MONTREAL - A "gong show," is what one Montreal Canadien called the situation around his team these days.
It's pretty much a foregone conclusion here -- or at least wishful thinking on the part of some -- that Canadiens general manager Pierre (The Ghost) Gauthier will be gonged at the end of the season.
The way things are going, given the timing of events in Habsland, it would be appropriate if it was, say, between rounds two and three of the draft in Pittsburgh.
But how about this for a thought: Could his deal to bring in Rene Bourque from the Calgary Flames for Michael Cammalleri go a little way toward saving Mr. Gauthier's job?
Ahh, probably not.
But consider these points which make this not a bad deal for the Habs: It was mentioned in the immediate aftermath of the trade, by TSN's Bob McKenzie and others, that Bourque's scoring numbers since the start of the 2009-10 season compare more than favourably with Cammalleri's. During that period, Bourque has averaged .35 goals per regular-season game, slightly better than Cammalleri's .32.
Bourque has outscored Cammalleri 13-9 this season.
There's no comparison in the playoffs (the Flames haven't made it and Cammalleri had 13 in 19 games two years ago) but, at this point, getting to the playoffs on a consistent basis is the Habs' concern. You can make the argument Bourque will do a better job of that with what he brings to the Habs.
He gives them more salary cap flexibility since Bourque's hit is $3.3 million a season through 2015-16 compared with Cammalleri's $6-million hit through 2013-14. That savings of almost $3 million will come in handy with goaltender Carey Price and defenceman P.K. Subban due to become restricted free agents this summer. (Or Gauthier's detractors could argue it will just help defray the cost of overpriced defenceman Tomas Kaberle.)
In getting Bourque, Gauthier made the Habs bigger (size is a constant criticism about the Habs' top six forwards) as he is 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds compared with Cammalleri's 5-foot-9 (generous) and 190 pounds.
Yes, Bourque has been accused of being an underachiever, but the Habs need him to perform only at his current level to replace Cammalleri's regular-season output.
Significantly, over the past 2 1/2 seasons, Bourque has outhit Cammalleri 229-42. That's a serious upgrade in the physical level of play for the Canadiens on their top two lines. I didn't particularly like the Erik Cole signing (it was too much money), but he has been the Habs' best forward after a slow start. He had 225 hits last season (10th in the league among forwards) and has 98 this season (23rd among forwards). OK so Bourque, with still a game to serve in his suspension for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, needs to be careful, but with Cole and now Bourque, Gauthier has upgraded the size and physical play of the Canadiens forwards.
There's no question Gauthier bungled the firing of coach Jacques Martin and seriously misjudged (along with Canadiens owner Geoff Molson) the blowback from the media and the community in replacing him with unilingual Randy Cunneyworth.
That and the fact it looks like the Habs almost certainly will miss the playoffs is enough to fire The Ghost.
Should he go, moving Cammalleri for Bourque (plus that second-round draft pick and prospect Patrick Holland) should help the next guy who gets the job.
HEAR AND THERE: The Buffalo Sabres had lost seven in a row on the road going into Friday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home. After playing the Leafs, the Sabres head off for seven in a row on the road. Can you say "make-or-break part of the schedule?" Interesting to note the Sabres have the same record now as at this point last year (18-19-5), but went 25-11-5 (a 16-4-4 tear at the end) in the second half to grab a playoff spot ... Speaking of teams with road woes, Minnesota (remember when the Wild led the league?) is 0-7-1 in its past eight road games and has scored seven goals ... Good to see Peter Mueller back with the Colorado Avalanche after dealing with a concussion. He had five shots in his first game in about 18 months.
THE BUZZ: Love this chapter in the Boston Bruins-Vancouver Canucks rivalry: After meeting Saturday in Boston, the Canucks went to Florida. In the pressbox there were copies of the NHL Guide and Record Book, the cover of which shows Boston's Zdeno Chara hefting the Stanley Cup. Before the game was over, the covers had been ripped off. One person who was there claims it was a member of the Canucks staff who did the editing ... Carolina's Jeff Skinner, out with a concussion since that hit by Edmonton's Andy Sutton Dec. 7, could play Sunday ... Teams could start talking to their potential unrestricted free agents as of Jan. 1, but no talks have taken place or are planned between the New Jersey Devils and Zach Parise, who, if he gets to July 1, will be one of the most attractive free agents.
