It was easy to be a fan of Bob Gainey when he played because he seemed to do everything right, in a blue-collar kind of way. He wasn’t flashy like teammates Guy Lafleur or Yvan Cournoyer, but he was an all-important piece of the puzzle on the world’s greatest team in the latter part of the 1970’s.
So when Gainey was brought to Montreal to run the circus, to settle things down and get the job done in fine and patient fashion the way he had done as a player, I was pleased. Every move he made as a general manager I believed in, because I believed in this guy. I knew he wouldn’t do anything without long and serious thought, and so his decision was the right decision. I believed this.
But the team Gainey built after coming from Dallas is a mess. It was a mess last year and the year before. He tried players, they didn’t get it done, and so he tried some more. He fired coach Claude Julien and stepped in to do the job himself, he fired Guy Carbonneau and stepped in again. His coaching resume consisted of losing in round one every year, except when he took the Minnesota North Stars to the final in 1991. And as Habs GM, he never got better than making it to the second round of the playoffs in 2007-08.
As much as I’ve always believed in Gainey, there are questions. Taking on an $8 million dollar contract for Scott Gomez is one. Bringing in so many small players must be questioned. There’s no doubt the skill is there, but so many? Gionta, Cammalleri, Gomez? Every single hockey expert on the planet will tell you that a team of small guys will not go far in the NHL playoffs. It’s just too tough to win battles against the big strong behemoths who play in the league now.
Biggest of all is the goalie situation. PJ Stock brought up a great point last night on Hockey Night in Canada when he said the Canadiens dropped the ball with Carey Price. They should have had him living with a mature veteran and family, seeing how a guy who’s been around the league for a long time lives his life in the fishbowl. Sidney Crosby still lives at Mario Lemieux’s house. John Tavares lives with Doug Weight and family. Instead, like Stock said, they bring in a young guy from the west, give him a million bucks, tell him to take an apartment in downtown Montreal, and let him fend for himself in a classic party city. In Montreal, restaurants and clubs practically kill to have Habs players in their joints where booze flows and gorgeous women looking for rich, famous, handsome young studs, are everywhere. And Price soaked it all in.
Yes, Gainey and the organization did drop the ball with Price.
I was happy when Gainey overhauled the club this year. They needed to be blown up after bowing out in four dismal games to the Bruins in last year’s opening round of the playoffs. I’m just not happy witht the size factor. And whether or not Gainey made the right moves or not, he couldn’t control the abnormal amount of injuries the club has suffered through so far. It’s just plain bad luck for the organization when you replace most of the team in the off-season, and then the majority of the new players take their turns in hospital beds.
Can Pierre Gauthier, Gainey’s replacement, make a difference? Maybe if there are no more injuries, and maybe if he can convince Carey Price that the youngster is the future, but for now, Jaroslav Halak will play on most nights. If Gauthier can convince Price without ruining him, he’ll have done a big job.
The task at hand is simple for Gauthier. Tweak the team until you like what you see. Keep both goalies. Make the team a little bigger up front, (Dustin Penner?), decide whether you think Jacques Martin is the guy to run the bench, put the C on someone’s jersey.
For Bob Gainey, maybe he’ll bow out of hockey altogether and spend quality years with family and friends back in Peterborough. With the sadness he’s experienced, losing his wife and daughter, he needs to remove himself from a league that eats its young. He seems like the kind of guy who would enjoy sitting by a stream with a fishing rod, or diving into a good book.
All the best to Bob Gainey, a man I’ve always respected.