What About Bob?
Is Gainey still the right man for the job in Montreal?
The 100th anniversary birthday bash in Montreal is over. It started out just fine with cake, retired jerseys and Elmer Lach. But then, it started to get wild and somebody called the cops.
By the time the clock ticked to zero in the Canadiens 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins last night, most of the guests were looking at their watches mumbling something about having to get up early.
The bad news is nobody knows who's going to clean up. A thousand screaming fans — an online lynch mob — are demanding Bob Gainey's head. There are plenty in the media, too.
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, the Canadiens were finishing off the Bruins in Game 7, and had just come off their first Eastern Conference title since 1989.
This year's Canadiens should have been better. That is what Gainey, and most of his critics, expected for this season.
Last spring, when the Canadiens lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, most critics blamed it on a lack of toughness, poor 5-on-5 scoring and inconsistent goaltending. Gainey made logical, but unsuccessful decisions to address the problems.
Toughness: Gainey signed the biggest, toughest player on skates. Georges Laraque played a key role protecting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh's impressive playoff run last year. But this season in Montreal, a groin injury and a herniated disk limited his playing time to just 33 regular-season games.
Scoring: The Canadiens relied heavily on their power play the two previous seasons. They needed more scoring, so Gainey traded for Robert Lang without giving up a roster player. Before that, he picked up Alex Tanguay from the Calgary Flames — again without losing a key player.
Injuries prevented both forwards from having much impact. When the team needed them most, neither could contribute. Lang missed the entire playoff series with Boston, and Tanguay played two games before sitting out.
Goaltending: Gainey expected Price to continue to develop with the other young players — Chris Higgins, the Kostitsyns, Tomas Plekanec and Ryan O'Byrne. Instead, all took a step back.
Price had a strong first year and, now accustomed to NHL play, should have been better. Gainey has a long-term view of Price's value. He expects Price to be the kind of guy who can win a Stanley Cup. There's good reason to think he's right.
Price's trophy case is pretty full for a young player. It includes a gold medal from the 2007 world junior championship and the AHL's 2007 Calder Cup. He was named MVP in both tournaments and, in fact, is the youngest-ever Calder Cup MVP.
Maybe Gainey saw more of his old teammate, Patrick Roy, in Price than the young goalie was ready to deliver. But Gainey's plan was to develop a great goalie who can lead Montreal for a decade.
It's too early to say he failed. For Gainey, it's more about the decade than the century.
Gainey has made mistakes
Gainey has made mistakes in Montreal, the worst might be letting Mike Ribeiro go to the Dallas Stars for Janne Ninnimaa. Ribeiro has become one of the most exciting, skill players in the game and Ninimaa is long gone.
But the critics have it wrong on the departures of Mark Streit and Sheldon Souray, Montreal's two power-play hitmen. It's long forgotten that both were criticized for being weak defensively. Everyone missed Souray's slapshot. No one missed him defending Jason Spezza 1-on-1.
Streit had one strong offensive year in Montreal. It won him a fat contract on Long Island.
Gainey took blame for letting Streit go as a free agent, getting nothing in return by trade. But the Canadiens were contenders at the trade deadline in 2007 and dealing Streit didn't make sense.
It's likely that Gainey was surprised by the effect Streit's absence had on the Canadiens power play. He dealt with that by trading for Mathieu Schneider. However, like Lang and Tanguay, Schneider was good when he played, but injured when it mattered.
If the lynch mob must have Gainey's job, so be it. Hang out the help wanted sign.
Here's what to look for in choosing Montreal's next general manager: He must have a proven record of success as a GM in the NHL.
This is not a job for rookies. He must have an appreciation for the history and tradition of the team. It wouldn't hurt if he had a connection to the team's glorious history by being a former player.
He'll need an ability to remain calm under fire and deal thoughtfully with on and off-ice adversity. He'll need to be bilingual, too.
Sounds like a job for Bob Gainey.