JUST SAYING: A story in Pittsburgh had players discussing a fill-in captain for Sidney Crosby. The players refuted by all showing up with a "C" taped to their practice sweaters Friday (well, except for Evgeni Malkin. He had a "K.") ... The Columbus Blue Jackets won only eight times in regulation in the final 63 games of Scott Arniel's reign as coach and GM Scott Howson thought Ken Hitchcock, Arniel's predecessor, was the problem ... If Cammalleri's talk about the Habs being losers, as quoted by Francois Gagnon of La Presse, played a role in getting him traded, some fans were wondering if Gagnon could do his next interview with Scott Gomez.
JUST WONDERING: Are some GMs just covering their butts when they say "I wish I knew so-and-so was available. I would have made an offer." Isn't it their job to know who's available? It's not hard to figure out, is it?
THE LAST WORD: Fans in Columbus have embraced the "Fail for Nail" campaign, rooting for a last-place finish and the best shot at drafting top prospect Nail Yakupov. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch takes it a step further. Looking at 2013 and early contender for top-prospect honours Nathan MacKinnon, it's not too early to "Stop Winnin' for MacKinnon."
THUMBS UP/DOWN TO GAUTHIER
Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier pulled the trigger on a big deal Thursday night, trading winger Mike Cammalleri after the second period of the Habs game against the Boston Bruins.
An assistant coach fired 90 minutes before a game. A head coach fired the morning of a game.
Now a player traded partway through a game.
Coaches fired, players traded ... Gauthier has been putting his stamp on the Canadiens.
Itís interesting to note there could only be nine players from the 2010 team that went to the Eastern Conference final in the lineup when the Habs face the Ottawa Senators Saturday night.
There have been a lot of changes and given where the Habs are in the standings, most of them havenít been for the good.
A look at some of Gauthierís moves for this season:
ē June 23, 2011: Signed defenceman Andrei Markov to a three-year, $17.25 million contract. Despite a history of serious knee issues, Gauthier made the commitment to Markov. He hasnít played since. While Gauthier couldnít have foreseen it being this bad, it was a gamble given Markovís history, a gamble Gauthier lost. Thumbs down.
ē July 1, 2011: Signed winger Erik Cole to a four-year, $18 million deal. It looked like Gauthier had overpaid, but, after a slow start, Cole has been the Canadiens best forward. He gave them something the small Habs needed, a power game. Thumbs up.
ē Oct. 26, 2011: Fired assistant coach Perry Pearn about 90 minutes before a game. Firing the respected assistant was viewed as a shock move. It didnít have the desired effect. Thumbs down.
ē Dec. 9, 2011: Traded defenceman Jaroslav Spacek to Carolina for defenceman Tomas Kaberle. With Markov out and the power play floundering, Gauthier reached out for Kaberle, who was the summerís worst free agent signing (three years, $12.75 million). The power play has improved from 11.4% to 17.3% with Kaberle in the lineup, but heís overpaid. Thumbs down.
ē Dec. 17, 2011: Fired head coach Jacques Martin; hired Randy Cunneyworth. The Canadiens were 13-12-7 under Martin; theyíre 3-8 under Cunneyworth. The blowback over the hiring of the unilingual Cunneyworth was a PR disaster for the Habs. So, it pretty much hasnít worked on or off the ice. Thumbs down.
ē Jan. 12, 2011: Makes a deal mid-game which basically amounts to Mike Cammalleri to Calgary Flames for Rene Bourque and other pieces. The optics arenít good -- leaving your team short-handed in a game -- but the deal could work out for the Habs if Bourque can be a little more consistent (too much to ask?). They save almost $3 million a year and Cammalleri looked like heíd hit a wall in Montreal. The Flames got the best player. For the unprecedented timing of the deal, it gets a thumbs down.
