BROSSARD – It’s not just the weather that has Montrealers feeling like fall is right around the corner these days.
With the final few players now back from summer vacation and the Habs’ rookie camp set to kick off Monday, general manager Pierre Gauthier is excited to see more of the same from his now fully-gelled group this year.
“There’s really a feeling of optimism and enthusiasm around the team,” offered Gauthier. “I think we left the spring with a better knowledge of our team, who we are and what we can accomplish and it’s in that spirit that we’re back today.”
After reaching the Eastern Conference finals last spring, Gauthier chose to focus on making smaller changes this offseason, compared to the extreme makeover the team underwent last summer.
“We kept 17 players from last year’s team, not including [PK] Subban. We’ve retained 17 players from the American League group and we’ve added several players from various sources,” explained the 57-year-old GM. “There’s quite a bit of stability there; 17 players coming back is a lot and probably some of the spots that need to be filled will come from within the organization. Last year’s process and how it evolved and concluded developed an identity for our club. I think we know who we are more than we did earlier in the season last year.”
After watching 11 free agents leave Montreal last summer, the re-signing of core players like Tomas Plekanec
and Carey Price
to new deals this time around was no accident.
“We felt stability was going to be important,” emphasized Gauthier. “It takes time to build who you are and what the formula is that you’re going to use to win hockey games. We came a long way last year and we wanted to continue this year in the same way.”
In addition to landing players like Lars Eller
, Dustin Boyd, Jeff Halpern and Alex Auld, Gauthier also made a few adjustments at the operational level this year.
“We also had a restructuring within our organization this summer and we made a few changes at different levels. For instance, there were some criteria that were very clear in terms of what we wanted for our coaching staff in Hamilton,” explained Gauthier, who had to fill vacancies in the Habs’ farm team after Guy Boucher and his staff made the jump to the NHL level with Tampa this summer.
“We wanted to add former players to the organization and [Randy] Cunneyworth and [Randy] Ladouceur are both former players and captains in the National Hockey League,” added Gauthier. “They have lots of experience and we liked their level of professionalism. Ladouceur is a former defenseman and he has a lot of experience working with young defenseman and that’s an area we were looking to improve on.”
Gauthier’s summer workload didn’t end there. The second-year Habs GM also hired a new assistant general manager, director of hockey operations and hockey information coordinator while bolstering the scouting department with four new hires.
“We compete in a very hard market where everybody is so close in the league that every part of your organization has got to be strong,” underlined the Montreal native. “Whether you’re talking about development, coaching, scouting, player personnel, budget management, we’ve got to be strong in all areas and we’ve got to compete head-to-head with the other 29 teams.”
As the pieces continue to fall into place and the rookie camp gets underway in Brossard this week, Gauthier knows that despite the success his team enjoyed last spring, he and his staff are back at square one when the puck drops this fall. And he can’t wait to get the ball rolling.
“The challenges are the same for every team in the league when you start a new season,” shrugged Gauthier. “There’s a lot of parity in the league and it’s about to start all over again. Whatever you accomplished last season, you start all over now.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.SEE ALSO:31 players to take part in the Canadiens rookie camp 2010-11 season preview - Josh Gorges Who is Jeff Halpern? My Ultimate Foursome: Dustin Boyd