As you may have read yesterday, Bob Gainey held court for a hundred and twenty Habs' fans at The Rooms, Newfoundland's provincial museum, on Sunday. Of course, he addressed the burning Sundin Saga. But, since old Mats is keeping his decision quiet for the next little while, Gainey had time to address many other subjects as well. Here are some of them, and what Gainey had to say about them:
On Drafting Carey Price
-Gainey recalled the Habs actually wanted "a big forward, who went right before the Canadiens selected." That was Benoit Pouliot who went at #4 to Minnesota. But Gainey said the Canadiens have a pretty iron-clad rule about following the scouts' final list when it comes to drafting. He said the team's scouting staff spends an entire year analyzing and evaluating young players around the world, "moving a player up or down a spot here, a spot there" and it would invalidate that work if the team were to ignore the list and pick a player out of order. So, when Pouliot was chosen before the Habs' pick, the Canadiens moved to the next player on their list, who was Price. Gainey explained he had no intention of trading Jose Theodore at the time of the Price pick. But when Theodore started to struggle on the ice and deal with many personal problems, Gainey decided Montreal was no longer the best place for him. It was pure chance that the best player available on the draft list was a potential franchise goalie who would step in to replace Theodore. And Gainey also said the team was "lucky to have Cristobal Huet step in to fill the gap for a couple of years."
On trading Huet
-Gainey joked "Let's see...what did happen with that one?" Then he said he felt that Carey Price was ready to get some experience as the number one goalie, including playoffs. He knew Huet would not be re-signing in Montreal, and decided to make the trade to avoid losing Huet for nothing. He said there were two teams interested in Huet, but Gainey chose Washington because it was the team less likely to be a threat to the Canadiens after acquring Huet.
On the prospects
-Gainey is happy with the number of players on the roster now that the team has drafted and developed, but he says we're looking at a vacuum for a couple of years before the next crop of players is ready. When pressed about which players he particularly likes in the organization, he named Max Pacioretty and Matt D'Agostini.
On Michael Ryder
-Gainey said "Michael was a good player for us for several years," but explained that the NHL is such a good league because players depend on competition to keep their skills razor sharp. He said sometimes the pressure of competition causes a player to step up his game, and sometimes a player doesn't do that and he loses his job to another player. That's, in a nutshell, what happened between Ryder and Sergei Kostitsyn.
On media pressure influencing the signings of UFAs
-Gainey said there's no doubt intense interest in a team, by both fans and media, can be overwhelming for some players. He said it depends on both personality and what the player is used to. Some players thrive under that kind of pressure, and some fail to perform. He said, "If you look at a player like Chris Higgins, that's his environment. That's all he's ever known. So he deals with it every day as part of his job." Gainey implied that it's better for a team to develop its own players who then become integrated in the city and system in which they'll be playing. It's a bigger gamble to pick up UFAs and hope they thrive in a new environment.
On playing in the New Year's Eve game in 1975
-Gainey took part in the game many fans consider to be the best one ever played. The Canadiens vesus the Soviet Red Army at the Forum. Gainey remembers the hype and the "us against them" mentality. He said in the weeks before the game, coach Scotty Bowman was obsessed with finding a way to beat the Soviets. Bowman spent so much time on his game plan for New Years that he all but ignored the actual league games the Canadiens played up until the big match. Gainey said by the time the game actually arrived, the players' nerves were completely frazzled. He doesn't remember the game itself as being as spectacular as fans say it was. He said he appreciated the fast, strong-skating style of the Soviets and the game was certainly good. But it doesn't stand out as the greatest hockey game ever played for him.
On winning the Cup in 1986
-Gainey said the '86 Cup was a special one because no one expected the team to do anything. He said if you look at the names of the players on that roster today, it's not entirely shocking that they won. But back then the team was mostly a group of untried rookies who took the hockey world by surprise. He explained that the Oilers did the Canadiens a favour by bowing out early to Calgary. Then the Habs took that opportunity and ran with it. He talked about that year as an example of the Habs' mystique, and how historically the team has managed to defy the odds when it gets a sniff of the Cup. He said that's one of the things that makes the team so special, and the players on the team today are learning to understand that.
On Patrick Roy's possible future with the team
-Gainey said Roy is learning the responsibilities of management with the Remparts, and when the day comes that the Canadiens need a new coach or general manager, Roy's name could certainly be among the candidates. He described the Canadiens as a family and said like any family, there are rifts between members. But rifts heal and families find their way back together.
So, there you go. Those are some of the answers Bob Gainey gave to the questions fans asked him in St.John's. Some of it you knew already. Some of it was new, at least to me. But one thing you should understand: no matter what the question, Gainey addressed it with thought and precision. And every single person left that room believing that the Canadiens are safe in Bob Gainey's hands for as long as he chooses to hold them.