On deadline day 2008, Gainey thought he’d snared Hossa, only to have Don Waddell choose Pittsburgh instead. (Honestly, I don’t know what Montreal would have given up, though I believe Chris Higgins was part of it.) Hossa was a supremely motivated rental that spring and would have been terrific fit on a surprising Eastern Conference regular-season champion. It never happened.
Doubly damaging: Johan Hedberg was part of the deal, too. He’d have been a perfect replacement when Carey Price temporarily lost his game. When Philly eliminated the Canadiens in Round 2, I couldn’t help but wonder if Hossa/Hedberg was enough to change the outcome.
(For the record, I’m also not convinced Lecavalier is the right fit for Montreal. He loves his anonymity in Tampa. He says all the right things – because he has to – but if you pumped him full of truth serum, the betting here is he’d say it’s a bad mix.)
Those who know Gainey well say from the moment Pierre Gauthier entered the organization, the Hall of Famer was planning his exit. It’s a similar strategy to the one he employed in Dallas, with Doug Armstrong. The final decision came about two months ago, once the organization completed the centennial celebration and an ownership change.
If it wasn’t for those events, Gainey may have stepped down after last season. It was a difficult year for everyone associated with the franchise, as a team with so much promise imploded on and off the ice. He fired three close friends – Guy Carbonneau, Doug Jarvis and Don Lever – and stood behind the bench himself as the Canadiens whimpered out of the playoffs.
"I believe that the general manager position requires a long-term vision and commitment, and I did not want to make a commitment for four or five or six more years," he said Monday.
"He told the truth,” said one friend. "He didn’t enjoy the day-to-day part of the business anymore."
Gainey also had to realize that if Montreal misses the playoffs this year, the decision would be made for him. Stepping down now was the best insurance Gauthier received the job, and allows the new man a chance to make long-term decisions in goal and with Tomas Plekanec.
Apparently, the initial reaction to Gauthier is unfavourable. That’s fair. However, the Molson family deserves credit for staying in the background. Ask fans in Tampa what it’s like to have meddling ownership. In the long run, this kind of leadership will be better for the franchise.
Two tough ones to start:
1. Brian Burke left Anaheim to be closer to his children from his first marriage. As Canucks GM, he would go to Boston every two weeks – no matter what – to visit them. Brendan Burke’s funeral is Tuesday morning. Hopefully, the Burke family can recover as quickly as possible.
2. On June 21, 2003, Ryan O’Byrne was working as a bellhop in a British Columbia hotel. He was in the middle of his shift – delivering bags to a guest room – when his mother, Lorelei, ran up to him. He was surprised to see her, even more surprised when she told him to take the rest of the day off. Why? Because he’d been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, an unexpected surprise. It was time to celebrate. Lorelei O’Byrne died of breast cancer two weeks ago. Best to Ryan and his family as well.
3. Lighter stuff: one of the funniest players in the NHL, Shawn Thornton, had a weird moustache going Sunday as the Bruins ended their 10-game losing run in Montreal. He tried a beard to break the bad streak, but shaved it into a handlebar moustache when that failed. He trimmed down that version after another loss, leading to the victorious current version. "Can’t shave it now," Thornton said afterwards. "It’s a winner."
4. I think the Ilya Kovalchuk decision for Peter Chiarelli came down to this: he wasn’t willing to trade Toronto’s top pick, so would he give up a piece like David Krejci? Smart call to say no. The Bruins, despite their best hopes, are not a Stanley Cup contender.
5. Reason to be wary of Tim Thomas rumours: Will he waive his no-trade? He has one for the first three years of his new contract. And, one of the beat guys was telling me Thomas has moved his entire family to Boston.
6. One player Edmonton is getting calls about: Denis Grebeshkov. He’s an RFA after this season, making $3.15 million US. I know he’s having a rough year – who isn’t out there – but I’m not so sure I’d give up on him. Unless, of course, you could package him with one of the contracts you’d want to move.
7. The Calgary Flames have a magic number. It’s 98. That’s how many points the organization believes assure a playoff berth. After beating Vancouver 3-2 on Jan. 9, the Flames had 57 in 45 games in leading the Northwest Division. It put them right on pace. Nine losses later, they were en route to just 91 points. That explains the timing of Darryl Sutter’s trades.
8. One morning after Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust played against Philly knowing they were going to be dealt. Both Ron Wilson and Jacques Lemaire said they’d never heard of anything like that and they’ve been head coaches for years.
9. Do not be surprised if former Senators president Roy Mlakar ends up running the Lightning for Jeff Vinik.
10. Vinik, by the way, does nothing without serious evaluation. Brian Lawton will get a chance to keep his job. If Lawton fails, Vinik would be wise to bring back Jay Feaster. He’s still being paid by the club, and his credibility in the market is strong.
