Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 Review: Bob Gainey Edition

For a man who's got the reputation of sitting quietly in his allegorical rocking chair and snoozing the deadlines away, Bob Gainey had a pretty dramatic 2009. What's interesting about it, however, is that it's not the dramatic things he's done that have proven his mettle as an NHL GM, but the little moves that really have made a difference to the team.

At the beginning of the 2008-09 season...also known as the Centennial Season From Hell...Gainey sent his team a message. Coming off an unexpectedly great 2007-08, Gainey seemed to have improved the team with the additions of free agents Robert Lang and Georges Laraque, and the draft-day acquisition of Alex Tanguay. But he knew going into last season that he would be dealing with ten pending free agents. So he told them their futures with the Canadiens would depend on their performances during the year. After the dreadful second half that lead to the team barely scraping into the playoffs, the firing of Guy Carbonneau and the subsequent re-appearance of Gainey himself behind an NHL bench, the GM had a good idea of what he was dealing with.

Gainey decided only Mike Komisarek and Alex Kovalev were worthy of contract offers. Komisarek (the traitor) decided to bolt for the leafs instead of accepting. Kovalev dithered for more money and Gainey, who obviously wasn't enthralled enough with L'Artiste to wait around for him, gave the offer to Brian Gionta instead. As a result, not one of the free agents from the first-place team returned for this season. It was a bold position to take, but then Gainey had to address those empty places on the team with alacrity. And boy, did he ever make a splash.

The Gomez trade kicked it off, and if it wasn't for Gomez' salary, it'd be a win for the Habs at the moment. However, the salary is a factor, and a serious one, because it will tie up a tremendous amount of valuable cap space for the next four years. If Gomez plays a big role in a Habs Cup win, I'd say it's a victory for Gainey. Otherwise, I'm not enthralled with the trade.

Outside of the Gomez trade, though, Gainey made some very, very astute moves in the last year. The first was the pickup of Glen Metropolit on waivers. The cap-strapped Flyers were forced to let Metropolit go in order to get some salary relief when Daniel Briere returned from surgery. Gainey jumped on him, and it's turned out to be a fabulous move. The man grew up a Habs fan through a troubled childhood that's made him a stronger person. He's fast, tough, good on defence and has surprising hands. At 35, he's the kind of late-blooming salvage project Ken Holland is famous for acquiring. I'd love to see him back next year.

When the defence started to disintegrate with injuries after Markov, Spacek, Gill and O'Byrne went down early this year, Gainey filled the gap with a couple of very smart acquisitions. Jay Leach was in Montreal for a good time, not a long time, but he filled the gap when required. Marc-Andre Bergeron was a steal though. He's horrendous on defence for the most part, but the shot from the point, coupled with a healthy Andrei Markov, has brought the PP not only to life, but to the top of the league again. The man has a cannon and makes a very servicable fourth-line winger. He can play defence, sort of, in desperate times as well, and all for under a million bucks. No NHL GM has made a better scrap-heap salvage choice than Gainey with Bergeron.

The signing of Mike Cammalleri was also a good Gainey move. Brian Gionta too, although I think he paid a bit too much for Gionta. Cammalleri though, has been full value for his money. The well-spoken, thoughtful winger might not be big, but he packs a ton of drama into his small frame. The hat tricks, the twenty goals halfway through the year, and the buzz he creates on nearly every shift have been worth the contract so far.

Another good signing was that of Tomas Plekanec for 2.75 million. Plekanec didn't really deserve a raise after the season he had last year. He had a thirty-point drop in production that would have turned off most managers. But Gainey decided to avoid arbitration with a player he obviously likes and give him a chance at redemption. I don't think Gainey or anyone else expected Plekanec to redeem himself to quite the extent that he has, but the fact he gave Pleks the chance to do so in a Montreal sweater instead of dumping him for whatever he could get in a trade was certainly a good move by the GM.

On the trade front, Gainey was faced with a plethora of young guys who either had to stick with the team this year or be waived before going back to Hamilton. The bubble included Kyle Chipchura, Matt D'Agostini, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O'Byrne and Greg Stewart. Gainey decided to pin his hopes for improvement on D'Agostini and Lapierre. O'Byrne earned his own place in the lineup with much improved play in the first half. Stewart got waived, which turned out to be the right decision, since he was doing nothing in Montreal and nobody else claimed him either. Chipchura had no place in Montreal with Lapierre in the only role available to him at centre, but someone would have claimed him on waivers if he was sent down. So, Gainey got what he could and sent him to Anaheim for a fourth-rounder. Chipchura seems to be doing well there, and the fourth-rounder is still a pipe dream, but I think Gainey got the best of a tough situation there. It may be a future debate as to whether he should have kept Lapierre over Chipchura, but for now, it looks like a reasonable move.

