I hate to be the bearer of bad news to Habs fans out there. Especially on the heels of such an emotional 24-hours in which we lost our inspirational captain, and our flame of offensive passion. It seems like just yesterday that I, for the first time in my short life, felt like I was in the presence of a true Stanley Cup Contender going into a season. Compared to the excitement that reverberated around the team in the off-season of 2008, 2009 has been unfortunately grim. Last season identified some truths about the National Hockey League and about our team that cannot be overlooked. Here is a look back at last off-season, and a look forward at the commencement of generation G - as in Gomez and Gionta - here in the cradle of organized sports.
It all started at the draft, when Montreal acquired former Stanley Cup Champion LW Alex Tanguay and a 2008 fifth-round pick from the Calgary Flames for a 2008 first-round pick and a 2009 second-round pick.
Gainey also traded C Mikhail Grabovski to the Leafs for a prospect and a 2nd round draft pick, which he then swung to the Blackhawks to acquire veteran C Robert Lang.
Going into last year the view was a lot more optimistic. A line of AK46-Pleky-Kovy was potent the year before, Koivu had finally got a potent winger in Alex Tanguay and a power forward like Chris Higgins, while Lang could center what was thought to be the BEST third line in the league, between Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn. Lapierre, Laraque (another signing), and Tom Kostopolous would be a solid 4th line. Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, Gorges, Bouillon, O'Byrne was thought to be a good defense corps, while Carey Price was expected to take off after a good rookie campaign.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out the way we had planned.
Tanguay went on to score 41 points in 50 games while being hampered by injuries that followed him into the playoffs. He will not be returning to Montreal for next season.
Grabovski scored 48 points in 78 games before re-signing with the leafs, while Lang, who was a dependable scoring through the first half of the season, succombed to injury and recorded only 39 points in 50 games.
Kovalev couldn't match his output from last season and was often noticeable only when giving up the puck at the offensive blue-line. Plekanec couldn't find chemistry with anyone, and played like a "little girl", SK74 totally fell off the map, Price flopped, Komi crumbled....I could go on forever, basically, FAILURE is the only appropriate word.
In terms of the team going into this year, I'm not sold. I have been of the opinion for some time now that the Montreal Canadiens had a two year window, and now they have to wait until prospects like Subban, McDonaugh, Leblanc, and others mature before it will re-open. It crushed my soul that Bob traded one of those crucial future pieces, and he hasn't changed my opinion, he hasn't been able to make that window budge. The Montreal Canadiens that start 09-10 may be better than those that finished 08-09, but that isn't saying much for a team whose injury list was longer than David Ortiz's grocery list (sorry I'm a Red-Sox hater)!
I don't like the depth on this team, with no possible injury-replacements for Gomez or Plekanec, and not a lot of extras on D. For the one nicknamed Plan B Bob, Gainey seems uncharacteristically unprepared for Plan B. Maybe it's because he realizes that this year is his last hope, that this time he can't save himself by firing a coach, or calling out an opposing GM. Unfortunately, this team will finish in the middle of the Eastern Conference once again, possibly seventh, losing to the Stanley Cup Finalist Philadelphia Flyers. I like to hope that on the same day that Bob Gainey's term as our GM is brought to an end, the man who he told would not be a part of his plans any longer will finally hoist his first Stanley Cup, in Anaheim, with an organization that to him, just won't feel like home. With P.K. Subban and a big #1 center to be named later, our great Tricolore will hoist the Stanley Cup again, but only if Gainey, or whoever succeeds him, doesnt try so hard to jam open the window that he drops it on his thumb!