Gun Shy About Size

Take your mind back, back to the summer of 2009, when Bob Gainey ruined our team?

June and July of that year were when Montreal traded for Scott Gomez and brought in UFA’s Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. I was excited at the time, mainly because the Canadiens needed fresh blood, and I’ve been an optimistic bugger for pretty well every move the Habs have ever made, beginning when I was a kid. I’m always so hopeful, and maybe because I’m a Libra, I come up with all kinds of positives.

I thought fire-wagon hockey was back. I figured it would be a lightning-fast team of new Henri Richards and Ralph Backstroms, swirling around the ice and causing many a headache for lumbering forwards and defencemen of other teams. I was so hopeful

Did these three, who were immediately coined “The Smurfs,” improve the team a great deal? Hah! Montreal, in the blink of an eye, got smaller, became the laughing stock of the league, were mentioned everywhere by everyone as too small (I got so sick of that), and got pushed around in the playoffs like a grade one kid playing with grade fivers. We can only thank Jaroslav Halak for that beautiful run in the 2010 post-season against Washington and Pittsburgh.

We know how Gomez has turned out and I don’t want to get into it now. I’ve just eaten. Gionta and Cammalleri had their moments, Cammalleri shone at times, especially in those Caps and Pens games when he was a gunner-extraordinaire, and Gionta, although talented, is way too small at 5’7′ and his best days are behind him. Even more unfortunately, his best days were with New Jersey, not Montreal.

I hated that Montreal had gotten so small almost overnight. I cringed when I saw teams like Boston manhandle them. I knew that to win a Stanley Cup, it helps to be big and strong.

I say all this because I’m feeling bad. In the 1970s and 80s, I was one of Bob Gainey’s biggest fans. I loved his work ethic, his strong skating, his quiet and intelligent demeanor, his leadership, his penalty killing, his goals, his huge role in all those Montreal Stanley Cups. Never in a million years would I think I’d be joking about him, calling him down, and almost ridiculing him for what I think was basically destroying the team instead of improving it.

But I find myself doing these very things now. What was he thinking? Not just taking on the sinful Gomez contract, but making the team so small in almost one fell swoop. He played against tough Bruins squads, and the Broad St. Bullies. He knew muscle is usually needed to succeed. He learned under people like Scotty Bowman and Sam Pollock, who envisioned the proper mix of muscle and skill. But he turned the club into a laughing stock, Pierre Gauthier coming in turned the county fair into a circus, and Montreal every year remains the favourite team for predictors, along with the Leafs, to not make the playoffs.

Hopefully the black cloud is beginning to move away, everyone has woken up, and the team is now being gradually corrected under Marc Bergevin and the other new leadership boys. I know that whenever I hear that someone small, like Brendan Gallagher, is on the cusp of making the team, my heart sinks a little. Gainey has made me gun shy for the little guys, and I know I’m not right.

I admired Gainey so much as a player, and when he became management, I remember, when others were beginning to question him, my stock answer would be, “In Bob we trust.” And I did trust him. I trusted him as a player and from what I heard from him in interviews, and I saw no other reason not to when he took the reins. So I guess it comes down to two questions. What was he thinking? And what was I thinking?

8 thoughts on “Gun Shy About Size”

  1. Montreal’s deficiencies with size have been overreported. We could have used Erik Cole earlier than we got him and it would have been nice had Pacioretty filled out into the power forward he is today in about 2010, but it wasn’t meant to be.

    Habs still had a 96P finish in 2010-11 lacking Markov (and Gorges for most of the season) and every time I hear about the “Boston Beatdown) when Habs had their 7 fights in that Boston game and won half of them it makes me laugh. The Bruins beat up greybearded Hamrlik, Spacek and than Pyatt and claimed victory in a game that went out of control due to lax defence on both ends.

