Over the last few months, there has been a lot of talk in the city of Montreal about Bob Gainey's failings as a GM. Not about him as a person, mind you, as Gainey is a classy, respectful individual through and through. No, talk has been more of an indictment of his professional skills. So yesterday, when news broke that he was stepping aside, the Canadiens fan base was energized with the thought of heading in a new direction.
It had become clear, over the last few years, that Gainey was a man who's management style was more in line with the pre-lockout NHL than the current version of the game.
In the pre-lockout days, if your owner's pockets were deep enough and his mind was willing enough, you could pretty much buy a contending team. Now, money doesn't guarantee success—as the New York Rangers have seen year after year—but it does give a lot more flexibility to the management team.
In the old days, a GM could throw as much money as possible at top players in an effort to acquire a great collection of talent. If the player didn't work out with the team, the GM could just buy them out at the end of the season without blinking an eye.
As such, GM's were able to walk away from erroneous player acquisitions and just go fishing for new ones in the free agent or trade markets. If the owner had the means, money wasn't an obstacle to success.
In Montreal, however, Gainey's old strategies have not worked out as well. In the post-lockout, salary capped-NHL, you can't just throw money at a problem and hope it works out. Free agent mistakes can severely handicap a team, as they can be stuck with an albatross of a contract for years.
The Scott Gomez contract, for example, is the perfect illustration of this problem. Gomez, who is a talented player, is not worth anywhere near his $7.357 million cap hit. In reality, he is likely worth about half of that. The problem now is that unless they can convince some other sucker GM to take him off of their hands, the Habs are stuck with his contract for the next four years.
In the old NHL, GMs could just buyout his contract without having to worry about any salary cap ramifications. Now, however, buying out his contract will result in a substantial cap hit for the next eight years—double his remaining term—and as such, Gomez is largely untradeable.
A second glaring mistake that Gainey has made year after year, was to let valuable assets walk away from the team without getting anything in return.
Komisarek, Souray, Streit, Koivu, Tanguay, Kovalev just to name a few players, could have netted the Canadiens a bunch of draft picks and/or prospects and/or roster players. Instead, one-by-one, Gainey chose to let them walk away with no compensation. This is a strategy that can cripple a team and has done major damage to the depth of the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Another mistake that Gainey made was to thrust Price into the spotlight too soon and then keep him there despite his struggles. While I, personally, feel that Price does have the potential to become an elite goaltender in this league, I think that Gainey should have shown more patience with him.
Rather than keeping Price with the team when he was struggling early on, they should have sent him back to Hamilton to get his game up to speed. Conversely, if Gainey was hell-bent on keeping Price in Montreal, he should have better insulated his star prodigy. The best way to do that would have been to go out and get a veteran backup to help guide and mold Price.
Gainey's best chance to insulate Price was when he traded Huet. It was at that time that he should have brought in a veteran backup to help Price. Unfortunately, Gainey did not do this and Price, and the team, have suffered for it ever since.
Another huge failing of the Bob Gainey era is that his professional scouting department has been weak. This is the department that was headed up by now Habs GM, Pierre Gauthier. Gauthier, so you know, is the man under who's watch both Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya left the team, when he was in Anaheim. He was also the guy who told Gainey that Gill and Mara would make excellent additions to the Habs roster. Gauthier convinced Gainey that Spacek was still at the top of his game, when he signed him this summer as well as telling him that Streit was a one-hit wonder.
All of this to say that it is a generally accepted notion that Gauthier's track record for pro scouting is poor, to say the least. Despite this undeniable truth, Gainey chose to make Gauthier the head of that very important hockey department and this move too, has caused the Habs a lot of problems.
With Gainey's announcement that he was stepping aside, the Habs had a great opportunity to make a departure from the management group that has led them for the last seven years. Given that the Habs have never made it past the second round of the playoffs during Gainey's tenure, you would think that they would want to try something different.
Perhaps with the timing of Gainey's resignation—just before the two week Olympic break—the Canadiens brass would slap an "interim" tag at the front of Pierre Gauthier's GM title, and do an exhaustive search to determine who would be best suited to the position.
Who knows, maybe after the search they would have determined that Gauthier was still the best candidate for the job. But to outright name him THE guy, without considering any other candidates makes me scratch my head and wonder why.
Judging from the largely negative reaction of people on Twitter and fan boards across the city, it seems like the Habs fan base is also upset about this move.
My problem is not so much with Gauthier but more with the Habs' rush to name him as GM. What was the rush? Why didn't the Habs name him as interim GM, if only until the end of the season, in order to see what options were out there?
But alas, the deed has been done. Gainey is gone and his right-hand man, Gauthier, is here to take over. I think, out of fairness to the man, we have to reserve judgment until we see what Gauthier can do. He has a lot of pressure on his shoulders and some very important decisions to make.
On the more immediate horizon, Gauthier has to tackle the Olympic trade deadline, the March 3rd NHL trade deadline, Plekanec's contract and Halak and Price's contract renewals and/or trades.
With all of these balls up in that air at the same time, we have to hope that Gauthier knows how to juggle. To his credit, there were some encouraging signs from his press conference, as Gauthier explained that the Habs have already started talking with Plekanec's agent. He also explained that he was happy with the goaltending situation and that Halak was not being traded.
Nice words, but let's not forget that he said the same thing about Kariya, in Anaheim, the week before he traded him. So hold on to your hats, ladies and gentleman, because this ride might get a little bumpy.
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