One of our favourite Habs reporters, Arpon Basu of CTV, gave Gauthier some unsolicited advice today:
If he's looking for a suggestion (he isn't), I've got one for him: do nothing.
I propose he do absolutely nothing, at least not of the major variety.
Hang on to those high draft picks or minor league players and see what happens when Subban is placed in a situation where he needs to elevate his game. See what happens when Pacioretty has 24 more games of maturity in him. See what happens when Weber is playing with a veteran partner against opposing team's third and fourth lines. See what happens when a healthy Cammalleri is thrown in the mix. See if the injuries to Gill and Spacek don't turn out to be blessings in disguise, with both coming back a little more refreshed and energized for the final stretch.
It's an admirable thought, but I think it bears a bit more analysis.
In recent years, I've heard a lot of groaning about the Habs throwing assets away for 'rental' players, as if to justify any acquisition you must hold onto them even when your options are opened up come NHL free agency to a greater pool of available talent. Dominic Moore, Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay, and Mathieu Schneider have all had short periods of time in Montreal in recent years, and were acquired via trade. Moore was acquired for a 2nd round draft pick, while Lang was essentially traded for Mikhail Grabovski, Tanguay for a 2008 1st rounder and the picked acquired for Cristobal Huet, and Schneider for a second rounder as well. Second rounders seem to be the Habs' prefered currency, and as a result there has not been a second round draft pick for the Habs since Danny Kristo in 2008.
This isn't to say a 2nd rounder is lacking value, it obviously does hold some pretty good value: 2nd round draft picks from 2003-07 for Montreal include P.K. Subban, Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre, Kristo, Ben Maxwell and Mathieu Carle. However, if Basu's theory of experience gained by playing key roles in key games is true, it should be noted that without sacrificing those picks in recent years, it's quite possible no experience would've been gained. In 2009, Montreal barely qualified for the playoffs (and got a significant boost with the late addition of Schneider) but were dispatched quickly. In 2010, the Canadiens again barely made the playoffs, but were able to pull of two unlikely upsets to advance to the third round. Dominic Moore did provide an important role, giving the Habs a third line that didn't need to be sheltered, and he provided some unexpected offence upon his arrival to help win some close games.
Perhaps this isn't what Basu was referring to as "major" deals, but the fact is that even short term deals, meant only to help this year's team, can have long term benefits. Playing in the playoffs last year allowed P.K. Subban to begin his climb up the depth chart to where he is today, playing nearly thirty minutes against the Sabres without being on the ice for a goal against.
How much of this is truly tangible? I don't honestly know, but if such experiences do benefit players, particularly young ones, then I think an argument can be made to enhance the chances of making, and excelling, in the post-season. This year, Gauthier made an early move to acquire James Wisniewski, who I still view as a rental, again sacrificing a 2nd rounder in the process (acquired by not signing 2006 first round bust David Fischer). At some point, Montreal is going to pick in the second round again, but Gauthier obviously feels comfortable trading a not unimportant part of the team's future for short term gains. And maybe he believes those short term gains can help the team in the long run, whether there's any truth to that thought or not.
Martin's Shootout Strategy
The shootout is a guessing game at the best of times, and there is real no logic to how it will play out. Over the past few days, I've read and shared some opinion with two of our EOTP writers on the subject, namely Chris Boyle and Andrew Berkshire. As Chris pointed out, Alex Auld stopped the first three of Islanders shooters, but allowed a goal on the fourth, losing the shootout as the Canadiens fired four blanks on a goalie with an .882 SV%... in the AHL. Carey Price allowed two goals on three shots against Buffalo but helped push the Habs to a ten round shootout before eventually losing. It's the ultimate in short sample sizes and random chance dictating the outcome of the game, and there is virtually no evidence of actual shootout skill in the NHL, even with nearly six years of data to draw upon. So when Jacques Martin is faced with who to choose to shoot in the ninth round, I find it hard to question his choice.
Andrew didn't like the choice of Tom Pyatt at that point, but I couldn't find reason to fault the choice. For starters, Martin had already used seven forwards to that point: Desharnais, Plekanec, Gionta, Pouliot, Pacioretty, Gomez, and Kostitsyn, while he went with Subban in round seven. That meant that amongst forwards, he had only Pyatt, Darche, Halpern, Moen and White to choose from, plus five defensemen. After Pyatt, he chose Wisniewski, and didn't get a chance to go beyond him. So there wasn't a lot to choose from, and certainly not a lot of guys with shootout experience before... I believe Wisniewski was 0 for 1 in his career, and I don't know if anyone else had ever given the shootout a try in the NHL... only Halpern seems like he would've gotten a shot.
So with few options, all Martin has to go on is what maybe has been shown by these players in practices, or just gut feel. Pyatt, being of reasonable speed, and certainly the quickest of the available forwards, might have had that going for him, with Martin hoping Pyatt could catch Enroth playing too aggressively. Wisniewski, who was chosen next, uses a one-timer for his prime offensive weapon, which isn't really useful in the shootout, so I don't think it's logical to put him ahead of Pyatt despite his higher goal totals. Maybe Yannick Weber has a trick or two up his sleeve with his puck skills, but we're really grasping at straws when you hit round nine or later. It's trying to choose the best of the worst, and unfortunately the Sabres still had a pretty good option in Jochen Hecht to go with, and he made a great move at full speed to beat Price to the goalpost on a forehand deke.
It was a weird shootout, and hopefully we don't see Pyatt take too many chances in the future (though I would like to see a full 18, or longer, round shootout at some point), but it's not like we lost because Martin made an obviously terrible choice of shooter in round 9. Fact is, every choice was a pretty bad one at that point. It's not often you lose a shootout when you score on the first two shots, or when you score in a sudden death round as Pacioretty did. But sometimes the coin flips heads eight times in a row, too.
That being said, I am surprised Pyatt didn't dump the puck into the corner.