Friday, February 12, 2010

Canadiens Prepare for Life After Gainey...


Montreal has been the scene of several top stories this week: The Canadiens lost power play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron for 6-8 weeks with a knee injury and have called up P.K. Subban from the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League as his replacement. The Washington Capitals came to the Bell Centre on Wednesday evening riding a franchise record 14-game winning streak that ended with Montreal's 6-5 overtime win. Dominic Moore arrived to shore up the penalty kill in a trade with Florida and General Manager Bob Gainey stepped down, handing the reins of the team to long-time assistant, Pierre Gauthier.

So many storylines, but by far the biggest news out of Montreal was the announcement that Bob Gainey was stepping down as General Manager of the Canadiens. A surprising move for many hockey fans, but with the Habs fighting for their playoff lives again this year, can we honestly say it was unexpected? Montreal is right where many analysts expected them to be - searching for consistency and a playoff spot. However, in La Belle Province, simply making the playoffs is not the goal, bringing the Stanley Cup “home” is the plan every year. Unfortunately, the last time the plan worked was in 1993, leaving fans clamouring for roster changes and accountability.

After six years in one of the NHL’s highest profile jobs, it was becoming evident during his dealings with the media around the Christmas holidays that Gainey was running out of steam. The pressures of winning, coupled with the flurry of celebrations for the Canadiens 100th anniversary, led to many extra duties and off-ice distractions for the entire team.

Speaking with the Montreal media (the press conference is available at NHL.com), as he announced his resignation, Gainey revealed one of the key factors behind the move.

“Pierre (Gauthier) and I met in December and I let him know that I wouldn’t be signing an extension with the team in the summer when my contract was set to expire. Nothing specific led to my decision. It came down to wanting to have more control of my time. It’s a lifestyle decision. I knew I wasn’t ready to do this for another four, five or six years.”

Perhaps the most intriguing element of Gainey’s decision was the timing; one week before the Olympic roster freeze and three weeks before the NHL trade deadline. Gainey has left several key roster decisions in the hands of Gauthier; Tomas Plekanec, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, three integral parts of the team, are all looking for new contracts at season’s end. However, Gainey and Gauthier have been working in tandem for several seasons and one would think that they are on the same page when it comes to roster decisions. Gauthier has already contacted Plekanec’s agent about resuming contract talks and he is willing to keep both Price and Halak as their goaltending tandem for the rest of the season. A healthy competition for the starting job could be the push the Canadiens need to solidify a playoff position.

Moving forward, Habs fans are asking, what happens next? The legacy of the Canadiens is now in the hands of long-time NHL executive Pierre Gauthier, as he becomes the 16th man to hold the honoured position. A former scout with the Quebec Nordiques, Gauthier has thirty years of experience in the NHL. He previously worked as a General Manager in Anaheim (twice) and Ottawa. One of Gauthier’s key moves in Ottawa that led to a turnaround for the Senators was the hiring of Jacques Martin, the current bench boss in Montreal.

On the trade front, Gauthier has already made a move, bringing in 29-year-old Dominic Moore from the Florida Panthers for a second round draft pick in 2011. Moore, a native of Thornhill Ontario, is a penalty kill and face-off specialist and in 48 games with Florida this season, he has 8 goals and 17 points. A veteran of 353 NHL games, Moore was selected in the third round (95th overall) of the 2000 entry draft by the New York Rangers. A free agent at the end of the season, Montreal is his seventh NHL team.

So now, the Canadiens and their fans prepare for a playoff push and life without Bob Gainey. Will the change at the top filter down to the rest of the team? With Gainey’s blessing, Gauthier now has control of one of the most storied franchises in sports; it should be interesting to see which direction he takes the organization. More trades and roster moves are certainly in the Canadiens future.

Photo by Miss Allise on Flickr.

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