Monday, April 26, 2010

Bob's Team

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.

11 comments:

Kyle Roussel said...

I like Bob as much as anyone, and was sad to see him walk away, but I also thought it was time for him to move on.

When the Habs went on that 6-game run after the Olympics, the Gainey supporters came out in droves. Then they were silenced as the team stumbled in to the playoffs. I think we need to hold off eternal praise or condemnation until after Gauthier gets a handle on what he can work with come July 1st. Did Gainey hamstring Gauthier and put him in a situation where he has to move guys just to keep roughly the same team together? That wouldn't be any good.

We also like to rely on year-on-year improvement from young guys, and bounce back years from others. While it brings some hope, we have to remember that other teams have improving youngsters and other who will have bounce back years as well. The net result is often that we witness the same old same old. Probably.

When looking at the team he inherited, there's no doubt that the replaced them with legit NHLers. But again, the results were often the same; a low seed and early exit.

Personally, I'm still weighing Gainey's legacy here, and I probably won't be able to fully decide on what he accomplished until after we see how Gainey left Gauthier the wiggle room to improve it.

Raphaƫl said...

so J.Y. wacha think of the arrival of the subannator? genius, bad or meh?

J.T. said...

@Kyle: I agree it's too early to assess Gainey's legacy overall. Right at this moment, however, I'm grateful he gave us a team we can like. I didn't like last year's Habs with a few exceptions. I like these guys, I'm glad to watch them play and I wish Gainey had finished the year to see how it all turned out.

V said...

Kyle, I am one Gainey supporter that did not need to come out in the post-Olympic winning streak or need to hide over the last 3 games of the regular season.

I am a permanent and vocal supporter.

On balance Gainey made more good moves than bad. But he did something else that was more important. He provided a strong link to a great past and he brought credibility to a severly dis-creditied organization.

When Gainey took over, I had stopped watching the Habs. They had sucked too badly for too long. And I wasn't the only one. Lots of people had fallen away from the team.

And Gainey deserves a lot of credit for turning that situation around. The fan base is revitalized. So is the farm system. And just compare that list of players JT listed as those he inherited to those that play for the team now and there is absolutely no comparison. That team he inherited was as weak as this year's Leafs. This year's team with a few less injuries throughout the year is a 95-100 point team with proven play-off ready players.

I agree his legacy is not fully formed. But I like that JT is giving credit where it is due based on what we know today. And we will wait and see what the next 5 years bring.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday J.T. and I agree with you as usual!! Here's hopeing they win 1 on your day!!

Anonymous said...

I think one of the reasons Bob packed it in is because it finally became clear to him that Price was not going to become the star he hoped he would become in Montreal, and didn't want to be involved in dealing him. Price will be a great goalie somewhere else, like maybe Edmonton, and will play in Sochi in 2014. But he will always be a target of the fans in Montreal since his display in last years playoffs.
Halak make never be great, but he is a really good goalie and has a more even disposition which makes him a better bet in the long run. Bob had put his reputation on Price, and after drawing a line in the sand, chose not to step over it.

Happy Birthday by the way!

Anonymous said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY J.T. HOPE YOU GET THE BEST PRESENT EVER. A SEVENTH GAME!

Anonymous said...

J.T. the main reason this team even made the playoffs and the main reason they won two games is HALAK.
Funny how you failed to mention his name among the players worthy of commendation. I don't know if you share Bob's lack of appreciation of Jaro, I sure hope not.

ganderhab said...

Price, SK74 and Hamrlik for Smid, Brule and 2nd rounder............Happy Birthday!!

Anonymous said...

Your last point on the 3rd period: like the Habs says, take it one game at a time. Don't even look beyond the Caps. I remember when a commentator (and not one of those dumb american one from Versus, asked Markov if the team was going to make the playoffs and all he gave was a deep dark stare..which read let's focus on this one game at hand.

BUT OH MY GOD, FOR NOW, WE WON, WE WON, WE WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

JT:

- Like every GM, Gainey has done some good moves and bad ones. I think he had two critical failures as Habs GM:

a) Until the end of last year, MTL had a serious leadership crisis: Koivu was a solid player and great worker but a divisive captain. Kovalev was talented, but didn't deserve a leadership role because of inconsistent effort. Gainey should have cleaned up the stables way before he did (it's either Koivu's team or Kovalev's); instead, he allowed the wound to fester.

b) Mismanagement of the goaltending situation. Gainey handcuffed his coaches with his goaltending priorities: first Julien (Theo vs Huet), then Carbonneau (Price vs Huet and then Halak) and finally Martin. Is it a coincidence that Halak finally got the playing time he deserved after Gainey's departure? I think not.

Fortunately, Gainey made up for the first mistake with the free agent signings of this summer (a huge risk, but which is turning out pretty good). Too bad he was simply unable to make the key decision with respect to goaltending.

All kidding aside JT, beyond the belated endorsement of Gainey, it might be tinme to acknowledge that Martin isn't always coaching with his head up his ass.