While this year's Free Agency period was filled with inflated contracts and long-term deals, only a few GM's sat back and watched the insanity unfold.
One of those GM's is Bob Gainey, a man who is responsible for the Canadiens' uprise to 1st place in the Eastern Conference with a very young team. While they stumbled in the playoffs, ultimately getting defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers, it really didn't come as a surprise when you take into account how inexperienced the club was. And after deciding to go with a Carey Price/Jaroslav Halak tandem in the playoffs -- 20 and 22 years old respectively --the Habs knew what they were getting into. Despite what some critics have to say of Price's performance, the experience will do wonders for his development.
After the playoffs concluded and players like Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrei Kostitsyn and others all had a taste of the storied Stanley Cup playoffs, Gainey has placed his trust in the youngsters once again, adding little help from the outside. Doing this, he ensures his young stars to have more responsibilities and ice-time next season, ultimately playing a bigger role on the club.
Gainey started his moves at the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa. Acquiring Alex Tanguay in a deal that sent the Habs' 1st overall pick at this year's draft as well as their 2nd round pick in 2009 to the Flames. The deal finally ensures a winger for Captain Saku Koivu -- considering the A.Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Kovalev line is still very much intact. Going into the 2008-09 season, it appears the Habs will have one of the more deadly scoring lines the league, displaying speed, tenacity and a scoring touch all at once.
When July 1st struck the calendar, GM's were working the phones, agreeing to terms with many lucrative contracts. Among this, Gainey sat patiently in the wings, waiting for an undecided Mats Sundin. His patience spoke clearer than words. He was content with his young and talented club and the only major upgrade he was interested in was the services of the 'Big Swede'. Since then, he's signed George Laraque, a native of Montreal, adding toughness and character to the team.
Instead of locking the Canadiens with inflated, long-term deals (ones that many clubs will be regretting in a few years time - I'm looking at you, New York Rangers), Gainey stayed clear of all the excitement. While the UFA period is a great day for the NHL and its fans, it only takes a couple of days to sit back and analyze how risky a lot of these signing really are. If you ask me, the GM's who stay clear of the madness, only making minor splashes, are the ones who usually come out on top (depending on the situation of the team of course).
As it stands, the Habs have the brightest future out of any team in the NHL, and clogging the minutes of their young players would be a shame, one that would make them take a step sideways. What Gainey has done so far (and he appears to be basically done) is keep the core intact while adding valuable pieces to strengthen the team overall. While the youngsters will decide what direction the Habs go next season, they will build off the leadership and talent of players like Koivu, Tanguay and Kovalev leading the charge. With all that said, however, the future of the Habs largely depends on one player, one who I have no doubt will be a superstar in the years to come. That player is Carey Price, and at the age of 20 years old he's more than impressed the masses with his debut season. I'm very confident in saying that Price will among the better goaltenders in the league next season, and that really scares me as a Leafs fan.
The city of Montreal has reason to celebrate, as their time will come once again. The only question now, is when.