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Canadiens Watch: Tough off-season decisions loom for Montreal

As one of 29 teams that will eventually come up short in their goal of winning a Stanley Cup, the Montreal Canadiens can turn their attention to the off-season.

And the summer months will be busy for GM Pierre Gauthier, as he tries to mold this team into a winner. While the Habs ultimately came up well short of being a championship contender, there were some positives to extract from the season. First and foremost, obviously, is the play of goalie Carey Price, who, at 23, established himself as one of the best puckstoppers in the league. P.K. Subban’s emergence on defense was a nice development for the club and there’s some hope Lars Eller and David Desharnais are about to become players who can consistently contribute some offense.

But Montreal remains miles away from being a true contender and that’s not going to change over the course of one off-season. The two big questions facing the club are how to re-tool a defense corps riddled with free agents and how Scott Gomez and his bloated contract fit into the team’s future.

Dealing with the defense, Gauthier has indicated he’d prefer to retain Andrei Markov, who has battled injuries the past two seasons and played just seven games in 2010-11. It’s easy to forget because of all the time he’s missed, but Markov makes a big difference in the Habs lineup because he handles the puck so well. As long as the 32-year-old isn’t looking for absurd money or term, Gauthier should try to re-sign him, along with Hal Gill because he’s been such a steadying influence on Subban.

In that case, contributors Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski would likely be allowed to walk.

As for Gomez, what once felt like an extreme move – banishing him to the American League, where his $7.4-million average salary wouldn’t count against the cap – has to be considered now. To his credit, Gomez accepted responsibility for his awful season and he’s a well-liked player in the room. But his huge stipend is a massive roadblock for Montreal, specifically in its never-ending search to find a big, point-producing center. If Gauthier wants to make a bold move that will give the organization greater flexibility, he has to look hard at moving Gomez to the minors.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.

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