Montreal Canadiens former general manager Pierre Gauthier had one of the shortest runs as at the position in the history of the Habs. Lasting just two years, it was a roller coaster ride that reached some pretty memorable and incredible highs before it came crashing down almost as quickly.
He took over the post from Bob Gainey in February of 2010 after the latter resigned for personal reasons while staying with the club in an advisory role. Gauthier, who was Gainey’s top assistant at the time, had a wealth of experience in the GM chair having previously served in the same role with the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks.
He inherited a team that would go on to make an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals that spring, doing so on the back of an incredible young goaltender. The shocking part was that it was Jaroslav Halak, not Carey Price, who had backstopped the Canadiens to the postseason success. This led to a major debate among fans and media on who the franchise netminder should be going forward.
Halak, a seventh round pick in 2003, had clearly outplayed Price down the stretch and in the playoffs but the Canadiens had invested heavy draft capital in Price, the fifth overall pick in the 2005. It was a polarizing topic and opinions were widely divided, leaving Gauthier with an impossibly difficult decision to make.
I for one was very torn and while I leaned Price because of his pedigree, I could certainly see the Halak argument. Price had struggled with consistency and appeared shaken at times, causing many to wonder if the big stage was too much for him. Habs fans had just watched Jose Theodore similarly implode a short time ago, going from a Vezina Trophy winner to a shell of his former self almost instaneously.
History is littered with countless other examples of goaltenders that lose their confidence, as Price clearly had, and never get it back. So what do you do? There was no obvious answer and I expected the situation would drag on for months, possibly even into next season but Gauthier to his credit was quick and decisive.
Just a week after the Stanley Cup was handed out, Gauthier pulled the trigger on a deal to boldly resolve the bubbling controversy. He traded Halak to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. Eller went on to have a nice run in Montreal, while Schultz was never more than a career minor leaguer.
The decision to choose Price over Halak was a franchise defining moment. It stands out as far and away the most important move that Gauthier made during his tenure as GM. The return may have been underwhelming but he chose the right young goaltender to hitch the Canadiens wagon to for the foreseeable future.
Gauthier did not give in to outside pressure as some of his less experienced predecessors had done in the past. He made the unpopular but ultimately correct choice.
While Halak went on to have a long and successful career as a starter in the NHL, it was Price that bounced back from adversity, elevated his play and became the best goaltender of his generation.
So while Gauthier’s time in Montreal may have been short, it was on his watch that the Canadiens came up on one of the biggest crossroads in their recent history. Thankfully for Habs fans, Gauthier chose the right path.