11. Despite Saturday’s sleepwalk in Toronto, those Senators who were around for the Eastern Conference championship in 2007 believe this team is better than that one. Why? Deeper, more physical, more ways to beat you. Also, "Back then, we got nervous in close, low-scoring games,” said Chris Kelly. "That doesn’t happen anymore."
12. Mike Fisher pointed out one thing the 2007 team did well, though: "We got hot at just the right time." This team will need that, too, especially with Washington, Pittsburgh and the Kovalchuk-ed Devils.
13. Thought the referees working Saturday’s Toronto/Ottawa game did a great thing by sending Matt Carkner to the dressing room after Colton Orr kayoed him. If he convulses in the penalty box, it’s horrifying.
14. Erik Karlsson will be back right after the Olympics, and he’s beginning to show his offensive gifts. Karlsson’s a confident guy. One day, the Senators were practising a 5-on-3. "After it was over, he came over and said to me, 'Why didn’t you do it this way instead?'" said a laughing Daniel Alfredsson.
15. The deal with Marek Svatos: He wants out of Colorado. They want him out. He’s a UFA, so he will be highly motivated and relatively cheap. Svatos played for Cory Clouston in junior. I think he wants a reunion.
16. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson will not trade RJ Umberger. He could if he wanted to, but doesn’t.
17. He will entertain offers for Fredrik Modin and Raffi Torres, but probably not until after the Olympic break. Modin has a no-trade, and, to this point, Howson has not asked him to waive it.
18. When news of the Cody Hodgson conference call leaked out, one interested GM wondered if Vancouver was going to trade him. The answer is no. Mike Gillis considers reaction to that call grossly exaggerated. Gillis was ecstatic to get Hodgson in the 2008 draft. He met with the player and agent Don Meehan before the CHL prospect game and believes everything is OK.
19. There were two Red Wings scouts – Pat Verbeek and Glenn Merkosky – watching Toronto at New Jersey last Friday. There was some thought they were watching Alexei Ponikarovsky – who fits their like of big wingers – but there is absolutely zero cap room. While the Leafs are willing to take on some bad contracts, Detroit doesn’t really have any Ken Holland wants to deal.
20. Maple Leafs assistant Rob Zettler on Dion Phaneuf’s immediate impact: "Practices aren’t as quiet."
21. Zettler said Phaneuf will be turned loose in Toronto. "Normally, we ask our defencemen to get the puck, but he’ll be allowed to go for the big hit...He’ll also be given freedom to attack." That doesn’t happen very much in this system. He added that in San Jose, Douglas Murray was the guy given freedom to hit, while Bryan Campbell was the only one really unleashed offensively.
22. Two things to identify whether Phaneuf’s play improves: Does he do a better job defending the cycle? And, will he chase guys behind the net? That one drove Calgary coaches crazy, because it breaks down your defence.
23. The way the Leafs play in front of Jean-Sebastien Giguere is evidence of how little faith they had in their previous tandem.
24. If you want to trade with Los Angeles, don’t expect to get anyone off its current roster. By backing out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes, Dean Lombardi made it clear his group deserves a chance to show what it can do. Liked that move too, you have to reward your guys.
25. Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are both restricted free agents after next season. Doughty’s cap number is already almost $3.5 million. (Johnson is $1.425 US.)
26. Milan Lucic handled his demotion to the fourth line as well as any player could. Claude Julien tried to spin it positively too, saying it was the best way to get the winger banging again. Lucic added he was getting "lost" in the defensive zone, too.
27. Wonder if Mark McQuaid was a hockey coach. When his son, Adam, scored his first NHL goal Sunday in Montreal, Mark said he was as excited about the win as he was for the moment.
28. Cincinnati Cyclones coach Chuck Weber referred to David Desharnais as the "best player in this city’s hockey history" when I spoke to him Sunday morning. Desharnais had 106 points in 68 games as the Cyclones won the Kelly Cup in 2008.
29. Both Kelly and Jacques Martin think Desharnais will make it in the NHL, because even though the player is just 5-foot-6, he "initiates contact instead of shying away from it," Kelly said. "He knows that when you’re that height, you have to prove you can play. If you’re 6-foot-2, you have to prove you can’t." The Canadiens coach compares him to Martin St. Louis, though I don’t think he’ll score as much.
30. In last week’s Kovalchuk trade wrap-up, I mentioned that Kari Lehtonen could be a good trade chip for the Thrashers. Let’s just say I had some disagreement about that: rarely healthy; makes $3 million US; restricted free agent. Not so much.
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