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?