That's the question I have been hearing from Habs fans throughout the day yesterday as the Canadiens starting July 5th announced an array of minor deals. Gauthier started the week with the signings of goaltenders Peter Delmas and Nathan Lawson. He then inked veteran forward Brian Willsie and concluded with the minor-league trade sending Ryan Russell to the Blue Jackets organization in exchange for 6'4" Michael Blunden.
So, who are these no-name players and why is Gauthier wasting his time signing and trading for them? The answer is both simple and complex. As you all know, the Hamilton Bulldogs are the Canadiens' farm team and as such, Gauthier's required to also assemble their roster. That's the simple part. The complex? Well, it's not that complex actually. Hamilton is where Habs management sends their most prized prospects to develop into (hopefully) future NHLers. That's right, the future success or failure of your Montreal Canadiens depends on the kids currently (or about to start) playing with the Bulldogs.
You might argue that some of these guys are not really prospects and most of them have never or will never even make it to the NHL. You know what? You're probably right! That's not really the point though. The idea here is to make sure that your prospects (the ones that do make it) develop in a positive environment. Is it smart to surround young and impressionable players with veteran leadership and guidance? You bet. How about a winning attitude? Shouldn't these young guns be nurtured in a winning milieu that strongly frowns upon losing and avoids it all costs? I would think so.
That is the reason why you have deals like the ones you've seen in the past week from Pierre Gauthier. How do you replace proven goal-scorers like Jason Dawes and Dustin Boyd (who bolted to the KHL)? Well, you start be re-signing Brock Trotter (who was lured back from the KHL) and add a veteran like Brian Willsie. Both are capable of scoring 30 goals in the AHL and with Willsie, he comes from a perennially successful AHL franchise (Hershey Bears). Add to that some decent NHL experience and he might qualify as one of the better AHL signings of the year. Add some size and muscle to the mix along with some promising goaltending and all of a sudden things begin to look a bit auspicious.
At the end of the day, it's about surrounding your best hopes for the future with the best "teachers" available to make them the players that we all wish for them to be when the NHL comes calling their name. You can't just work on the present, you also have to work on the future.