I wish Bob Gainey had stuck around as Habs GM, just for a little while longer. Yeah, I know he's off playing the piano and checking in with Gauthier from time to time, and probably enjoying himself immensely. It must be nice for him to be able to do his thing without getting trashed publicly every day. It's just too bad, now that there's a lot of good to say about what Gainey's accomplished, he's not around to take the credit.
I had a quick glance at the lineup in Gainey's first year at the helm of the good ship Canadiens. Stellar names like Jan Bulis, Yanic Perreault, Niklas Sundstrom, Pierre Dagenais, Andreas Dackell and Jason Ward filled the lineup card. Patrice Brisebois and Sheldon Souray were in the top-four on D and the goalies were Theo and Garon. The only player left from that 2003-04 lineup is Andrei Markov. Plekanec played two games with the Habs that year as well, but wasn't yet a full-time player.
When you look at that team and compare it to the one we see on the ice now, there's no question the quality of the players has improved tremendously. For those who say the only thing that matters is results, and the Habs are no closer to a Cup now than they were then, I'd have to argue that making the playoffs more often than not is an improvement over what we used to get every spring. Under Gainey, the team usually made the playoffs. Before him, it did not.
He made some mistakes in the big picture. He didn't make any ultimatum offers to his UFAs and a lot of them walked without any compensation to the Habs. He made too much of Carey Price, ending in disappointment for fans and some hiccups in Price's development. And his drafting in the first round was abyssmal, although I lay that at the feet of Trevor Timmins, who Gainey let handle the draft selections. But most GMs *do* make mistakes, and what it all comes down to is whether the product on the ice satisfies the people who pay to see it.
I have to say, I like the players Gainey brought in this year. He built this team for the playoffs and you can see why he chose the guys he did. Gill, for example, was dangerous to his own team on many nights during the regular season, but in the playoffs he's a different player. Gionta and Cammalleri are clutch and score the goals that need to be scored in the post-season, planting themselves in the crease and the slot when bigger men want to hurt them. Gorges, Gainey's best trade acquisition, has been an absolute shot-blocking, penalty-killing defensive beast. Moen brings some sandpaper to the third line and can pinch in with the more skilled guys too.
Most of all, this is a fun team to watch because they try their damnedest. They might not have enough in the tank to come back and make it to the next round, but they didn't cringe in the face of a much more powerful offence than their own. They just got down to work and made it a series. I'm proud of them for that, and I enjoyed this series. It would be wonderful if they *could* pull it off in seven, but even if they don't, they give me hope that next year, if they stay healthy and the new GM makes a few smart moves, they could be a better team.
I just wish Bob had stayed on a little longer, to see the fruits of his labour finally result in a team we can be proud of again. Somewhere, I'm sure, he's almost smiling.