Thursday, May 13, 2010

Aftermath: Thanks Bob!

Of all the great moments from what turned out to be a great game last night, I think the very greatest was during a stoppage in play. The TV camera focussed on Bob Gainey, leaning against the pressbox wall in his shirtsleeves while he gazed down on the team he built for the playoffs. As we watched him smile in satisfaction after Brian Gionta scored the team's fifth goal, Penguins GM Ray Shero walked over and shook Gainey's hand, conceding the series.

Gainey has taken a lot of flack for being Silent Bob; the guy who came too late to the free agent party every year and who got rid of players for little or nothing in return. There's no doubt he made some mistakes in his tenure as GM, as has every other general manager in the league. In the end, though, the steely determination and courage Gainey showed in his playing career served him well again when it came time to revamp the team he once captained. He took a huge, ballsy chance when he dumped half of last year's group and rebuilt from the heart out. As Mike Cammalleri said last night, the criticism about the new guys' lack of size, and questions about their durability, have been heard loud and clear all season. Now it's stopped because those little guys, like Gionta and Cammalleri, have proven they can rock the playoffs. Gainey draft picks PK Subban and Jaro Halak have stepped up when it counts. Free agent signings Hal Gill and Jaro Spacek stabilized the blueline and Gainey's best trade acquisition, Josh Gorges, has played a huge role in shutting down the best offensive players in the world over the last fourteen games. Tomas Plekanec, who a lot of GMs would have tossed out with the rest of the disappointing players last year, vindicated Gainey's continued faith in him and harried Sidney Crosby into losing his cool every night. Gainey took a somewhat novel approach in constructing his playoff team, in that he didn't go for the most talent or the biggest bodies. Instead, he chose players who are clutch, who know how to win and who are prepared to give of themselves in a common cause. As we saw last night, hard work and team play can trump talent when it really matters.

Watching Gainey graciously accept his due from Shero was my favourite moment from last night. Also high on the list:

-Gionta's hand-eye coordination on the fifth goal. He's gifted, and he puts himself in the right spot to use his gift, heedless of the physical toll it takes.

-Cammalleri's one-knee one-timer, and his understated goal celebration.

-Halak's massive split save on Malkin.

-Also, Jaro's crazy rush out of the net to beat the Pens to the puck and foil a clear break. It nearly gave me a heart attack, but it was cool in retrospect.

-Hal Gill's big smile after the game, and his statement, "Winning is fun!" This, with no outward sign of the fifty-two stitches in his left calf muscle.

-PK Subban and Dominic Moore's victory chest-bump.

-Crosby getting called for cheap-shotting Gorges, then sitting in the box for the first goal of the game. Karma!

-Plekanec's work on the 4-on-3 PK. He didn't score, but he helped keep Crosby good and frustrated, and his assists count for something too.

-Andrei Kostitsyn's forecheck and interception on the Cammalleri goal. He's so good when he works.

-Lapierre laughing at Orpik after Moore's goal, which happened while Orpik was mauling Lapierre behind the net instead of standing in front of it, where he was supposed to be.

-Fleury getting yanked, then smashing his stick in the tunnel.

-Kirk Muller and Jacques Martin beaming in their lucky ties while they congratulated each other.

-Travis Moen's excellent PK work and scoring short-handed while Gonchar just gaped at him as he blew past. He worked like a Trojan all game and hit everything that moved. Nobody deserved to score more than him.

There were many others as well, but those are the moments that sparkle against the backdrop of a truly great game. This is a special team, and it's having a special playoff. I hope it culminates in some big, shiny hardware sometime in June, but even if it doesn't, if the only things you can ask of a team are that it give its best and never quit, we're getting that and more. It's been a long time since I've been so excited about the Habs, and I have to thank Bob Gainey for that.

Now, if you've got six minutes to spare, have a look at this. The great Stan Rogers was singing about a boat, but he could easily have written this about our team. Go Habs, go!


Unknown said...

Thanks for that link -- cool. I'll be playing at Hurley's in Montreal this weekend and will sing that one with a new appreciation for it. :-)

Anonymous said...

JT - Kudos to Bob for many of his moves, but let's keep a couple of things in perspective.

