MONTREAL – New Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier didn’t want to further tinker with the ongoing chemistry experiment going on in his dressing room by adding more bodies at Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.
With all the changes made by his predecessor Bob Gainey last off-season and the heavy toll injuries to key players has taken on the Canadiens, Gauthier said he wanted to give his team more of a chance to come together on its own.
“The challenge that we were going to have at the beginning of the season, to establish an identity, establish chemistry and learn a new style of play, has been pushed (back) because of these injuries,” Gauthier said Wednesday in a conference call from Boston.
“So I told the team that any success we will have this season will come from the group being able to put it together from within. It doesn’t mean you’re telling them there’s not going to be any changes, but you are telling them you are not looking to add to the challenge.”
Only 11 of the current Canadiens were in Montreal last season, and the team has been decimated by long-term injuries to key players like Andrei Markov, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Benoit Pouliot, Andrei Kostitsyn and others.
Still, the Canadiens have managed to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot and should soon be fully healthy for the first time this season.
Gauthier made a minor move late Tuesday night, shipping seldom-used winger Matt D’Agostini to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward prospect Aaron Palushaj, but that was the extent of his trade deadline activity.
Gauthier said his key trade came prior to the NHL’s Olympic roster freeze when he added centre Dominic Moore from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a second round draft pick in 2011.
“We evaluated our needs prior to the Olympic break and that’s why we added Dominic Moore, we wanted to add a veteran,” Gauthier said. “We wanted him to play a couple of games with the team and then spend that week of practice with us. So (Tuesday) night when we started again, he was already part of the team.”
There was no shortage of speculation regarding what Gauthier would do with his two young goaltenders, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, both of whom are slated for restricted free agency on July 1. Gauthier refused to reveal whether other teams approached him with offers for either one, but he reiterated what he said when he officially took the job three weeks ago, that the Canadiens will need both goalies in order to make the playoffs.
“These two young goalies are very good and they’ve been a very strong part of our team in this injury-riddled season,” Gauthier said. “Our best chance to make the playoffs this year was to keep both these young guys who give us a chance to win every night.”
Gauthier – who has also served as a general manager with the Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks – does not have a history of being very active at the trade deadline, for the large part making minor deals like the one he made this year to acquire Moore. The one time Gauthier made a big splash at the deadline was when he traded Teemu Selanne from the Ducks to the San Jose Sharks in 2001 for Jeff Friesen, Steve Shields and a draft pick.
“I have a friend who, when I was a GM somewhere else, used to call me around this time of year and say, “Pierre, I want to mess up my club, so what can we do?”‘ Gauthier said. “I’m not sure it’s a matter of philosophy as much as it’s a matter of timing. But team play is a big thing, and any time you make changes with 15 or 20 games to go, you have to be concerned with how it will affect that.”
With the trade deadline now a thing of the past, Gauthier can turn his attention to the ongoing discussions he is having with the agent for leading scorer Tomas Plekanec, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Gauthier and agent Rick Curran reportedly talked contract during the Olympic break and mutually decided to wait until after Wednesday’s deadline to resume discussions. Gauthier refused to elaborate on the status of those talks any further.
“I have no intention of giving a play-by-play of our discussions,” Gauthier said. “What I will say is that I am satisfied with where they stand.”
Judging by his lack of activity on Wednesday, Gauthier would probably say the same thing about his entire team.