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Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban celebrates his game winning goal on the Calgary Flames during the overtime period in their NHL hockey game in Montreal, January 17, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best (Shaun Best/Reuters)
Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban celebrates his game winning goal on the Calgary Flames during the overtime period in their NHL hockey game in Montreal, January 17, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Globe on Hockey

Habs hope to find the winning formula Add to ...

A man of few words

He doesn’t talk often, but when he does something interesting almost always pops up.

Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier’s relationship with the Quebec hockey media is roughly as warm as the Harper PMO’s embrace of the Parliamentary press gallery, but at Wednesday’s charity golf tourney he held forth on a few issues that are worth noting.

By now, anyone who follows the Habs knows Gauthier’s m.o.: act early before the market warms up, narrow your targets, don’t worry unduly about over-paying, and don’t be afraid to ship picks to address an immediate need.

When he was asked about the draft pick larder being thin because of acquisitions like James Wisniewski last year (as a result, the Habs had no second round pick this year and traded their third to move down and have two in the fourth round), Gauthier pointed out that on balance the Habs did end up acquiring an equivalent prospect in the Ryan O’Byrne trade (2010 second rounder Michael Bournival).

“We always try to balance these things out,” he said.

Bournival is a handy example of another Gauthier tenet: a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

Rather than hoard picks, why not get hold of former high picks (ie. Lars Eller, Bournival) who still qualify for entry-level deals but are a year or two further along in their development?

Gauthier also has a fondness for former first-round picks that have been discarded by other teams (Alex Picard last year, Jeff Woywitka this year) in support roles.

None of this is meant to suggest it’s a great strategy or a terrible one, just that Gauthier has a plan, and it’s clearly defined.

That objective? To become a mainstay of the top-third of NHL teams and build through youth in order to contend for the Stanley Cup every year.

“I think if you look since the lockout, we’re 10th or 11th in total wins, and eighth in playoff series, and we would like to be in that top third” he said. “No Stanley Cup winner in the past few seasons has had fewer than 99 points in the regular season, last year we had 96 and we need to improve on that.”

They’ll need to score more five-on-five goals to do that, which is another thing Gauthier addressed.

He said the acquisition of free agent Erik Cole was intended to add more size and balance up front - it should free up Eller to centre a line with Andrei Kostitsyn and possibly David Desharnais (who would prefer to play centre, more on that another time).

That’s a third line with some offensive pop, which is of course the point.

“I think if you look at Boston’s third line, they probably won them the Cup last year,” he said.

You can add another entry to the Gauthier Rules this year: don’t be afraid to do nothing.

Given the development of the youngsters last year, the Habs felt comfortable standing pat with their squad, presuming players like Eller, Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Ryan White and P.K. Subban will improve as knee injury victims Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges return.

This will also be the third year for the current core group under Jacques Martin’s defence-and-speed philosophy - continuity is the buzzword for 2011-12.

As it stands, the Habs have $4-million under the cap to address one obvious need (a right-handed faceoff monster a la Paul Gaustad), but Gauthier doesn’t seem to be in any hurry.

“I have a lot of money in my pocket right now because I just went to the bank,” he said by way of illustration, “but it doesn’t mean I have to spend it.”

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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