything than maybe a seventh defencemen in the NHL and that's only with further development in Hamilton. The 5th-round pick actually seems to have more promise as the Canadiens have been very good compared to most NHL teams in converting later-round picks. At the same time, it is hard for any team to say one of the ten best players on their team is from a 5th-round draft pick. The Canadiens did convert a 6th-round pick in 1998 into Andrei Markov, but those kinds of draft finds happen about once in a team's history unless you're the Detroit Red Wings. The Canadiens can continue to pick in the 5th round and go unrewarded for a few years, albeit the Anaheim pick may reveal a hidden gift to the team but that's still a relative long shot.
Reports had it that Lapierre had privately requested to be traded and if this was the reason, it is arguable Gauthier did the right move to trade him and get what he could. Hockey is a business where you need to get the best possible deal but it is also beneficial for teams to let players know they will honour requests and not force them into sitting on a team they don't want to play for. Players who don't want to play for a team anymore can't be counted on to make the same sacrifices as others and detract from a winning environment. The Canadiens are not an organization that can afford to take hits to their reputation, with the media focus and pressure from the fans it can be difficult to attract players already. It does the team no benefit if it is seen be a team that is seen to ignore requests from its players. At the same time, the value is still pretty low. This trade seems to be a general loss unless that 5th-round pick transforms into a player of value later on or Festerling takes a major leap in development. The club's reputation remains intact by doing Lapierre this favour but that's not something that can be easily measured and may never turn into anything tangible.
Gauthier's management of the Canadiens to date is not completely without fault, nor is it one that is rife with it. He has made moves in the interest of the team's future and in the interest of making sure the team stayed competitive in the present. However it is still far too early to call his management of the Canadiens a leap forward or a step back, a great deal of his decisions are going to take years to evaluate in their scope and impact, especially the overhaul of the scouting department and his first and next few runs at the draft table.
A General Manager can often be defined by a single aspect of his administration leading to his success, Serge Savard's run as the Montreal Canadiens GM had success stem greatly from his drafting record in the mid-1980s when he selected Patrick Roy, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Petr Svoboda, John Leclair, Eric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider and Lyle Odelein. Without these names, it's difficult to believe that the Canadiens would have their 23rd and 24th Stanley Cups. Pierre Gauthier's ability to deliver the ultimate prize of a Stanley Cup to Montreal could come down from what he did this year. Will Jarred Tinordi be a bulwark on defence for the next fifteen years? Will Brendan Gallagher overcome his size issues and become a new Brian Gionta? Will Tomas Plekanec score a Stanley Cup winning goal? Is Carey Price a future Conn Smythe winner in a Stanley Cup run? Will assets returning from dealing Karri Ramo's playing rights bring in a needed piece? Entirely possible or it may be what he does in Year 2 that brings the Canadiens over the top in a future run at the Stanley Cup. At present, it's hard to know if the Montreal Canadiens will achieve the dream under Gauthier but it is hard to find any hard evidence he is setting the team back from that goal with such a limited time to evaluate his choices and transactions, it seems more likely the team is on the right path in my opinion.