Well, some of you will argue with me that I'm homer right now when I say that Bob Gainey is tonight the happiest GM in the NHL - see the happiest man in the world -. Well, every single decision taken by Gainey so far have paid a lot for the Montreal Canadiens.
There are seveeral parts in a GM's job. But Mr. Gainey has managed his team masterfully in every single way in the last couple of year.
Some may say Gainey didn't have the best track record on the UFA signings and the trades department in his years as the Habs GM. But this summer, it's hard to argue with what he's been building.
Yeah, Montreal has had a hard November month, and yeah, the team has yet to show its real identity and has yet to fullfill its actual potential - though in the last 3 games, they've been playing amazingly well and have given the fans what they were looking forward to see back in the summer -. However, the decisions taken by Gainey were absolutely brilliant.
As we speak right now, the first two goalscorers for the Habs are two newcomers Alex Tanguay (9 goals 9 assists 18 points) and Robert Lang (8 goals 9 assists 17 points). Alex Tanguay has been playing amazingly well so far. Even though he had some kind of difficulties in the last 6 games (he finally scored tonight in the 6-2 win against the Rangers), he was creating things and working hard. We can even sometimes see him show some hustle and energy along the board. His speed is lethal, and the most amazing thing in Alex's game is how he finds every passing lane and always picks every single opportunity to feed his linemates. I'd like to see him even more, because in my opinion, despite being currently 4th in points for the Habs, he's the best all around player and is showing a lot of promise. After all, he's barely 2 years and a half older than Plekanec. Alex is just entering his prime, and if it's all about him, I know from good sources that he'll come back with the Habs next year.
Robert Lang has had his share of critics so far in the season. I really don't understand the journalists who claim he's another Bonk or Smolinski. We got ouselves a great veteran, who seems to fit the Habs game perfectly. He has soft hands, and is much faster than what I expected. Let's not forget something : He's been playing with about every single winger in the team, and has been showing consistency despite being put in a role when he faces the opposition's best line more often than not. He's a great vet, and in the playoffs, centermen depth is very important as we saw last year.
The expiring contract
Another reason why Bob Gainey has every single reason to be the happiest man in the world is ironically the expring contracts this offseason. With the financial crisis and the financial incertitude for the next few years, we don't know how the salary cap is going to react. However, no matter if the cap goes up or down, Gainey now has the possibility to entirely structure his salary chart depending on the new numbers. He'll be able to make the right decisions accordingly, and will not have to sacrify the future of the franchise, as the young guns have not been signed to huge contracts just yet. Let's take for example the Philadelphia Flyers. If the cap goes down to, let's say, 50M$, they're going to face some really rough decisions. I would be sad for them if they had to sacrify one of Jeff Carter or Mike Richards to cut the payroll. Well, the Habs won't have to face this kind of decisions. That's the avantange of handling the salary cap the way Gainey does.
In the last couple of games, the Habs have been playing really well. What's so amazing in this is that two of Habs regulars - Sergei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse - were left in the press box in the last two games. Indeed, these two younglings were not meeting up the expectations this year so far and were replaced by 22 years old, 6', 201 pounds, winger prospect Matt D'Agostini, who has now scored 2 goals and 1 assist for a total of 3 points in 3 games so far this year. Matt is playing awesome, and some veterans now to worry for their roster spot. Chris Higgins, who has not been meeting up the expectations this year so far has every reason to worry, as Matt is doing exactly what Habs fans hope Chris to do. D'Agostini plays an energitic, fast-paced, driving-the-net type of game, and coach Guy Carbonneau even said tonight that if D'Agostini keeps it up, he'll force the organization to take some important decisions.
To me, Matt is some kind of interesting mix between Michael Ryder and Chris Higgins.
Price is right
Several fans did not agree with Gainey's decision to trade Huet away for a 2nd round pick in the last February 26th trade deadline. Now, we all can say it was worth it. Price has had his ups and downs in the last playoffs, but how would it be right now, if he was asked to be the number one goalie without any playoffs experience, right in the franchises' 100th aniversary? This, plus the fact that Huet is not playing good at all in Chicago... In fact, he's not even playing regularly, as Nikolai Khabibulin has been outplaying him. We got a 2nd round pick for a player we were going to lose anyway, which is great. Bob Gainey has done a fantastic job lately as far as assets management is concerned. Mikhail Grabovski was no longer willing to play in Montreal, and we got D-prospect Greg Pateryn and the Leafs' 2nd round pick - later traded to Chicago in exchange of Robert Lang - for him. The 2nd rounder acquired in Huet's trade from Washington this past deadline gave Gainey the liberty to put his hands on Alex Tanguay at the draft this summer.
Either way, Gainey is doing a great job. In the new context of the NHL, teams always have some kind of 2 or 3 years windows in which they can hope to win it all. Gainey now makes sure to extend ours much longer, and he's doing an admirable job in the process.