I know it's not even the end of May yet, and the Cup finals haven't even started, but the uncertainty of this off-season is already causing anxiety to set in. Maybe it's because it feels like the Habs haven't been playing for months. Maybe it's because of the complete state of disarray of the team, from ownership to the lowest free agent.
Something's got to give here, and soon. It might be still May, but the NHL draft is only four weeks away. Free agency opens four days after the draft. By the middle of July, for all intents and purposes and if Mats Sundin isn't in the picture, most NHL teams have their rosters pretty much determined. Yet, here we are, still wondering if George Gillett is keeping or selling the Habs.
If he's keeping the team, well, that's fine. We can expect status quo in hockey management, Bob Gainey can hire a coach and it's business as usual. If he's not, we don't know what will happen. New owners could bring new management and new restrictions on spending. Time is getting short for a house cleaning before the draft. Trevor Timmins and his team have spent the last year building their draft list and Gainey's been involved in that to some degree. It's possible a new GM could be in place by the draft and still go with Timmins' list, but it's not very common an occurance. And, with free agency so soon on the heels of the draft, would new owners keep Gainey and let him buy the players he wants? Or will they place spending restrictions on him? Would they go with a new GM and let him take over free agent signings? And what about the Habs' current free-agents, especially Koviu and Komisarek who are most likely to re-sign before July 1? What about players like Tanguay and other valuable skilled players who won't sign up before they find out who's owning, running and coaching the team? What about draft-day trades? Would there be any sense in allowing a new GM who doesn't know the team well to make moves like that?
I like George Gillett. I'm grateful he came to Montreal with a generous smile and an open wallet. He's been nothing but respectful of the Habs' tradition and wise in keeping his distance from hockey operations. He's enthusiastic and proud of his team. But he's a playboy when it comes to money. He's been bankrupt before, and has now overextended himself in his purchase of Liverpool FC. In a time when credit is hard to come by, he's stuck refinancing the loan he took out for the soccer team. That could very likely cost him the Habs.
Gillett's been vehement about not intending to sell; a message that has recently become not wanting to sell. He's said he's interested in perhaps taking on a minority partner instead of selling the team outright. But still, the bidders are lining up and Gillett may have no choice but to sell when the banks come calling. My concern as a fan is that while Gillett tries to find a way to avoid selling, or to land the best deal for the team if he's got no choice in the matter, time is running out on the Canadiens' options for icing a competitive team next season.
I like Gillett, but it's time for him to shit or get off the pot when it comes to owning this team. If he sees the writing on the wall and knows he'll have to sell, he'd be doing the Canadiens and their fans a favour to do it sooner rather than later. The outstanding questions about team ownership must be answered before any of the on-ice questions can be addressed.
It's your move, Uncle George. The clock is ticking. And fans like me are already wringing their hands with anxiety.