There's no way for Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier, at this point, to spin the trade of goalie Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues in any palatable way for dejected Habs fans. He was depicted as the Messiah in the playoffs, while Carey Price(notes) played 135 minutes. They have no idea who Lars Eller and Ian Schultz are. They're bewildered by the deal, bitter about the decision.
So Gauthier didn't try to spin it in his conference call Thurday afternoon. When asked a direct question about anger amongst Canadiens fans, he replied:
"When we discuss players, we discuss what we think they're going to do in the future. Every decision, especially in the offseason like this, is a big-picture decision. The decision is based on our projections. We are very comfortable with Carey Price. He's a young man that has almost 150 games in the league even though he's only 22 years old. He's got a few rounds of playoffs, he's won a Calder Cup at a very young age. He brings a lot to the table and is a young man who we think will be a good goalie in the league."
No, seriously Pierre: What about the Montreal fans that are livid that the underachiever was chosen over the playoff hero?
"The interesting thing about that is that we're looking into the future. And we thought that, at the time of the trade deadline and we still think, that we had two good young goaltenders and now we have one good young goaltender. We feel we've obtained some players that can help us. One of them is closer in Lars Eller(notes). In the big picture of things, going forward, we feel very comfortable doing this today."
What he was less than comfortable doing today: Naming Carey Price as the starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, even with Jaroslav Halak(notes) now taking Western Conference geography lessons.
Gauthier indirectly acknowledged that the team didn't have negotiations with agent Allan Walsh and Halak before trading him, saying that they understood the market enough to know what the numbers would have been.
But Halak's departure doesn't mean Carey Price is the definite starter for next season. Though Cassie Campbell of CBC heard Gauthier call Price the starter, when asked about Price as No. 1 on the call, Gauthier fell back to the platoon:
"In our discussions, with the coaches and the people who are in the decision-making process, Carey Price is a guy who can carry a load. He can play a lot of games. He's a strong man. He's a good goalie. I think we'll want to compliment him with a good goaltender," he said. "You need two good goaltenders on the team, and we'll address that."
This is wonderful news for the 19 unrestricted free-agent goalies that played at least one NHL game last season, as a new job with the chance to compete with Price and play on a regular basis has opened up. Names like Marty Biron, Dan Ellis(notes), ex-Blues keeper Chris Mason(notes), Michael Leighton(notes) and perennial "guy who pushes the starter" Antero Niittymaki(notes) come to mind; oh, and Ray Emery(notes) and Jose Theodore(notes) are on the market too, for soap opera's sake.
This is likely less-than-wonderful news for the bitter Halak fans who witnessed their guy carry the team for weeks in the playoffs, only to see Carey not given the team after Halak is traded.
"We explore all options, from re-signing 'Mase' to looking at the goalies available (in free agency). We've been studying the market place since early last season. This is what it comes down to. Montreal had to make a decision and we were able to put a deal together. It's not an easy deal to make. Jaro has a great future, he's only 25, and we gave up two young players we respect and like. You've got to give to get.
"The thing we said all along, we've worked hard to build up assets and once you do, that's when you can do something. It's a good smart deal for the Blues. In Chris' situation, his contribution to the Blues was exceptional. Now, he'll have the opportunity to explore the market place on July 1."
The takeaway from that answer: "We've worked hard to build up assets and once you do, that's when you can do something."
Translation: The Blues and GM Doug Armstrong are a team that's making the turn from building to contend to contending this season, much like the Los Angeles Kings last summer.
Armstrong said that Gauthier "honed in on a player we didn't want to give up" in Eller, and that the Blues "gave up great value" to get Halak.
"It's difficult for some of the fans in Montreal, because they haven't seen Lars," he said, calling Eller "a roster player" in the minds of the Blues. "Once they start to see him play, they'll understand why this trade was made from a Montreal perspective."
(Check out the audio from the Davidson/Armstrong press conference here.)
Armstrong said Walsh was excited his client will have the chance to be a No. 1. Meanwhile, Halak said he was "very surprised" about the trade, which makes all of us.
There will be pressure on Halak, based on whatever his salary is and on his reputation from the playoffs. But it's nowhere near the pressure on Price, on Eller and on Gauthier this decision.
Like we said at the top: There's no spinning this move for angry Canadiens fans. The only way you win them over is if Price becomes the goalie Gauthier believes he is; if Eller and/or Schultz become viable contributors to the team; and if Halak doesn't keep sending regrets via St. Louis Blues box scores.