<
>

Don't be so quick to criticize GM Gauthier

When last we saw Carey Price, the Canadiens netminder was petulantly shooting a puck at celebrating Washington players and trying to hack Nicklas Backstrom from the bench.

Now, he's once again the goalie of the future in Montreal.

In what may seem like a shocking move, the Habs unloaded playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis on Thursday for a couple of forward prospects. But upon closer inspection, what was GM Pierre Gauthier to do?

Heading into his first offseason as GM (he replaced Bob Gainey before the March 3 trade deadline), Gauthier decided almost immediately he couldn't afford to keep both netminders after the Habs' storybook playoff run came to an end.

Halak was set to become a restricted free agent this summer and was due a hefty raise after backstopping the eighth-seeded Canadiens into the playoffs and then to upsets of Washington and Pittsburgh before bowing out to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals in five games.

Price, the fifth overall pick in 2005, won't turn 23 until August, and while he has shown an aptitude for insolence and immaturity, he still has tremendous upside. Plus, given that he lost his starting job to Halak during the regular season, what was his market value? Likely less than what Halak brought, which was Lars Eller, a player Gauthier thinks may challenge for a spot on the roster next season, and Ian Schultz.

With the money he would have had to pay Halak in hand, Gauthier can perhaps retain the services of soon-to-be free-agent center Tomas Plekanec or take a run at Patrick Marleau if he doesn't re-sign in San Jose.

Gauthier will no doubt be criticized for trading Halak and not speaking to the goalie's agent, Allan Walsh. But Gauthier said Thursday he knew what Halak's value was based on comparables, he didn't want to pay it and didn't need to talk to the agent or the player to figure that out.

The team was looking into the future, looking at the big picture, Gauthier said. And the big picture of the Habs' future included Price not Halak. "He brings a lot to the table," Gauthier said of Price.

Sadly, some of what Price brings to the table is bad manners.

Price will have to grow up if he's going to make good on the promise he has shown at times in his young career. Meanwhile, the Canadiens will be in the market for a backup that may have to be more than that, just as Halak was this season. Look for Martin Biron to be chomping at the bit to get that role, although there are a bevy of goaltenders looking for work, including former Blues netminder Chris Mason.

"You need two good goaltenders and we're going to make sure we have two good goaltenders with the team," Gauthier said.

As for Halak, the cool-as-a-cucumber netminder should give the Blues an upgrade in net over Mason, who went 30-22-8 with a .913 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average. Halak was 9-9 in the playoffs with a sparkling .923 save percentage. He was 26-13-5 with five shutouts and a .924 save percentage in the regular season. Mason can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The deal counts as the first major move for incoming GM Doug Armstrong, who formally takes over for longtime GM Larry Pleau, who is stepping down. If Halak can replicate his performance from this season, the youthful Blues should be back in the playoffs after missing out this past spring.