I'm not one to presume I know more than Bob Gainey when it comes to hockey or the Canadiens. I think it'd be more than a little arrogant to think I see something he doesn't. He's there, he's close to the players and he's been steeped in hockey all his life. He's also a proven winner as player, coach and manager. The man knows the game. Therefore, when he decides a player no longer fits into the plans of the Canadiens, whether for reasons of ability or finance, I have faith those reasons are justified.
I admit I can't help but grimace when it seems every single player the Canadiens let go comes back to bite them in the butt. Last year the Habs had a three-goal lead against Nashville, heading into the third period. The Predators made a dramatic comeback, capped by Radek Bonk's goal with 48 seconds to go. Bonk then won it for the Preds in the shootout. Three weeks later, Canadiens failed to show up in an embarrassing game against the Dallas Stars. Former Hab Mike Ribeiro got a goal and two assists and laughed at the fizzling Montreal team afterwards. This season, the Habs have been dinged by Sergei Samsonov twice in two losses against Carolina. Samsonov has 8 goals in 41 games...two of them against Montreal and both deciding factors in close games. Mikhail Grabovsky scored a goal and an assist in the year's most embarrassing loss in Toronto, then pointed at the scoreboard and taunted his former team. Jose Theodore has shut the Canadiens out this season, and even Jassen Cullimore, whom the Canadiens are still paying to go away, has potted one for Florida against them. We're still waiting for the inevitable revenge that will surely be taken by Michael Ryder, Sheldon Souray, Cristobal Huet and the great Richard Zednik before the year is out. It's uncanny.
Despite the bizarre fortunes of ex-players against the Habs though, I rarely wish for any of those players back (except for Souray occasionally...and not even all of him, just his slapper). Even Michael Ryder, who's a compatriot and now doing very well in Boston, I thought needed to play on a team other than the Canadiens for style reasons. They did their time in Montreal, and for reasons best known and understood by Bob, they've moved on. The exception to that is Mark Streit.
I thought the Canadiens' scouting staff did a great job in finding Streit and bringing him into the fold. And Streit himself was so thrilled and excited to be taken in the draft after being overlooked for years, he took a pay cut to come to North America and play for the Habs. He never complained when he was benched for many games three years ago, or when he was played as a forward for the first time in his life the season after that. All his teammates liked him and he quietly improved on both offence and defence, putting up a tidy 62 points last season while pumping up the Canadiens' powerplay.
So, Gainey apparently made Streit an offer before last season started, but didn't include a promise that Streit would be allowed to play defence full-time, or otherwise indicate that the Canadiens were committed to Streit's future. That might have been understandable at the time, considering the fact that Streit was nearly 30 and had really not proven a lot up to that point. However, I'm disappointed Gainey didn't see what Streit was doing during the season last year and make him a real offer then. Rumour had it that last Christmas, Streit was willing to sign for two years at two-and-a-half million per season and a committment to play on defence. Considering the fact that he currently leads all defencemen in points and the Isles' PP has gone from 29th in the league to 17th while the Habs' has dropped from first to nearly last...well, that deal might have been a pretty big steal. It looks even better when you see Patrice Brisebois playing a regular shift in the Habs' top six. Is he a better defenceman than Mark Streit at this point? If you said "yes" you might have some video to watch.
I know there's no point in indulging in hindsight, and I usually avoid it. What's done is done and all that. But I liked Mark Streit for his versatility, his heart and the points he put up. I thought he was really valuable to the Canadiens' success, and I was disappointed when Gainey didn't see fit to offer him a contract while his price was still relatively low last year. Of course there was no way Gainey would match the Islanders' offer when Streit made it to free agency, but it seems he didn't bother to make much of an offer at all. Perhaps he thought Streit would be easily replaced and the team would just keep trucking along. This decision proves everyone, even Bob Gainey, makes mistakes.
This one makes me grind my teeth every time another ineffectual Canadiens powerplay hits the ice. It's getting harder to stop thinking about what might have been...but I have to hope Gainey can find a solution to fix this error before the lack of a powerplay costs the team a playoff series. After all, Bob Gainey knows a heck of a lot more about hockey than I ever will.