Well, I don't know what the heck really happened in the Canadiens' room last season, but whatever it was, Bob Gainey obviously saw enough to prompt a massive house-cleaning this summer. When you think about it, it's almost unbelievable that of the eleven free agents, not one is back for next year. Of the restricted free agents, one is traded, one going to arbitration and one signed for what basically amounts to a cheap, one-year do-over. Even the coaching staff, including Gainey's long-time bosom buddy, Doug Jarvis, got torched. It's almost as though when Gainey was forced to fire Guy Carbonneau, all bets were off for everyone else.
The funny thing about this though, is that Habs fans seem to be clearly divided into two groups in their opinions concerning Gainey's strategy. One side (on which I, admittedly, stand) is a bit afraid that the gutting of the team was a little too drastic, but now that it's done, we're willing to give Gainey the benefit of the doubt once more and hope, for the sake of the sweater we love, that it all somehow works out. The other side (of which I'm already getting tired) seems to have caught some kind of bloodlust. For them, it's not enough that half of last year's team is gone and the other half, with the likely exception of Andrei Markov, on probation. The demands to dump any remaining Habs, like Plekanec, D'Agostini, the Kostitsyns and Halak, for something new are escalating.
I don't get it, I confess. Take the "trade for Patrick Marleau" rumours, for instance. Sure, he's a big centre who can score some goals. But, in eleven full seasons with San Jose, he's broken eighty points once. He's good, but not what you'd call elite, and he's making elite-level money this year. If the Habs were to trade for him, as so many are demanding Gainey do, they'd have to clear up quite a bit of salary to make it work. It would likely cost Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, as well as possibly Jaro Halak, and to me, it's not that smart a move to give up your backup goalie and two of your top-six forwards in exchange for one top-six guy. It would further stress the team's depth and force Gainey to rush some of the youth into bigger roles. Also, love them or hate them, Plekanec and Kostitsyn are relatively cheap compared to Marleau, and have yet to reach their full potential. And there's the issue of looming free agency for Marleau. It makes little sense for Gainey to trade two sure, cap-friendly assets for a guy who could very likely walk at the end of the season, especially in a year when we don't know whether the Habs will even come close to championship contention.
I know Kostitsyn and Plekanec and just about everyone else underperformed last season. But I find it strange that the patience to give them a chance to rebound seems pretty much non-existent in some quarters of Habdom. These are young guys and they do have talent. I think they'll be okay.
And Halak is the great unknown with the Habs, but nobody wants to hold onto him and see if he can boost his value. Why trade him now, when he could get a chance to prove himself as a really good NHL goalie and bring a better return later? Or even, heaven forbid, have him actually remain with the Canadiens who could then have one of the best young goalie tandems in the league?
I'm just hoping Bob Gainey doesn't have the urge to purge that some fans seem to have acquired in the last few weeks. Change can be good, but you don't have to go overboard with it. As my mother would say, you can scratch your arse without tearing it off you.