Well if anything has been made clear for the Montreal Canadiens, it’s that GM Pierre Gauthier doesn’t use the same manual Bob Gainey did.
While the former GM was often labeled as “sitting on his hands” or standing pat in the off-season (last summer excluded), Gauthier has far exceeded that moniker.
We have yet to reach the NHL Entry Draft and already he has put two major roster issues to rest.
First he answered the goaltending concerns, and surprised everyone, by trading Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues.
Many felt Gauthier got too little and could be risking the franchises future. That debate won’t be officially decided until we see how Carey Price responds. As mentioned in a previous post, this move alone could gauge Gauthier’s legacy in Montreal.
The upswing to the trade meant sufficient cap room to negotiate with pending UFA center Tomas Plekanec. Gauthier wasted no time on that either.
In what turned into an extremely busy Tuesday of off ice activity across the NHL, that also saw Montreal sign a one-year deal with Mathieu Darche, news of a deal with Plekanec broke just minutes before the 2010 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees were to be announced at 3:30pm.
The deal is a six-year, $30 million signing that guarantees Plekanec’s services long term in Montreal.
The 27-year-old is coming off a career season (25 goals, 45 assists) and has become a good two-way forward, since being drafted 71st overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but is that worth $5 million a season?
It will be argued throughout the term as possibly too steep a deal for a six year signing. Montreal now has six players signed at $5 million or more for 2010-11 totaling over $33.5 million (over half the team’s projected cap of $59 million).
Plekanec’s offensive numbers tapered off during the playoffs, which may have influenced his choice to continue negotiations with Montreal. Slightly better numbers may have secured him another million per year, and a better opportunity in the UFA market.
Then again maybe he learned from his former teammate Alex Kovalev’s failed negotiations with the Canadiens last summer, and jumped at the offer.
With the deal also comes with the often dreaded no movement clause. It is uncertain how far in this will take effect, but it could be a concern down the road for Canadiens fans if Plekanec’s performance declines.
In any event, Gauthier is showing that he is committing himself to getting his roster put together for the upcoming season, but at what cost?
Gauthier now sits with approximately $9 million left in salary to play with and a few more roster spots to secure. After being given the foundation and building blocks by Gainey, it’s now up to him to build the future from there.
Signing Carey Price will obviously be the next piece of the puzzle, but we could also see a trade to free up some more spending money, between now and training camp, to fill the final gaps.
Things might get even tougher after next season with five defencemen entering the last year of their contracts.
It will be interesting to look back on Gauthier’s activities of the past week, once the long term effects wear off. Down the road fans could be praising the deal as giving the Canadiens a long-term No. 1 center, or an overpaid and unmovable third liner. The performance/results factor will obviously fall on Plekanec’s shoulders, but ultimately the finger pointing will go further up.
Great strategist and negotiator, or nutty professor? Only time will tell with the Gauthier era.