    If the Habs lacked anything in the last 5 years, it was reliable defence. We had Markov, than he had 11 black cats cross his path, while he walked under a series of ladders. Great teams have 4 guys you can ask to play 20 minutes a night and not sweat it. We haven’t had that since the 1990s.

    With Bergevin I think we’ve gone too far in favour of “grit” but forgotten about scoring. Armstrong, White, Prust and Moen are 4 of our bottom-6 skaters and any of them would be fortunate to get 10 goals in a full season.

    Gainey’s flaw was believing the league when they said this was the New NHL. That obstruction would be called and it would be opened up again for small, skilled forwards. Didn’t happen, we’ve seen 31.9% decline in power play opportunities since 2007. There’s been no indication the league is planning to address it. The media is blaming tall goalies and shot blocking for a decrease in scoring when in fact the primary culprit is an influence that is treading dangerously close to bringing us to Dead Puck Era 2.

    To me, Bergevin looks to have a better vision than Gainey, but Gainey did build a Cup team in Dallas and there wasn’t a reason to doubt him at the time, he understood the nature of the old NHL. He just didn’t keep up to date when the league changed, than started reverting back to old form.

    Habs made the playoffs in 2004, 2006, missed in 2007 than clocked in for 4 straight years under his tenure/influence. If he made one glaring mistake IMO, it was hiring Gauthier as an assistant, who became poison in Gainey’s ear.

    We still have a few good legacies from Mr Gainey. Max Pacioretty, Josh Gorges (That lovely Rivet trade) Carey Price and about the best head scout in the NHL in Trevor Timmins, who continues to build an impressive farm system. If we win a Cup, there will be an imprint from the Gainey tenure.

    Wow I am ranting a lot lately.

  2. Good stuff, Robert. I’ve had my share of rants lately too.
    I don’t mind if Armstrong, White, Prust and Moen get just 10 goals a season, as long as other teams playing the Habs know it’s going to hurt and won’t be able to run ragged over the team, as has been the case in the last few years. Ten goals from each of these guys would be fine, as long as others, like Max and Cole, fill the net on a regular basis. That’s the kind of mix Pollock and others went for. Gainey thought Cammy, Gomez, and Gionta would lead the charge, but it’s hard for little guys to do this role. It’s just too easy to be muscled, especially in front of the net. If Montreal’s lack of size has been over-reported, there’s a reason for it. It’s a valid complaint and will stop being mentioned when they catch up in size to the good teams. As far as the Boston fights you mentioned, it wasn’t what I meant exactly, although it’s part of it. Montreal was intimidated without the fights, and playoffs are all about intimidation, whether it’s dropping the gloves or not. With a bigger team and tougher team overall, Boston wouldn’t have been so anxious to duke it out. Philly learned that lesson with Montreal in the early ’70s.

  3. Gomez is above the NHL averages for both height and weight. I hoped for swirling, as well. But the three cowboy move (Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta) was not part of the initial Gainey plan. As you know.


  4. HDS – what was the initial plan – to teach them to play tougher than they were capable of? And Gomez may be 5’11 or whatever, but he plays small and doesn’t get within two feet of any opposing player. So his height is an optical illusion. The average height in the NHL is listed as just above 6’1. The three of them were called smurfs for a reason.

  5. P.K and Yemilen {Russian Train] gonna give you the BIG HURT if you carry de puck over the line. AND clean !! BIG HURTS.. We need intensity , heart pride to wear the CH !!! Max Pac said he doesn’t want to be remembered for the check from Chara but for his playing ability—-I love his attitude. If Thornbush can coach, and Birdbeegone can manage to lite a fire — we’re gonna set the Bell ovating .If I could type I,d have MORE to say. Since the daze of radio hearing Boom Boom’s shot thunder off the boards I am HABS fan. P. S.—WE need tough but NOT dirty scumbag weasel-tough.Remember Lambert-Risbrough and ?? line. Nite all Peter

  6. Peter Hab, I love your way with words. Not sure if I understood all of it but I enjoyed it anyway. You should write short stories!

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