TOP FIVE OVERLOOKED ALL-STARS
One of the few things that can inspire genuine discussion about the all-star game is those players beyond the fan voting and league selections who don't get an invitation. With the fans voting with their hearts and the league making sure every team gets represented, some players become victims of the numbers game. Here are five guys worthy of being in Ottawa on Jan. 29, but probably will be some place warm.
1. Scott Hartnell, LW, Philadelphia Flyers. Gritty winger is on pace for a career season with 19 goals and brings a lot of jam to the lineup (65 penalty minutes is most among top 30 scorers).
2. James Neal, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins. Tied for sixth in goals with 21, he's another guy having a career year. Played the other night despite a sore and bruised left foot.
3. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins. Building on his reputation as one of the most complete players in the league (+27). If you were building a team, he's a guy you would want.
4. Patrick Sharp, LW, Chicago Blackhawks. A lot of things I said about Bergeron you can say about Sharp. He's one of nine guys to have cracked the 20-goal barrier already ... and he's +18.
5. Jordan Eberle, RW, Edmonton Oilers. Yeah, he's hurt. But he's the highest-ranked scorer (10th on Thursday when picks were announced) not to get an invitation.
Honourable mentions: D Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver Canucks; RW Kris Versteeg, Florida Panthers; RW Radim Vrbata, Phoenix Coyotes; G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins.
HANGING IN THE LOCKER
G Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues
Halak had an emotional night when he returned for a game Tuesday in Montreal, a city he lit up in the 2010 playoffs with a memorable performance which saw him lead the Habs to the Eastern Conference final.
Halak was touched by the reception he was given by the Montreal fans, who cheered before and after the game as he was named the first star, having registered a shutout.
After the game, Halak was also emotional when asked about the image of the late Pavol Demitra, a fellow Slovak, on the skull plate of his mask. It shows Demitra in his Team Slovakia sweater, his arms raised in celebration. Demitra was killed in the crash of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team plane last September. "After what happened, it was really sad," Halak said. "I just wanted to honour his name and his family. I wanted it as a tribute to his memory."
A look at what makes a hockey team work
With the NHL season just past the halfway mark, the personalities of teams and the way they go about their business have been established.
St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock marvels at the way the Dallas Stars are scoring goals this season. In a league where a lot of goals are of the dirty kind that come off a cycle and spadework down low, the Stars are an exception. "No team scores more goals off the rush than the Dallas Stars," Hitchcock said. "They have three lines that just come at you, three lines that can score off the rush."
Injuries that are having, or could have, a big impact
New Jersey Devils
The timing is turning out to be awful for forward Travis Zajac as he tries to come back from an Achilles tendon injury suffered while training during the off-season. The Devils have shut him down for two weeks after he experienced soreness eight games into his return.
The crappy part is he is a Winnipeg guy and will miss the Devils' second visit to his hometown Saturday night. He hadn't returned from the initial injury in time to play the first game Dec. 3.
The number of wins at home for the St. Louis Blues, to lead the NHL going into Friday's games. The Blues have lost only three games in regulation on home ice (second best to the Detroit Red Wings, who have lost only twice in regulation). Going into Friday's games, Boston, Chicago and Detroit had each won 16 games on home ice this season.6
The number of teams that have won more games on the road than at home. They are the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes. There were eight teams last season that finished with more wins on the road than at home, including the Flyers, Rangers and Coyotes.
The number of goals in the shootout through the first half of the season. Shooters are getting better. Those 158 goals came on 462 attempts, giving the shooters a success rate of 34.2%. If the shooters can keep that up through the rest of the season, that would be the best rate they've had since the shootout came in for the 2005-06 season.
The number of consecutive games played by Calgary Flames defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, the longest active streak in the NHL. Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis and now Columbus' R. J. Umberger, who had been in the top five, recently have had their streaks broken. Second is Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (544), Calgary's Jarome Iginla is third (373) and Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano is fourth (369).