Back when he traded Jaroslav Halak to the Blues, Habs GM Pierre Gauthier said he not only had a Plan B, but had a plan for every letter of the alphabet.
I'm wondering where on that alphabetical chart the signing of Alex Auld fit in? Clearly, Plan A was signing Dan Ellis to play alongside Carey Price and challenge him for ice time. But when that didn't work, what was the next option? Auld? Really?
Martin Biron, according to people who know these things, inquired with the Canadiens whether or not they would be interested in his services. He was given a "no" answer, and promptly signed with the Rangers for two years at $875,000 per to sit and watch Hanrik Lundqvist.
Shortly thereafter, Gauthier came to terms with Auld on a one-year, $1 million contract. Baffling, really, when you consider what the goalie market was shaping up to be.
I understand Gauthier had his hands tied in terms of the salary cap, and the unknown commodity of Price's next contract (though by this point you would hope Gauthier has at least a ballpark figure on how much that will cost). But once it became clear that he wasn't going to give Ellis the extra year and $500,000 per season it would take to match the offer he ultimately accepted with Tampa Bay (though he likely would have had to pay more to compensate for Quebec's income taxes), Gauthier should have just sat back and let the dust settle a little bit to see what was left.
It was a game of musical chairs for the goalies, with far fewer jobs than there were players. At the end of the day, Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco and Jose Theodore remain available. Johan Hedberg may have jumped at the chance to actually play more than once a month before deciding to go back up Martin Brodeur in New Jersey for $500,000 more than Auld received from Gauthier.
Again, going back to when he traded Halak, Gauthier said he would go out and get another good goalie to complement Price. But Auld will not compete with Price for ice time, he will play a very traditional back-up role. And whether or not he's a good goalie is barely even debatable.
Of Auld's 19 starts with a pretty bad Dallas Stars team last season, he gave up three or more goals 13 times. He had what was probably the best season of his career a year prior with Ottawa, when he went 16-18-7 with a 2.47 GAA and .911 save percentage. But just when it looked like Auld was going to be the man in Ottawa, he fell apart.
After starting the season 9-6-3, Auld went 7-12-4 from Dec. 8 to the end of the season. Of course, we all know (or at least we should) that a won-loss record is not a good reflection of a goaltender because it's more of a team stat. So, in compiling that 9-6-3 record, Auld had a stellar 1.98 GAA with a .925 save percentage, but from Dec. 8 on he went to a 2.86 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
The season before that Auld played extremely well for the Bruins, going 9-7-5 with a 2.32 GAA and .919 save percentage.
But aside from the numbers, this is Auld's eighth team since 2006. That's about two teams a year. Does that fill you with confidence?
Perhaps I'm wrong about Auld. Maybe he'll become a revelation this season and be able to log 30 starts without costing the Habs a playoff spot. But if not, if I'm right, Price had better be ready to fulfill his potential right now.
Of course, that's assuming Price will come to terms on a new contract, because he remains unsigned as a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. If ever there was a situation where a holdout would be in order, I would imagine this would be it. If I'm Price's agent Gerry Johansson, I'm shooting for the moon with this contract. The Canadiens were negotiating from a position of strength before trading Halak and signing Auld, but they aren't anymore. Johansson knows very well the Habs have no recourse if his client isn't taken care of, and he can use that to his advantage.
I'm sure he doesn't want to holdout and will likely sign prior to training camp, but the way Gauthier has handled this situation - or at least the order in which he's gone about his business - has empowered Price a great deal. He has to know Gauthier won't want to start the season with a tandem of Auld and Curtis Sanford, who was also re-signed Thursday. Will Price use that to his advantage? Only time will tell.
Aside from the goaltending, Gauthier was able to lock up Dustin Boyd to a $650,000 a year contract. That makes the Sergei Kostitsyn trade worth it, even though Ellis got away. Boyd is not a game-breaker and has nowhere near as high a ceiling as Kostitsyn does. But he won't make headlines, and that's what the Canadiens want out of their fourth-liners, which was also a big reason Georges Laraque was asked to leave.
Boyd may turn into another Pyatt type with more offence, and that's just fine.
With the Boyd and Auld signings, Gauthier has a little under $5.3 million left in cap space if the bonus overage allowance is not used. If Max Pacioretty is included on next year's team, that cap space drops to $4.4 million to take care of Price, Maxim Lapierre and perhaps one other forward like Dominic Moore, who I still think Gauthier should bring back.
So Gauthier is probably done in the free agent pool. And right now, I can't say he was a very strong swimmer.