Looking back on the Centennial season, the first emotions that come to mind are disappointment and frustration.
Did the Canadiens overachieve last year? Probably. Did they underachieve this year? Not in my opinion, if you consider the facts and the obstacles the 2008-09 Canadiens had to face all season long.
First of all, the team's President, Pierre Boivin, has not helped his team's cause with his overzealous declarations over the last few years. I find it strange that a man who has nothing to do with the team's hockey operations is able to make declarations such as "We will go out and sign a big-name free agent this summer...", "This team needs a French-Canadian superstar, and that's our goal...", and "The next head coach will be Francophone..." without being criticized. Then again, it seems that being French-Canadian absolves anyone related to the Montreal Canadiens from harsh criticism.
On that note, there's the Bob Gainey situation. As far as I'm concerned, Bob Gainey has been this team's best GM since the departure of Sam Pollock. He obviously hasn't been as successful as he had hoped when outlining his "Five-Year Plan", but we must give credit where credit is due. Gone are the days of a lean scouting department which caused most fans to scratch their heads raw on draft day. Gainey has put a top-notch scouting department in place with Trevor Timmins at the helm, and although some of his moves can be questioned, he has done well overall when we consider he inherited when he took the job. The firing of head coach Guy Carbonneau was necessary in my opinion, but the timing was questionable (as many have already said).
The free agents situation was a much talked-about dilemma this season, but I'm not certain we can attribute the team's perceived shortcomings on that alone. After all, isn't it popular belief that impending UFAs tend to raise their level of play during a contract year? But, this being Montreal, the media and many of the fans would have you believe that "it's hard to push yourself playing for a team that may not want to keep you". Speaking of free agents, happy trails to Mathieu Dandenault, Patrice Brisebois and Francis Bouillon. Some of the others may leave as well, such as Tom Kostopoulos, Mike Komisarek, Robert Lang and Mathieu Schneider. In my honest opinion, the ones Gainey must re-sign are Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, and Alex Tanguay...at reduced salaries, mind you. If any of those 3 players ask for salaries close to what they took home this season, then let them walk. Mike Komisarek will have to settle for far less than what most Canadiens' fans were estimating in the early goings of the season, as he is now looking like a $2-3 million defenseman rather than a $5 million defenseman.
Let's face it: Whether you are a GM, coach, or player in Montreal, you're constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sometimes, you just can't win no matter what you say, not matter what the situation is. It's unfair most of the time, but that all comes with the territory when playing in one of pro sports toughest markets. The city and its fans expect nothing but the best, given the club's rich history and past success. It's the worst place to be when you lose, but it's the best place to be when you win.
Big changes are likely on the way for our Canadiens this summer. The draft should be very interesting, as I firmly believe the team will make a BIG push to obtain Martin St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier from Tampa Bay in what will have to be a big package deal. As frustrating as it may be, we should expect to see some of our favorite prospects (PK Subban comes to mind) to be included in such a proposal. A big risk must be taken in order to hope for a big return.
One thing's for sure: The way this season has unfolded has left many of us (myself included) hungry for more...I got caught up in the high hopes brought forth by the Centennial, and I'm hungry for more. It promises to be a very interesting offseason for the Habs which may turn out to drastically change the face of our beloved franchise.