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Montreal Canadiens executive Bob Gainey has stepped down as vice-president and general manager, telling a news conference Monday that the move comes after a "difficult period of reflection."

Habs president Pierre Boivin met with Gainey over the Christmas break, with the longtime GM saying he wanted to step away from his managerial responsibilities.

"After a very long and difficult period of reflection, I have made the decision to leave my position as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens," Gainey, whose relationship with the Canadiens began nearly four decades ago when he was a star player, said at the Bell Centre news conference.

"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."

Assistant GM Pierre Gauthier will take over the GM position on an interim basis, while Gainey stays on as a special adviser.

"Pierre is an experienced hockey manager and has all the necessary skills to be a great GM," said Boivin.

Gainey, Gauthier's longtime friend, felt it was his time to move on, passing the responsibilty to someone ready to commit long term.   

'In my heart I will always be a Canadien.'—Bob Gainey

"If I have to choose between leaving a bit too soon or staying a bit too long, I prefer to leave earlier. I've done my best and now it's time to pass the torch," Gainey explained.

The former Canadiens captain began his managerial career within the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars organization as a head coach and eventually took over as general manager.

In May 2003, Gainey returned to the Canadiens as vice-president and general manager.

Over his five seasons (241-176-46-7) as an executive, Montreal made the playoffs four times.

A good move: Stock

Hockey Night in Canada analyst and Montreal sports personality PJ Stock weighed in on Gainey's decision to step down as general manager Monday.

His verdict? It's a good step for the franchise.

"I think it'll be positive," Stock said, because it's a culture change for a team that's had to squeak into the playoffs in every season of Gainey's tenure save one — when the Habs skyrocketed to the Eastern Conference title in 2007-08.

Stock says mission No. 1 for brand new interim general manager Pierre Gauthier is dealing with the goalie situation between Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.

But it's not as easy as it looks. Now that the Montreal glare is fully on Gauthier, he'll be pressured to make a move — and equally pressured to stay the course and keep both goalies on the payroll.

"This is a big decision for them," Stock said. "[And] in Montreal there's always a backlash for everything you do. You're never right no matter what."

-Brandon Hicks

However, the team failed to advance past the second round during his tenure as GM.

In 2007-08, Gainey's best season as GM, the Canadiens captured both the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference titles.

Free agency moves questioned

But the team didn't live up to high expectations in the post-season, barely defeating the eighth-seeded Boston Bruins in seven games, then losing to the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

More recently, Gainey was questioned for his moves in free agency and on the trade market. 

In the 2009 off-season, he was criticized for signing free agent forward Brian Gionta to a five-year, $25 US million contract and the eight-player deal that saw Scott Gomez and his salary of more than $7 million US land in Montreal.

During the current season, the Habs GM has taken considerable heat for his management of the Canadiens' goaltending situation.  

At the 2005 NHL entry draft, he selected Carey Price fifth overall, expecting the young backstop to be the next Patrick Roy.

But Price has struggled with discipline and consistency, giving way to backup Jaroslav Halak.

With two young and valuable goaltenders, Gainey continued to lean toward Price, even though his counterpart proved to be more consistent. The decision has drawn the ire of Canadiens fans throughout the season.

Playing days

A member of the NHL Hall of Fame, Gainey played 16 seasons with Montreal from 1973 to 1989, helping the team win five Stanley Cups (1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986).

The Peterborough, Ont., native is widely regarded as the greatest defensive forward in NHL history, capturing four-straight Selke Trophies from 1978-1981. The following season, he was named team captain, a title he kept until his retirement in 1989.

In 1,139 regular-season games, Gainey registered 239 goals and 262 assists for 501 points, and had 585 penalty minutes. In 182 playoff games, he posted 73 points, including 16 points in 16 games in the 1978-79 post season, helping the Canadiens win their 21st Stanley Cup. 

"In my heart I will always be a Canadien," Gainey said.

How he did

A look at the Canadiens' record under Bob Gainey

Season  L T OT Place  Playoffs 
2003-04  41  30  7th in East  Eliminated in 2nd round 
2005-06  42  31  7th in East  Eliminated in 1st round 
2006-07  42  34  10th in East  Did not qualify 
2007-08  47  25  10  1st in East  Eliminated in 2nd round  
2008-09  41 30  - 11  8th in East  Eliminated in 1st round 
2009-10* 28  26 6 6th in East N/A
*After 60 games