As 2003 is winding down, it appears that Donald Audette’s stay with the Montreal Canadiens is too. The real question is, which will happen to come first? According to RDS, Audette and his agent, Gilles Lupien, are currently discussing a way to terminate Audette’s hefty contract. According to the official NHL rules, Audette’s inflated contract cannot technically be erased, though if both management and player come to terms on an money-based agreement, than the player is free to go.
It is becoming increasingly obvious to all that Mr. Audette is not in the plans of Habs’ head coach Claude Julien, or general manager Bob Gainey. As Julien continues to stress hard work, defence, and commitment to his defensive system, Audette is viewing the games from the sidelines.
Returning from a separated shoulder on December 12th against the Panthers, the 5’8 right-winger was handed a spot in the lineup, as well as nearly a minute’s worth of ice time on the powerplay. After four straight lacklustre efforts, Audette was pulled from the Canadiens lineup after the team’s 5-4 overtime win over the Nashville Predators, a game in which he was rewarded with less than five and a half minutes of playing time. Audette, a native of Laval, has not seen any action in any of Montreal’s past three games, playing the role of healthy scratch.
Further complicating Donald Audette’s situation. is the abundance of wingers in the Habs’ system, and many of these offensive prospects are beginning to emerge with the team’s AHL farm club, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Josef Balej, a talented winger with lightning speed, is just one player making headlines with the Bulldogs. In 33 games, the 21-year-old Balej has been able to record 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points. The 6’0, 190 Slovakian has a Plus-9 rating, good enough for second on the team.
The irony of the Audette fiasco, of course, is that it was Bob Gainey, the very man trying to be-rid the organization of the veteran winger, who signed him to that notoriously lucrative $12 Million Dollar contract during the summer of 2001, when Audette was classified as an unrestricted free agent. During his tenure as general manager of the Dallas Stars, Gainey was quick to fix his mistake, trading the undersized Audette to the Habs, the team he would one day manage. After arriving in Montreal on November 21st, 2001, Audette played intense, spirited hockey, and the deal was one that was sure to benefit his new team. However, a tragic hand injury may have been the final nail in the coffin for Audette. While sprawling along the ice in an attempt to block Radek Dvorak’s path to the net, Dvorak mistakenly skated directly over Audette’s wrist, slashing tendons and sending the Habs’ newest acquisition howling in pain all the way to the hospital. Audette returned to the team in time for the playoffs, and appeared to be riding the unreal spirit created by Saku Koivu’s return from cancer. However, it was not long after when things went down hill for Mr. Audette.
After a poor start to the 2002-2003 season, Audette was in the doghouse, quite literally. Once an All-Star, he was now heading to the Hamilton Bulldogs. In a short 11-game stint with Hamilton, Audette registered 10 points. He found himself back in Montreal a little while later, and was placed on the top line with Saku Koivu and Jan Bulis not long after his return to the NHL. While his production increased during his stay on the top line, Donald still concluded his season with a disappointing 23 points in 54 games. It appeared that Gainey was stuck between a rock and a hard place during the offseason of 2002-03. Unable to deal the overpayed forward, and at the time unwilling to buy-out his generous salary, Gainey had no option but to keep Audette onboard the Habs’ ship, continuing to earn his bloated salary, all the while working hard to improve upon his game.
Unfortunately for Audette, he has returned to where he was a year ago, possibly even taking a step backwards. Donald Audette is no longer a top six forward for the Montreal Canadiens, in fact he fits better into the category of top six disappointments. In his 23 games thus far in 2003-04, Audette has been able to round up only three goals and eight points. Those happen to be some very sub-par numbers for a supposed sniper.
There is one thing that we must remember in the Donald Audette Saga, and that must be the fact that he quite possibly ended his career doing all we could have asked of him; playing his heart out for the Montreal Canadiens. Often critized for his uninspired, less than stellar defensive play on the ice, one needs to recognize that this man nearly lost his arm in an attempt to win his teammates a hockey game. Time appears to have run out on Donald Audette’s days as a Montreal Canadien, but one can only hope for the best for a man who sacrificed so much for what has in turn been so little over the past two seasons.