Some 24 hours after the dust settled on the Montreal Canadiens’ centennial season, head coach and General Manager Bob Gainey addressed a packed media contingent at the team’s practice facility at suburban Brossard.
Those Habs fans who were hoping Gainey would emerge and announce that he was throwing in the towel, following the team’s humbling sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins, will be disappointed to learn that Gainey isn’t going anywhere. Unless his boss has other ideas. And with the Canadiens in the process of perhaps being sold, that’s a scenario that bears watching.
Quit? That is not Bob Gainey’s style. There is work to be done in the weeks and months ahead.
Gainey acknowledged a season that began with realistic and rather lofty expectations, only to end with a sickening thud and a 4-1 series-ending loss to the Bruins last night at the Bell Centre.
Clearly the rest of hockey world didn’t stop to smell the roses while the Canadiens set out to enjoy their Centennial Season. Other teams improved. The Canadiens, at the end of the day, did not. Indeed, in the case of players like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and, at times, Alex Kovalev, they took a step back after leading this team last season.
When did it all begin the come apart for this team? Well, do you remember the rumours back in January that had the Canadiens working on a deal to bring Tampa’s Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal?
They were true.
Gainey, who is notorious at keeping his cards close to his vest, opened up in a big way when he revealed that the Canadiens were left reeling when Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton shopped around Gainey’s shopping list while the two were talking trade. Gainey claimed Lawton let other GM’s know that the Habs were offering Chris Higgins, Josh Gorges and Tomas Plekanec for Lecavalier, in an effort to drive up the asking price.
Higgins, Gorges and Plekanec were left twisting in the wind, as a result. And Gainey clearly wasn’t amused; in January, when it was all coming down, or today, as he spoke of this betrayal of trust.
Is that to suggest that Gainey and Lawton are done when it comes to talking trade? Don’t count on it. The Canadiens want Vincent Lecavalier, and the Tampa Bay Lightening, despite Lawton’s countless denials, want to trade Vincent Lecavalier.
Regardless of whether or not Gainey pulls the trigger on a Lecavalier deal, one thing is certain: the 2009-2010 edition of the Montreal Canadiens will be a vastly different team than the one that took to the ice this season. With 10 players eligible to become unrestricted free agents, Gainey must now pull out his calculator and determine which of the 10 players he wants to keep, and what it will cost to keep them.
Among those players on that list: Alex Kovalev. Say what you want about temperamental Russian, the Canadiens will be hard-pressed to make up his production, if they let him walk.
Saku Koivu is also on that list. The Captain clearly did not want to speculate on his future as the players, like Gainey, met with the media today. Koivu says just as management has decisions to make when it comes to the future of this club, Koivu says he has decisions to make when it comes to HIS future. If both sides can meet in the middle, great. But Koivu wasn’t willing to take it any further than that.
Memo to Bob Gainey: don’t let Koivu get away.
Newcomers Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider and Alex Tanguay also stand to become UFA’s. Lang was a solid citizen before an Achilles tendon injury ended his season, and put a serious damper on the Habs’ season, as well. However, there may be better, and younger, bargains out there come July 1st when teams go free agent shopping.
Schneider? A valuable addition at the trade deadline who provided an instant boost to the power play. Worth keeping around as a 5th or 6th defenceman with added responsibilities on the P.P. Just don’t expect him to log 25 minutes of ice time per game.
Tanguay? Worth the effort it will take to re-sign him. A homegrown talent, and a good one, with plenty of productive years left.
Mike Komisarek is also on that list. Komisarek did not live up to his all-star billing this season. Too many awkward moments in front of his goaltender, and not enough thunderous body checks out of that big frame of his. Komisarek will get a contract that will pay him five million per season. But not from the Montreal Canadiens.
Will any of the above-mentioned players be back? If not, who will replace them? And who will eventually replace Guy Carbonneau behind the bench? And when the puck drops on next season, who will own this team??
Like I said. More questions than answers.