The Latendresse/Pouliot trade could end up being Gainey's big steal though. Neither player was performing with his original team, and they both needed a change of scenery. Latendresse has popped a few goals early for Minnesota, largely because he's playing with top-line players and getting time on the PP, which he really couldn't get in Montreal. But Pouliot has turned out to be a revelation so far. He's big, fast, strong and has first-rounder skills he's putting to great use on a line with Gomez and Gionta. He's giving the Habs a secondary scoring threat they didn't have with Latendresse in the lineup. This has the potential to be a great trade.

In the end, the guys Gainey let go aren't outperforming the ones he brought in and everyone on the team has commented on the great attitude and work ethic in the Habs dressing room this year. The ones who could compare this season to last claim there's really is no comparison, with this year being a clear improvement. A healthy team this year has the grit and heart to be a playoff team.

Gainey's not been a perfect GM in his six-year tenure in Montreal. But he really had a good year in 2009 overall. He's taken a team with attitude and dedication issues and retooled it into a group that has a solid defence, two good, young goalies and a mix of size, speed, grit and skill up front. It's not the best team in the conference, but it's a team with heart that, when healthy, can compete with any team it plays. The big signings of 2009 were impressive, but the smaller acquistions of Metroplit, Pouliot and Bergeron are the ones that are making the biggest difference to the Canadiens. And for those, Bob Gainey deserves a New Year's pat on the back.


Kyle Roussel said...

This is a really, really nice write-up. Good work!

Gainey has certainly been busy this year, and despite everything he's done, the full fruit of his labor will not be known until the Canadiens' playoff fate is determined.

The one thing you did not touch on is the hiring of Jacques Martin, which, right now in my opinion, was a poor hiring. He strikes me as the wrong choice considering the strengths of the players that Gainey brought in. Add to that that Gainey WANTED to make a match out of Martin and Kovalev. Can anyone see that working? I certainly cannot. I am aware that the choice for coach may have rested with Boivin, or narrowed further, the priority on bilingualism over capability may have rested with Boivin, but in the end, Gainey will have to answer for this.

Time will tell, but despite some shrewd moves that have paid off, some other moves may prove crippling to the team (Gomez, Martin). This is Gainey's 6th year as GM when he originally had a 5 year plan. At the end of his 4th year, it looked like he was on the cusp of realizing his goal, but in his 5th year, everything crumbled amidst the 100 year celebrations. This being the final year of his deal, it will be interesting to see if he wins himself a new deal. I believe if this team makes the playoffs and makes some noise, then he will have earned a new deal. If this team falls short, the Molsons will have some thinking to do.

Anonymous said...


Raphaƫl P. said...

nothing more to be said. great analysis. Can't wait to see what will happen with Pleks and the playoffs. I'm getting the impression that we will see spring hockey this year and the habs will give us some great play... (I'm really hoping the Olympic tournament will give a motivational boost to the Kostistyns and to Webber)

Anvilcloud said...

It was a crazy year of abysmal lows that we seem to be climbing out of. A little at least.

Shan said...

True enough, but I don't know if I could be so positive about it. I respect Gainey, but he blew up one team to rebuild it with a team producing near identical stats, one that will still have to fight tooth and nail to squeak into the playoffs. And if I really consider the weight of the Gomez deal, it looks like there's nowhere else to go afterward. The fact that they are winning as much as they are should be chalked up, mainly, to Plekanec having room to blossom. I suppose it'll take a bit of 2010 to get a better idea of what the grade on his 2009 report card should be.

pfhabs said...


-I'd like to give you a different perspective re a couple of points you raised


1. habs are not winning a cup with scott in the lineup and his cap hit will assure that...too much for too little in return

2. Koivu; 35GP; 8A 15G (.66 pts/gm) $3.25 cap
Gomez; 39GP; 5G 22A (.69 pts/gm) $7.37 cap

-Saku is performaning better that Scott given his 6 yrs of additional wear and tear
3. McDonagh in the eyes of scouts still developing as a top 3 D man

-in my view that trade will never be a win for the CH and may go down as dumb as the Roy or Chelios trades


-the 6 year record over rides the positives you've stated (there are some notable you've missed: dump Jose contract, Kovalev for Balej, Pacioretty/Gorges for Rivet, rebuilding Hamilton, Hamilton current coaches, roster of prospects)

-most important though is one first round victory in 6 years...I expect road kill status this year in playoffs

-many good small moves (as you point out) too many major blunders over the last six years. gomez is biggest, tanguay rental for 1st & 2nd pics, schneider rental for 2nd, laraque, streit loss, asleep while kids played in the streets etc etc

Gone vs Here

-give me the traitor as you call him over Gill and Mara any day. the additional expense is worth the bite on the back end and you'd have your captain which gainey & martin seem unable to find anywhere within that cadre of great attitude, work ethic, more 'durable', 'younger' new recruits.

