Gainey’s Been There And Wants To Be There Again.


Bob Gainey may or may not be a great general manager, it remains to be seen. I wonder sometimes why Guy Carbonneau was let go as coach, although to be fair to Gainey, the team was going nowhere with Carbo behind the bench. I’d also like to know the true story of what happened with Alex Kovalev. But even in these cases I cut Gainey some slack because who knows what really went on behind closed doors? Who knows if Carbonneau had lost the room, so to speak, or if Kovalev’s agent screwed the deal up. And was there something we’re missing regarding Saku Koivu and his departure to sunny California? 

If the team that you’ll need a program to recognize this year falls flat on its face, then maybe Gainey’s not so good and he’ll be replaced and we’re back to square one. But if they play like gangbusters, then Gainey would be allowed to say I told you so. Of course he wouldn’t, it’s not his style, but he’d be allowed to.

If we’re not sure about Gainey as a GM, we can be sure about something else. He was a great hockey player. One of the most valuable on a team loaded with stars. Gainey as a player can never be questioned or second-guessed.

He was picked eight over-all in the 1973 draft, and Montreal chose him because he was big – 6’2, 190 lbs, fast, and specialized as a checker. And that’s just what he became as a proven NHL’er –  fast and a defensive specialist. He was also dangerous around the opposing team’s net, but mostly, the big goals were left to Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt and Jacques Lemaire. They were the glamour guys.

Scotty Bowman, coach extraordinaire, said of him: “He just drives himself…past what you expect from any player. And he plays every game of the season like that, but people only notice in the playoffs. He has been given all the tough assignments…always. And still he has really improved his offence.” Bowman also added, “He’s just in great shape…great shape.”

At a luncheon in New York, bombastic Leafs’ owner Harold Ballard remarked, “That fellow can skate. He’s some hockey player. A big bastard too, isn’t he?” And of course, eyebrows were raised when legendary Russian coach and hockey innovator Anatoli Tarosov called Gainey “the best all-around player in the world.”

After the Habs had won their fourth cup in a row in 1979, Gainey was named the Conn Smythe winner as most valuable player to his team in the playoffs. He was given $1,500, and a new sports car from Sport magazine. Afterward, the shy forward said, “It’s hard to believe that my name will be on that trophy with some of the names on there…like Bobby Orr, and Guy Lafleur…Jean Beliveau. I just don’t know what to say.”

When the Habs won that 1979 cup, Gainey was one of the quiet ones, along with Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard, who didn’t yell and pour champagne over people’s heads, including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s. It was never Gainey’s style to be boisterous like that, as you can see today as a GM. He’s a thoughtful man who chooses his words carefully. When you listen to him speak now about changes and trades and the problems of the team, he’s not shellshocked when he’s choosing his words. It’s just his style.

And it was that last of four cups in 1979 when just the slightest hint of cracks in the Habs’ dynasty began to show. When the team lost the final game of the season to Detroit, Larry Robinson felt the loss indicated they failed to to do it under pressure; failed to win a game they needed to finish first in the league, and he was apprehensive. Robinson also felt that the team played only mediocre hockey against Boston, and admitted that the Bruins could have won that series.

Serge Savard was getting older in 1979, so was Lemaire, and Ken Dryden’s future was up in the air. And Yvan Cournoyer, out with a back ailment most of the season, wanted to try again the next year but the Canadiens thought differently, thinking that maybe Yvon’s time had come. In the end, both Dryden and Cournoyer called it quits after this 1979 season

Looking back now, it was the end of an era, four cups in a row, and the team would never be the same again. And now we have what we have with the Habs of the 21st century.  Bob Gainey was through those wars in the 1970’s, played on those great teams, and he knows better than most what it takes to be a great team. So one can question and find fault with all he’s done in this off-season, tearing it down and building from almost scratch again. But he’s a winner, knows what a winner looks like, and he’s trying to fix the many problems on the Habs that were out there for all the hockey world to see.

Gainey wants a great team as much as the rest of us.

28 thoughts on “Gainey’s Been There And Wants To Be There Again.”

  1. Great article Dennis, I’m becoming more of a Gainey fan with each passing day. As a GM many question his moves but honestly he is not a stupid man. As you mentioned he’s a winner through and through and I trust him to do what he thinks is best. Are his moves that bad? Ya picking up the Gomez contract hurt the wallet but look who followed Gomez onto the team.

    As for the free agents he didn’t sign, look at the list that remain out of work. Not really bad moves when it comes down to it. For myself I was more of a Bouillon fan than a Kovalev/Koivu fan. We all have our favourites but in the end if things aren’t working you have to move on. It reminds me of my 2 yr old with his puzzles, no matter how hard you bash it, the piece will never fit if it’s the wrong piece.

    Bottom line is I believe Gainey has collected all the right pieces and the onus is now upon Jacques Martin to make them fit.

  2. I’m with you, Ryan. Gainey’s a thoughtful guy who probably takes some serious time thinking about things before doing something. I’ve always believed in him and he sure has been criticized a lot in the past few months. Hopefully he’ll come out smelling like a rose and the team becomes great again. Thanks.

  3. Gainey won the Cup with two separated shoulders once! (And no one knew until later).

    And despite all the tragedies in his life, he just keeps on trucking, keeps on trying to do his job, and to figure out what’s best for our beloved team. He amazes me.