- The offseason blowup: he didn't have much choice; it was either that or he was gone. And he still tried to sign Kovalev at the end.

- None of this would be happening with Price between the pipes. Gainey's stubborness with respect to goaltending (even going as far as shopping Halak around this winter) is arguably what did him in and prompted his resignation. It almost cost the Habs a spot in the Big Dance. Can you imagine?

Major congratulations are in order, however, for the following moves:

1- Hiring Martin as coach. Montreal is no longer a training ground for young coaches who will be better in their next job. Martin brought maturity, command of the dressing room and a system that ironically for him, works well in the playoffs when he has the goaltending to back it up (which he never got in the past). Pearn and Muller do solid work as assistants and so does Boucher in Hamilton, but JT, it's time to show some good faith and give Martin his due. He's not exciting, but he's very solid overall and his press conferences have redefined the very concept of unintentional comedy.

2- The Gomez trade: you take on salary, but you get rid of a bad apple in Higgins. Having Gomez before July 1st means getting Gionta and Cammalleri. Besides, the second-best player in that trade comes our way as well in the person of Tom Pyatt. Martin and Boucher have done great work with him.

3- Gill: What an inspired move. Hats off to Bob on that one.

4- Trading Tender: not that Pouliot is doing much right now but he was a critical player during the season: he got Gomez going after a slow start. Tender's trade also helped lit a fuse under Lapierre, who started playing better after the trade and who simply became a different player upon his return from the suspension.

5- Moen: leadership and grit. What a game he plyed last night.

6- MAB: he's a heart attack waiting to happen but the way he played after being picked up from the scrap heap was something to behold. He provided instant offense at a time when the team desperately needed it. Heck, sometimes he can provide instant offense for both teams!

7- Spacek: Had a slow start, but had to play on his wrong side all season, which is a hard thing to learn at 35.

Some offseason retooling indeed. Ironically, this is exactly the kind of team where a guy like number 23 would have been a great captain.

Anvilcloud said...

"...and rebuilt from the heart out." Excellent.

It's nice to be reminded of Stan; it's been awhile since I've thought of him. An internet acquaintance from Oz, who's into folk music, calls him Saint Stan. Apparently, he's still quite revered by at least some Down Under.

NorCalVol said...

JT - the best thing about this post was that you reminded us how many great moments there were in last night's game.
That's what tends to happen when you dethrone the defending champion on their ice in a game 7 with the best game of the season.
Great things happen when (1) you work hard and (2) work together as a team. That approach can make up for a lot of inadequacies in certain spots, and it certainly can make dreams come true.
The first star of these playoffs so far has to be Halak - without him, none of this is possible.
Right people in the right places at the right time - the stars are aligning in the shape of a big, tall, silver goblet.
And now, some badly-needed and well-deserved rest.
Won't it be fun just to sit back and watch the Bruins and Flyers toil in their game seven to see who gets the privilege to play the Habs!

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Anonymous!

I was going to post something similar about JM and ass., but you beat me to it. JM took a lot of heat this year, too much heat. And when the camera would zoom in on him, I felt nothing but compassion for him. He was scrutinized, criticized and traded in the minds of the fans (some), before the playoffs even started. What if his team finally played the system he's been preaching to them all this time? (Hey, why doesn't NHL make a 'history will be made' clip on him!)

It takes a team to get to where we are and that means a team on the bench and behind the bench.

So, Monsieur Jacques Martin, my hat off to you for leading this miracle team.

Anonymous said...

Ironic that the player that Bob ignored and disrespected his entire tenure is the one to provide redemption. Great goalies have done that throughout history for GM's and coaches.

Paul B. said...

What a special bunch of players !!!

According to Martin Maguire, last night after they had all went to the dressing-room (after the win), they closed the door and all gathered in the center of the room, very close together and began singing Ole, Ole Ole. When the celebration was over, they let in the reporters, cameramen and photographs.

Kyle Roussel said...

This may be the biggest up and down season in the history of the Habs. At least it is in my life time.

I was one of those people who wanted to Jacques Martin shipped far away. Through 82 games, he was a square peg in a round hole. Even minus the injuries, something didn't make sense. Then the playoffs started, and he's saved his job in my mind. Though we cannot forget the HUGELY increased role that Kirk Muller has taken on. He's doing a lot more inspiring and teaching than we may know.

