Boy, I'm glad things are moving along and the sale of the Habs is official, if not final. I like the idea of the Molson brothers as owners. They've got the family history with the team and the Quebec roots. They get it. They know what's important to the people who pay the bills, and it isn't the hyped-up pageantry of an overblown Centennial celebration we saw last season. Fans want a winner, and so do the new owners. Hopefully, that means they're willing to pay for what they want and keep their noses out of hockey decisions.
Say what you will about George Gillet though, he's leaving the Molson brothers some pretty big loafers to fill. Even though he doesn't know hockey the way Canadians who are weaned on the sport know it, he was a good owner. He never dropped into the dressing room with ideas for the powerplay, as the loonies in Tampa like to do. He never imposed an artificial salary cap within the team or stinted on the essentials (such as a scouting staff) to save money like the guy in Buffalo did. He never publicly questioned the competency of the hockey men he hired to run the team. He did give Bob Gainey and his staff the freedom to improve the team dramatically in the last six years.
But Gillett's greatest strength as an owner lay in the fact that he's a good guy. He cheered for the team and he treated the players with a great deal of respect and care. He was generous with his employees both generally, by doing things like building them the state-of-the-art Brossard training facility, and personally. When Saku Koivu was sick with cancer and wasn't allowed to fly on commercial airlines, Gillett sent him home to Finland on his private jet. He did the same thing for Mike Komisarek when the latter's mother was dying of cancer. He had Chris Higgins over for dinner at the Gillett family home while the player was recouperating from shoulder surgery in Colorado.
The Canadiens might not have a great many selling points when it comes to attracting new players or enticing current ones to stay, but Gillett was one of them. So, I'm wondering now what impact his cutting ties with the Habs will have on the players who had developed a personal loyalty to the man? Will a contract offer now seem a little less appealing than the same deal would have with Gillett paying the bills? Komisarek and Koivu certainly must consider how different the Canadiens organization will seem for them under new ownership. And they'll be weighing the Canadiens against potential offers from other teams in two weeks' time.
I just hope Gillett's departure doesn't make the Canadiens side of the scale too light to tip the balance in Montreal's favour. I'd like to believe the Molsons will be at least as good as, if not better than, Gillett when it comes to owning the team. But until they prove they are, I'd like to see the players give them a chance rather than follow Uncle George out of Montreal.