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Taking stock of the Canadiens, Wild and Avalanche situations


News, opinion and gossip, all in 45-second shifts . . .

The Montreal Canadiens situation:

For the first time in our faulty memory, a GM has blamed his team's problems, at least in part, on the GM of another organization.

In addition to second-half injuries, Montreal's Bob Gainey said Lightning GM Brian Lawton's alleged shopping in January for a better deal for captain Vincent Lecavalier by revealing the players Gainey was offering -- Josh Gorges, Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec -- had a deleterious effect on the Canadiens once the names surfaced. (Lawton denied all impropriety in his trade talks with any club.) If those players can't handle a trade rumor, especially in Montreal, they are playing in the wrong city.

Gainey apparently will remain as GM, saying at a break-up news conference after his team's four-game capitulation to Boston that he still has work to do. With 10 unrestricted free agents -- including captain Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Alex Tanguay and Mike Komisarek -- that's an understatement. He will also have to hire a coach. With Lemaire, Part Deux an apparent non-starter and a proclaimed need for an experienced bilingual coach, the short list would appear to be Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford -- assuming Jacques Martin stays as the Panthers' GM.

Now, Crawford is not quite bilingual. (At least, most French people don't think so.) But he is close enough. He does speak hockey French. (Caught him on a Radio-Canada interview about Canucks winger Alexandre Burrows, and he did fine. Like Gainey, Crawford always finds a way to make himself understood.)

And Crawford, who is married to a franco-Ontarian, will outwork anyone to improve. When he coached the Quebec Nordiques 15 years ago, On the Fly found Mr. Berlitz in his office working with a French tutor at 8 a.m, which is not all that remarkable except that he hadn't arrived home until 2:30 that morning from a game in Chicago.

The Minnesota Wild situation:

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A relatively new owner, Craig Leipold, was sensitive to the criticism that the organization was taking in the Twin Cities, and that's one of the reasons why he decided to fire general manager Doug Risebrough. Although Nashville GM David Poile recently re-upped with the Predators and won't follow his former boss to the State of Hockey, Leipold likely will be interested in Poile's input as he goes about filling the new position in the next four weeks or so.

One name that keeps circulating is Pierre McGuire, the passionate and knowledgeable TSN/NBC broadcaster (and SI special contributor) who coached in the 1990s. He's an out-of-the-box possibility that would be a wake-up call in a market that has been resolutely conservative. (Poile, for that matter, is among the most conservative of GMs.) McGuire, who never has run a team but who is never short on ideas, told On The Fly this week that he had not been contacted.

McGuire might be a reach, but Leipold will be wise to look beyond the Wild organization for the next GM. As principled and solid a hockey man as Risebrough is, a certain stasis had gripped the organization in recent years under the only GM in the franchise's history. Minnesota, with a loyal and patient fan base, needs to be reenergized or the Xcel Energy Center will stop being an automatic sellout.

Risebrough used to say that one of the worst things that ever happened to the Wild was their out-of-left-field run to the Western Conference Final in 2003 because it unfairly raised expectations. In fact, for a long time, fans accepted middle-of-the-pack status for a franchise that didn't break through the first playoff round again. But the cavalry isn't coming to the Twin Cities. The Wild cupboard is bare in the minors and junior hockey, at least compared to an organization like St. Louis.

The Wild needs to get active in the free-agent market as a stopgap until it can rebuild infrastructure, which should be marginally easier since Jacques Lemaire was wise enough to resign. (If Brent Sutter leaves New Jersey after this season, Lemaire could resurface with the Devils.) Lemaire is the best teacher in the game, but he is not exactly a draw for free agents who are looking to post some big numbers -- beyond the ones in their contracts, of course.

The Colorado Avalanche situation:

With Pierre Lacroix returning to take a more active role, he needs a strong working relationship with a GM who is able to sublimate his own role and ego. Although Lacroix has said the team plans to stay "in house," Neil Smith could be a candidate. Lacroix and Smith, who is now doing some broadcasting and consulting work, once had a strong bond. The question: would Smith, GM of the 1994 New York Rangers' Stanley Cup team, be willing to work in a different sort of management set-up? He didn't fare well in his 40 days and 40 nights as New York Islanders GM before owner Charles Wang shocked everyone by replacing him with backup goalie Garth Snow, but Smith is eager to get a team and likely will be malleable enough, especially considering Lacroix's superb track record.

Another name to ponder is Jay Feaster, who was GM of the Colorado AHL affiliate before he became a Cup-winning GM with Tampa Bay. Feaster has been doing a lot of scouting, on his own, to stay current with the league since being purged last summer by the Lightning's new ownership. He is tanned, rested and ready.

Two men who should be GMs, one now and one a little later: Chuck Fletcher, the assistant GM in Pittsburgh, has compiled a superb résumé in 16 years with Florida, Anaheim and now the Penguins. Of all the current assistants, he and Detroit's Jim Nill are best qualified to be a first-time GM.

A little lower on the food chain is Claude Loiselle, who is buried under the rubble in Tampa Bay. He was a middling NHL player who went to law school, worked for the league, and survived the topsy-turvy situation with the Lightning. He knows the game and the CBA. Although he has not spent much time as a talent evaluator, he should be a superb candidate in a few years.