Gainey is earning his credit now. His moves are all paying off, but Anonymous got it right: he chose Kovalev over Gionta. Anyone want Kovy over Gio right now? And yes, if Gainey were still around, Price would have had the lions' share of starts. Who knows what would have happened there. Instead, we get Halak who steals the show night after night and almost literally put the team in the playoffs by himself. He was god-like vs the Capitals and not much worse vs Pittsburgh. Without Halak, are we singing the same praises today? I don't know about that one. But, he did ice a new team that we all care deeply about. Better, he signed guys who care deeply, and he deserves credit for that. I'll reserve the final laurels when we see what sort of position Gauthier has to move this summer.

But first things first, we get a crack at revenge vs either Philly or Boston. What can be sweeter than to avenge the sweep from last year, or the Biron beatdown from 2008?

Anonymous said...

I have heard the Mary Ellen Carter many times, & it's a great song by Stan Rogers. Those Canadiens do keep rising again, don't they! I still find it hard (almost impossible) to believe what they have done in the playoffs. They are half way there, & what a feat that would be - to win the Cup. This playoff run would then become another legend in the Canadiens' storied history.

I thoroughly enjoyed your appearance on the CBC morning show on Monday past, with fellow guest Bob Simmonds, & host Jeff (leaf fan) Gilhooly. It was very upbeat. Simmonds also was on CBC TV news last night, all dressed up in his Habs' attire. The radio show is now on podcast.

Montreal Canadiens' mania appears to be sweeping over St. John's. Even my wife was cheering for the Habs last night, & she seldom watches a hockey game.

Happy Days are here again!

Ed from HIO

Unknown said...

Beautiful list of special moments. One of my faves was Gionta coming over to PK's defense when Cooke was trying to rough up the rookie. Gionta got all up in Cooke's face, and PK skated off nonchalantly. A veteran looking out for another member of his team, and a shining, perfect example of what these boys are all about.

NorCalVol said...

@Tyg: I noticed that wonderful moment, too. It was great how the veteran did his job just as you described.
These Habs are a band of brothers.

Anonymous said...

Also, a special thanks to Glen Sather for his salary dump to get Gaborik. Gomez and Pyatt contributing to a Stanley Cup run while Higgins was signed for one year and dumped with the two defense prospects that will never play in the NHL. Go Rangers!

lisa said...

seeing Bob's smile last night was one of my favourite moments too. I was very happy for him. Be proud Bob. I love this team!

Humberto said...

its been super amazing, i love this season, i went from happy to yelling, to happy to yelling in joy and anger at times, i have since forgiven Gill for his lamo season looking lost, but in the playoffs he became a beast, and hardworking.

thanks for the many awesome blogs through the year, i love them and i look forward to many more and as i stated in another blog.

The pens opened that lame arena with a loss to Les Canadiens (2-1) and the Habs went on to win the cup that same season.

Now close it to the Habs in a perfect loss. Can anyone see a sign? i think i do, and its BRIGHT

boo said...

For people talking about Bob's treatment of Halak, you've got to remember this all started when Price helped lead Hamilton to the Calder Cup. That was supposed to be Halak, but he wanted to play in the worlds instead.

I'm not defending Bob here, but I think that didn't sit well with him and affected Halak's tenure with the team.

V said...

JT... unless you have already done this, how about a 'Post Aftermath: Thanks Jacques Martin!' article.

Isn't it time you two kissed and made up.

By the way, anyone seen pfhabs?

J.T. said...

@V: Nope. I'm not going to go nuts over Martin. I think he's been fine during the playoffs, but I have reason to believe Kirk Muller is actually doing a lot of the coaching this post-season.

@boo: Halak didn't have much of a choice about playing in the Worlds in 2007. He was basically told to go because Price's junior team had been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Habs wanted to get him into some higher-level games in Hamilton. Yann Danis was the established veteran there, so Halak was the odd-guy out when it came time to make room for Price. Gainey gave him the option of going to the Worlds, rather than have him sit in Hamilton during the playoffs.