Just before hockey petered out for a year’s sabbatical, Bob Gainey made what appeared to be a fairly routine trade. Obtaining Christobal Huet and Radek Bonk, the Canadiens GM shipped out one Mathieu Garon, and in the process quelled any potential ruminations from the press and public about a controversy between the pipes in Montreal. A question exists: did Gainey ship out the wrong goaltender?
While regular pipeman Jose Théodore was playing a consistently high-quality standard of hockey, young Garon seemed to be maturing into a quality keeper and potential star. Garon’s über-quick reflexes and phenomenal legs were complimented by his rapidly improving ability to handle rebounds and his equally rapidly growing confidence. In fact, perhaps the only thing Garon was missing was consistency – something that takes all goaltenders a little time.
Now, in acting as he did, Gainey showed Théo that the club had full confidence in his abilities and this, presumably, was going to assist the GM in signing the star to a longer-term contract. Unfortunately, as fans everywhere are all too aware of, the season following that draft was wiped away by the lock-out and the trade probably forgotten by most.
Here’s the catch: in signing Théo to a new contract now, Gainey will be taking a fairly large bite into his salary cap. When Nikolai Khabibulin broke the bank with his Chicago bonanza, Théo’s eyes must have sparkled with pleasure; surely a former league MVP and present star of the Montréal Canadiens should get similar money! However, there’s just no way Gainey will be willing to dish out $6+ million dollars for his star goaltender because it would significantly hamper his ability to round out the club with adequate talent.
Suddenly one could be led to wonder if perhaps the GM has begun thinking back to that day in 2004 when he traded away a goalie that could have done a more than adequate job and left plenty more room for additional salary. Was Paul Kariya’s failure to sign with Montréal a direct result of Théo’s probably salary? Would the team look better with Garon and Kariya or perhaps Peter Forsberg or Adrien Aucoin instead of Théo?
Of course, it’s very critical to note that this is all 20/20 hindsight and hardly an effective way of running a club if you believe you’ve made a correct decision. You can’t sit there and have regrets and there’s no sense looking back and saying ‘what if’ when you believe that you did the right thing and sent the proper goalie packing.
Except this scribe believes that Garon may very well become a better goaltender than Théo – he certainly has all the tools. There was disappointment when the trade was made at this desk because, not only would Théo’s return have been more substantial, but this team would have a goalie who was closing rapidly on Théo’s ability, and for significantly less cost – and that’s without knowing that the future held a limiting salary cap. Seeing that cap now just causes one’s head to bang against the monitor.
Having said all that, Gainey is a much more knowledgeable hockey man than anyone sitting at this computer, and therefore, particularly with his very positive history in the driver’s seat, faith is still absolute. However there still is that little thought that Adrien Aucoin or Peter Forsberg or Paul Kariya could have suited up this fall for the Habs had things worked out differently.
When Garon suits up for the Kings this season there will be no more niggling doubts about this trade. One could assume quite correctly that Montréal will be in much better position and the Kings struggling to find consistency between the pipes.
Or perhaps one will hope.