  4. Well he certainly got a birds’ eye view from behind the bench after Carbo’s departure. He saw the shortcomings and knew the types of players he wanted. Will it translate into a cup winning team? We’ll find out soon enough. You’re right Dennis, winning is important to Gainey, he got them a cup in Dallas, it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to Montreal. Sometimes we question his moves or his lack of moves but down the line they always seem to make perfect sense. He’s forgotten more about hockey than some of us will ever know.

  5. In hind-site you have to wonder if Gainey’s move behind the bench was not so much to try and save the season but to get a different perspective on his team. Being on the bench, in the locker room, interacting with the “leaders”, may have given him a very clear view of what was wrong and what he needed to do to fix it.

  6. What Bob Gainey has done in his tenure with the Habs so far is very comendable,with picking Carey Price in the draft to taking first place a couple of seasons ago,you have to remember that buliding a team in the NHL in these times is totally different then back in the 70’s and 80’s.I think that once all the pieces come together(building the team), and they can go somewhat injury free through a season they will be able to make a run for the cup.I will say that losing Kovalev,no matter how much talent he had,is not a negative turn of events.He was not a team player as Gainey has been described as,but a very selfish one.Having coached minor hockey teams for over 25 years I know how one player can ruin a team,and this is what I think happened to the Habs since Alex’s arrival.Bob Gainey will win the cup with the Habs before it’s all over with.

  7. Thanks Microfox. It’s Dennis, not Peter, but that’s okay. And Yvan, not Yvon, which has been changed. Just a brain fart.

  8. You know, Derry, you’re probably right about Kovalev. Maybe his puck-hogging in particular was frustrating for linemates, and his hot and cold play also. Could it be possible he affected the play of the Kostitsyn’s?

  9. It is true, Kovalev isn’t much of a team player. He tries too hard, by deking. Which, most of the time, result into turnovers.
    And he’s also turned very predictable. On the Power-Play, he’s always on the right side, trying to hit the top corner on the goalie’s short side.
    This year, that move didn’t work too well. Because the other NHL teams have studied him. After his incredible 2007-2008 season.

    In the end, losing Kovalev wasn’t as negative as people thought it was.

  10. RE: Number31, You hit the nail on the head, previosly there was a post by DK asking who you would pick Clarke Gillies or Steve Shuuuuut . Well I pick Shutt because it was Gillies who took 15 strides to slam Bob into the end boards and dislocate his 2 shoulders !! Gillies a “GOOF” Shutt a goofy pranckster
    Cheers from the East Les Canadiens Sont La !!!!

  11. i don’t see Kovy as a selfish player. Remember how upset he was when Bob asked him to sit out a couple of games because he really felt the team needed his help. He’s not a player that will elevate his linemates, that’s just a fact. We’ve seen what he can do with talented linemates, just think back to the all star game with Crosby and Malkin. The puck hogging is simply because when things aren’t going well, he takes it on himself to try and score and that results in a lot of turnovers. I’ve seen the exact same behaviour with Malkin and Ovechkin. Ovechking had more turnovers than Pilsbury in the last playoff game against the Pens. Why? Because he had no supporting cast. I don’t believe for a minute that Kovy goes into a game and thinks “meh, I can’t be bothered tonight. He’s a proud and competative athlete. Let’s see how he fares in Ottawa with Spezza and comany.

  12. Great article Dennis, as always.

    I agree with DishonestJohn in that Gainey wanted to know where Carbonneau failed for hismself.

    He didn’t like what he saw and made changes.

  13. The team was going nowhere fast and the coach always takes the first fall, which happened here. Then the team got blown up afterwards. It’s interesting too that Calgary has basically done the same thing out there.

  14. Thanks Moey. Kovalev was very upset when he sat down, and I liked that. It showed that he was proud. I also liked a previous comment from Dishonest John about how watching that old video of the Habs, Lafleur reminded him of Kovalev in many ways.

  15. Great article Dennis.

    I’ve always been a Gainey fan. Loved him as a player and I think he’s done the best he could with what he had.

    He tried to surround Koivu with players to make a run in that 5 year plan…. didn’t happen, the core was getting older and he probably did see some things he didn’t like…. so he made changes.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think his plan was to change the team, the atmosphere… the attitude… and I believe he achieved that goal quite well.

    Some of his doubters might also forget…. he was GM in Dallas and built a Presidents’ Trophy winning team in 1998 and 1999…. winning the Stanley cup in Dallas in 1999.

    Remember… he’s the guy who got Nieuwendyk, Hull, Belfour and Zubov in Dallas… and they won.

  16. Thanks Yves. Gainey’s no slouch, as you point out. Maybe we’ll have a great team this year.

  17. Gainey did well this summer and I’m optimistic about this season, but he had a couple aces up his sleeve in Dallas that he won’t have in Montreal. A league head office wanting to expand interest in the southern US markets and a disregard for rules at the most important point of the finals.

    How wonderful would it be for Montreal to meet Calgary for the cup?

  18. Yes I always enjoyed the Montreal Calgary matches from the mid/late 80’s, would be great to see a Finals matchup again.

    Quiz Time: How many times have Montreal and Calgary met in the Final?

  19. Ryan;Twice they me in the finals…86&89..Calgary is the only team to win the Stanley Cup on Forum ice

  20. A good old-fashioned Canadian final. But Gary Bettman wouldn’t like that and we all want Gary to be happy.

  21. I think after this fiasco with Jim Balsillie Bettman should pack it in and let someone who understands the game of hockey look after the nhl

  22. Was a trick question Derry, Montreal and Calgary met 3 times the first in 1924 with a Habs win over the Calgary Tigers. Won a wobbly pop with that one in College.

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