-for me I do not forsee great things at the end of the year and of course can be dead wrong on that but I see more of the over the 6 years he's done his best but i want better

J.T. said...

The point of this wasn't to absolve Gainey from responsibility for his past errors. I agree he gave away a good chunk of future potential in trading draft picks for Lang, Schneider and Tanguay. But we have the benefit of hindsight. If we remember what was happening at the time, the team had just finished in first place and trading for veteran players seemed the next logical step in improving an already good team. A team can't simply collect draft picks forever and never take a chance at playing for the big prize NOW. Gainey could not have known they'd all get hurt the way they did, so I give him credit for taking a calculated risk that could just as easily have translated to much better things, given better luck. Similarly, when he signed Laraque, it was to address a perceived lack of toughness in the previous year's playoffs. How could he know Laraque had run the tank dry in Pittsburgh? If I recall correctly, most fans were delirious with joy at the acquisition of such a huge tough guy.

I also should have mentioned Spacek in my summary of Gainey's good moves in 2009. Without him, the team would have certainly been sunk with the loss of Markov in the first game.

I think this year's team looks no better than that of the last few years because it hasn't really been intact for most of the season. I see good things developing since the team got healthy, and if they can maintain that health, I think Gainey's work will look much more positive in April than it appears now. No GM is perfect, but Gainey's had a pretty good year overall, unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

That was a solid review JT.

I like what Gainey did in resolving the issues. Guy Carbonneau was a mistake, and I'm not sure Martin is a solution. I suspect that Mr Gainey is attempting to build the coach he needs, based on the criteria given, in Hamiliton. (Frankly though I had thought Carbo was a great move when it happened, the job shadowing perfect, and the outcome sure. It wasn't until the pressure hit in his first full season and Carbo began acting out that I realized my opinion had been emotional, not rational.)

Hockey Hype is a big business, both for agents, and for teams. As a general rule though you have to give up something for something. Think Frank Mahovolich for Redmond, Charron, and Collins. Or Danny Grant for a draft pick in the 1972 season, four years after the fact. (Turned out to be Dave Gardner, but who knew:)I think that under Gainey the biggest change with the team is that they are beginning to get assets to trade again.

People moan about Gomez, or gush over Pleks. If the stats were turned around it would be the reverse of course. GM's have a tough job, and I hope Pleks stays a Hab, but either could put a contender into a parade. Same with many of the guys on the team that Gainey has brought in through FA.

Mr Gainey IMHO has got the team to where they can honestly rebuild. He has done this under constant bombardment, from fans, from the media, and I am sure from ownership. A lot of money has flowed through this company, and Mr Gainey seems to have been able to ensure much of it got to rebuilding the infrastructure.

Myself I see the biggest weakness of the team to be some of the players who were seen as some of it's best assets years ago. Hype. But you can't change a whole team overnight. Chips and Gui are gone this year, and I wish them the best. When a couple others leave I will wish them all the best in their business as well. I would hate to see them stay because of a knee jerk management change.

I believe the Montreal Canadiens developmental organization ended when Sam Pollock retired and management passed Scott Bowman over. How Serge Savard managed to get the most out of the least is still beyond me. I am kind of hoping those days are over and that the rest of this century is going to be brighter for the team than the last 30 years have been. The league has a bucket full of teams and shooting stars that come and go, but only one Montreal Canadiens.

pfhabs said...


-you are absolutely correct in the hindsight comment as all fans, educated in this game at various levels, are not paid to run the CH or any club and have less insight, experience and vision in the cut and thrust of what is happening. however; GMs are paid to know what fans do not; GMs are paid to have vision that fans do not; GMs are paid to foresee the outcome of decisions 2, 3, and 5 years down the road whereas most fans are about what happened last week. so you are right, to some extent I'm working from hindsight, however; Bob and his staff are paid to be a lot better in player selection, development and trades than you and I.

-so renting a soft expensive player like Tanguay for 2 major pics has to be seen as a grave error in judgement because not only did he know the player before he did the deal, he knew at the same time the current cap hit and the potential dollars required to re-sign UFA Alex going forward. that was balanced against 2 high draft choices going to Calgary (CH got a 5th rounder-Maxim Turneev). on balance a deal that had a lot of potential downside that actually came to fruition something Bob and his team are paid to avoid.

