Decision time for Habs' GM Gauthier

After their most successful playoff run since 1993, Canadiens fans are asking: What can the Habs do for an encore?

The Canadiens exceeded expectations this spring by upsetting the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference final.

In his postmortem press conference on Tuesday, general manager Pierre Gauthier said there wouldn’t be a major overhaul, as there was last summer. But keeping the core of the team together won’t be a simple process because some decisions might be beyond Gauthier’s control.

Gauthier’s first problem will be dealing with the salary cap. The good news is that it will be close to the current $56.8 million U.S. The bad news is that the Canadiens have nearly $46 million committed next season to 14 players, and one of them is Georges Laraque .

That gives Gauthier about $11 million to sign a minimum of seven players, including Tomas Plekanec and two goaltenders.

The Canadiens will save a little money by buying out Laraque . They can save more by trading the underachieving Andrei Kostitsyn and his $3.25-million salary, and throwing younger brother Sergei into the mix.

The Kostitsyn brothers have great talent, but they don’t exhibit it on a regular basis. Sergei’s tenure in Montreal effectively ended in Philadelphia when coach Jacques Martin gave him a reprieve from the doghouse and the Belarusian responded with a total lack of effort.