Time runs out on Habs GM Gainey
The five-year plan ultimate didn't work any better for
You see, this was how it was going to work in the city that still believes in hockey fairy tales. Gainey, with one Stanley Cup as a general manager in Dallas, would remake the once-proud Montreal Canadiens one year at a time with draft picks and judicious trades and signings. With the hockey gods' permission, in five seasons -- culminating in the team's centennial of 2008-09 -- the Canadiens would reaffirm their birthright by winning the Cup and throwing those fabulous made-in-Montreal parades.
And then everyone was going to live happily ever after (or at least until the power play went 0-for-16 the following season). The end.
Well, five seasons turned into six with almost nothing to show for it. There was a surprisingly strong run in 2007-08 when the Canadiens were the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season -- and seemingly poised to mount the next step the following year, right on schedule -- but they faltered in the 2008 playoffs and barely qualified in 2009. Considering how Boston brushed them aside last April like a man picking lint off his blue suit, you almost wonder why the Canadiens even bothered.
With the team now on the far side of the mountain after the failure of his first five-year plan, Gainey had no choice but to begin a new one. It included a stunning summer during which he did not re-sign any of his 10 unrestricted free agents and looked elsewhere to stockpile skilled but pint-sized forwards who are better suited to battling Gulliver than the elite teams in the conference. Montreal's financial flexibility vanished in the blink of an eye with the signings of
Like the gift that keeps on giving, those astonishing contracts can now bedevil Gainey's interim successor, assistant
The profligacy that took the Canadiens to the cap for 2009-10 (and the financial box for the next five years) ultimately might not have sat well with the new Montreal ownership fronted by
Still, the resignation on Monday was Gainey's choice. He said he didn't want to remain in the job after his contract expired following the season. After a difficult period of reflection, and with the trade deadline looming on March 3, he decided "to pass the torch" now. When asked what he will do with his time -- beyond his role as a special advisor to Gauthier -- Gainey said he wasn't quite sure. Maybe, he said with his inscrutable smile, he'd learn to play the piano.
Gainey's costly summer was just the landmark moment of a tenure that began in 2003. There were underlying and revelatory themes, constants that marked a tenure in which the franchise brand recovered -- book it: a sold-out 21,273 fans per game -- but the hockey team often seemed to be skating into a 20-mile-per-hour headwind.
Here are four:
While Montreal's amateur scouting has been constantly scrutinized because of the inability to hit a first-round home run -- the jury is still out on 22-year-old goalie
Sure, there were good ones. Moving
Maybe this is not quite as damning as it sounds. Gainey lost
When Gainey did manage to bag a free-agent player in 2009, he generally paid first-line money to second-line players. This will go down as his biggest failure in Montreal: the GM never could manage to find the blend of size and skill that top teams have on their top lines. After the strong 2008 playoffs in which Boston mussed the Canadiens' hair in a difficult first round, Gainey overpaid for the essentially useless
Sometimes Gainey moved smartly -- securing the rights to Sundin -- and sometimes quickly. He left the young Price without a safety net in the 2008 playoffs by trading soon-to-be-UFA
Because of a philosophical opposition to negotiating contracts during the season, Montreal let defensemen such as
In 2003 Gainey inherited
Carbonneau's personality was never going to allow him to have a long shelf life, but it was shocking when Gainey fired him less than a season after the team's first-place finish. After Gainey 2.0 was a failure behind the bench, he opted to hire a coach, Martin, who had not been able to get Florida into the playoffs. Martin did, however, speak French -- one of the tacit requirements of the job.
Gainey is an easy man to like and a tough one to know, even for someone who has been acquainted with him since 1979. He keeps his counsel. When his daughter Laura perished after being swept overboard on a ship in the North Atlanta in December 2006, the guessing was that Gainey would soon walk away from the job. That was always the thing with him. If you guessed, you were probably going to be wrong.
When the Canadiens celebrated the 100th anniversary of their first game last Dec. 4, the franchise, classy as always, flew in many of their alumni to join the celebration. One of Gainey's teammates from the 1980s was kibitzing with the general manager when Gainey said, "Maybe the game has passed us both by." The line seemed funny then. It is less droll today.
The next GM of the Canadiens should be
In the sixth year of a five-year plan, it is time.