Went off to the country over the Canada Day weekend expecting a nice and usual day from Pierre Gauthier (read: quiet) and low and behold, not one but two signings! Both of the moves are significant enough that they've changed the complexion of the team.
The first signing was that of Peter Budaj and I must say, it surprised me as I didn't expect the Habs to go after someone that was going to cost more than $1M/yr nor did I think that they would go after someone who wasn't already designated as a clear back-up. One could argue that Budaj is just that but I'd rather think of him as that goalie who battled it out with Jose Theodore and won the #1 spot a few years ago.
Yes, Budaj has struggled as a starter in this league but it's worth noting that the teams, with which he had his worst stats, also were terrible. He has also played very well in stints, throughout his career, which shows promise and ability.
From a technical standpoint, Budaj plays the position correctly and efficiently and his raw talent has allowed him to make it to the sharp-shooter filled NHL. He has had issues by leaving his catching glove too low and then corrected it by holding it too high. In my opinion, I believe that his lack of further development has been directly linked to the Avs' failure in hiring a proper goalie coach - a real 'faux-pas' in today's hockey.
What's important to note here is that the Avalanche have never hired a goaltending coach with experience over his years with that organization. Jeff Hackett, whom Habs fans should be familiar with, became their goalie coach after a long bout with vertigo ended his career a bit prematurely. Hackett was unable to fix whatever was ailing Jose Theodore and was subsequently fired from his position 3 years later. Again, the Avs decided to hire an ex-goalie that had just retired in Jocelyn Thibault to take over the role of goalie consultant (as they call it). The goalie consultant would offer advice and help with the development of the younger goalies and only on a part-time basis. That experiment lasted only one year and last year they replaced Thibault with Kirk McLean (ex-Canucks goalie) to fill the role as consultant.
I think what the Habs saw with Alex Auld was that he had plateaued. He's a backup goalie with a big body that was always going to play deep in his net. He was almost always going to let in that one soft goal per game and he was also going to give you a couple of great games, which only makes sense, as he is in fact an NHL quality goalie. A lot of fans have pointed to Auld's record (6-2-2) and said that you can't expect more. Well the way I see that record is 6 wins and 4 losses, so 1 game over .500 against the "weaker" teams of the league. For a team striving to be in the upper echelons of the league, that is simply not good enough.
Although, I would've liked for the Canadiens to spend a little bit less, I'm comfortable with the fact that the Habs have retained Budaj's services for the next two years at a relatively decent cap hit. I also, think the upside of the move is significant. Working with Pierre Groulx, the Canadiens' goaltending coach, will help Peter Budaj take that next step in using his technique to compliment his raw talent.
Pierre Groulx, although never having played the position, has proven his worth as a goaltending coach in helping develop Craig Andersen and keeping Tomas Vokoun sharp in Florida before coming over to Montreal and helping Carey Price rediscover his form. I believe that he'll help Budaj become a very effective backup which should help lessen Price's workload and improve the the team's record without Price to something better than 1 game above .500.