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The end of this season will bring a number of important tasks for the Montreal Canadiens managerial team. Most notably, Gauthier and his brain trust will have to decide what to do with the teamís defense corps. As it currently stands, Andrei Markov, James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill are all slated to become unrestricted free agents. If the past serves as any indication of the future, Habs fans will be scratching their heads all summer.
Throughout the Bob Gainey era, the club had amassed an absolutely abysmal record of maximizing the value of its assets. Valuable players were allowed to walk for nothing in return, slowly but surely turning Gaineyís original 5 year plan into a seemingly endless nebula of mediocrity. When thinking of wasted assets, a number of players immediately come to mind. Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Michael Ryder, Mike Komisarek, Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev and others were allowed to walk away. The above players all cost the Canadiens something, but never brought back any return.
Souray cost the team the services of Vladimir Malakhov. Mark Streit cost the team a 9th round draft pick. Michael Ryder cost an 8th round pick, while Mike Komisarek cost the club a 1st round pick. Alex Tanguay was acquired by the Canadiens for a 1st and 2nd round draft pick. Finally, Alexei Kovalev was acquired for then promising prospect Josef Balej and a 2nd round pick. Of course, the cost of acquiring these players was, in some cases, negligible. No one tends to scream afoul when an 8th or 9th round pick doesnít develop into anything substantial. Furthermore, trades donít always work out in a teamís favor. No one could have predicted that Alex Tanguay would go down with a shoulder injury and limit his effectiveness. What is important however, is what these players could have been swapped for before they exercised their rights as free agents and found themselves another home.
In the year Souray was allowed to walk, defensemen such as Vitaly Vishnevski and Brent Sopel were traded for Eric Belanger and a 2nd round pick respectively. Considering that Souray was having the best offensive season of his career at that point (eventually netting 26 goals), he would have very likely landed the team a 2nd or 1st round draft pick. Mark Streitís situation was similar. Prior to Streit cashing in with the Islanders, Brad Stuart was traded for a 2nd round and a 4th round pick. Streit was, at the time, 3rd among league defensemen in scoring. Mike Komisarek, who later signed with the Leafs, could surely have gotten he Habs at least as much as what the Flames paid for Jordan Leopold just a few months earlier, a 2nd round pick and two prospects.
A common theme emerges among the above mentioned players. None were involved in contract negotiations during the season. Team management decided to wait until the offseason, thus ensuring that they would have to compete with the rest of the league for the services. Individuals who cost the team roster players, draft picks, money and prospects, in the end went on to greener pastures without netting the Habs any significant asset in return. With Markov, Wisniewski, Hamrlik and Gill hitting the open market this summer, Pierre Gauthier must act fast to prevent a repeat of years past.
Gauthier and his brain trust must predict when the Canadiens will be ready to compete for a Stanley Cup. Be it one, three or five years from now, Gauthier must build this team with that date in mind. If he thinks that the team can only compete in five years from now, then players such as Hamrlik and Gill must be traded immediately in order to maximize their value. If however, the Habs' GM and their assistants decide that the club can compete for hockeyís Holy Grail as earlier as next year; key assets such as the men listed above must be signed immediately. If they canít come to an agreement, they have to be moved before itís too late. No successful business can thrive if it allows itself to continuously lose valuable and expensive assets. A hockey team is no different.