-you are right again to say clubs have to make a run for it and not just collect draft choices but do you actually believe this club was a Stanley Cup contender at any point in the last 6 years given the talent on other clubs like Pitts, Detroit, Philly, Boston, WSHDC, San Jose and others. at best they had talent for a second round run and no more unless you believe the waters were going to part again as they did in 1993.

-Laraque is a perfect example; fans were excited because we thought at last an enforcer that could play the game and protect the young guys. however; hockey savvy people like Pierre McGuire, Bob Mackenzie and a couple of others were astounded that a $4.5 million contract was given to a guy that they knew was cut from pittsburgh because he was slow, had major back issues and could no longer compete as he did in the and I were giddy about the signing, hockey insiders were shaking their heads in disbelief and said as much immediately after the signing...they had the inside contacts in Pitt and Edmonton to know why George was not signed by those clubs but Bob did not know. George by the way came to camp with a major disc injury. how could the CH evaluation team miss a back injury so significant...the Ninnimma episode was again repeated and again in Pouliot whose wrist injury was worse than expected...we are not paid to know this, Bob is and he has screwed up 3x on medical issues; actually 4 when you consider that they didn't sign Beauchemin this summer because Gauthier's info ( a former Duck GM himself) said he had a back problem...well 26 minutes a game for the Laffs indicates that Gauthier botched another one.

-I could add other things, in fact I could add about 2 dozen other things over the last 6 years that really are just repeats of mistakes made earlier in their tenure as a management crew

-so small victories absolutely correct but major blunders and battles lost...this war under General Bob is lost and as good as you think they may get this year (not very in my book) they cannot compete with the elite in the east nor the's the same ole same ole

punkster said...

Another good analysis J.T.

Anonymous said...

J.T. thanks for the analysis. Very good as always. Really enjoy your material. I have been reading it for awhile and this is the first time I have posted a comment.

I get a chuckle out of some of the stuff the PF guy has written here... reading the tea leaves always so easy when studied from the rear-view mirror. I recall most people thinking the Tanguay deal was an absolutely great move until he was badly injured... I could be wrong but I think he was leading the team in goals or scoring at the time. He just never came back the same from the injury.

In questioning your contention and Gainey's moves aimed at finding a few missing pieces for a playoff run, he asks whether anyone thought (were foolish enough to think) the Habs were a real Stanley Cup contender anytime in the last six years... yes, last year before the season started virtually everyone who makes predictions on these things had the Canadiens finishing first or second in their Conference and getting to the final. Some picked them to win it (when they weren't picking San Jose - of course in the wonderfull technicolor of hindsight guys like PF can explain the folly in that thinking as well).

I have no idea how this season will pan out and I am hopeful. Gainey has restored some of the luster to the Canadiens after many years of neglect and when he goes, he will leave the team much better than he found it... and if everyone of us could say that about our performance over the last 6-7 years, the world would be a much better place.


J.T. said...

@V: First, thanks for your kind words. I often wonder if anyone reads the things I write, and it's nice to hear they do. Secondly, I agree with your take on hindsight. It's so very easy for people to criticize after the fact. But I'd challenge pfhabs or any of the other Gainey-haters to sit in his seat and actually make a decision based on what they think they know...then live with the consequences.

They say Gainey is paid to have more information than we do. But can money give you a crystal ball? He may know a player was hurt last year, or he's got a difficult agent, but outside of those things...he knows what the rest of us know. He has to look at a player and decide if that guy's going to help the Habs, then he has to decide how much to offer the guy to play in Montreal. Guys like pfhabs have no idea what Gainey faces. They just like to criticize his decisions in hindsight.

pfhabs said...


-as I tell you many times your world is so rose-coloured as to make Polyanna a for "everyone" picking San Jose or the Habs to win the Cup last year well the statement stands as a testament to your hockey acumen or perhaps your revisionist view of history


-Gainey "...knows what the rest of us know..."!

-you've got to be kidding. the rest of us being fans and the GM of an NHL team only knows what the fans of his club know ? please tell me that was a joke.

-hate to tell you but any GM that only knows what the fans know wouldn't make it out of Junior A as a hockey executive. no, Bob knows 100x what you, V and I know, unfortunately he doesn't know as much as other GMs in the NHL know

-I' sure you will not allow this post but thanks for the giggles anyway

-V, you keep up the good fight as Bob et al need the see, hear and speak no evil fans as balance to us "Gainey-haters"

Unknown said...


I find it ironic that pfhabs even reads your articles. Even though you are down on the team sometimes, for the most part, you are fair and positive in your assessment. Pfhabs on the other hand is eternally negative and the GM who is hired after Gainly will also get the full pfrunt of his negativity. I think he needs to switch his allegiances to Burke.

I know you've chided him before but he still keeps coming back. He actually thinks you won't publish his glorious words. Giggle indeed.