It was a brilliant strategy on the part of Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey. Whether or not it pays off on the ice, however, remains to be seen.
After striking out time and time again in his efforts to lure big-name, free-agent talent to Montreal, Gainey went out and locked up four UFA’s yesterday, completely changing the face of this franchise in the process.
For the better, in my opinion.
The key to it all? The acquisition of Scott Gomez from the New York Rangers in the deal that sent Chris Higgins and prospect Ryan McDonagh to the Broadway Blueshirts, 24 hours earlier. By locking up a number one centre, Gainey was able to sell Montreal as an attractive free-agent destination to the likes of Gomez’ former teammate in New Jersey, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames, and picked himself up a top line in the process.
Gainey finished up a whirlwind day one of Free Agent Frenzy, by signing Jaro Spacek of the Buffalo Sabres, giving the Canadiens a bonafide puck-moving defenceman who can quarterback the power play while playing major minutes, and Hal Gill of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who, if nothing else, replaces the beef the Canadiens lost along the blueline when Mike Komisarek turned his back on an offer from Montreal to sign with (drum roll, please) the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs?!?!?! What does THAT tell you about Komisarek’s lack of interest in remaining with the Canadiens? In fact, Gainey said he never even received a counter-offer from the Komisarek camp, leaving the Habs’ GM with no sense of what it would take to keep Komisarek in Montreal. Ultimately, it was a long-term deal worth 4.5 million per season. It never became a negotiation with the Canadiens. Does that sound like a guy who was interested in staying in Montreal?
Interesting, though. With the inflated dollars being tossed around yesterday, I would have thought Komisarek would have demanded $5 million-plus per season. In the end, Komisarek could prove to be a bargain for the Leafs, but not based on his play of last season.
Back to Scott Gomez. At 5-11, he is certainly not a “big centre” in terms of stature. But to Gainey, he’s a big centre in terms of talent. The other two acqusitions up front don’t exactly provide the Canadiens with much size at the forward position, either. Cammalleri is 5-9, and Gionta is a smurf-like 5-7. Gainey claims he’s not worried about the size of his forwards and wasn’t about to let those statistics get in the way of what he called a “good day.”
I agree with Gainey. It was a good day for the Montreal Canadiens. It was a day fraught with the possibility of failure, after Gainey put this organization into a position of “both strength and vulnerabilty” as a result of his decision to close out last season with 10 potential unrestricted free agents on his roster. Sure, he had a ton of money available to him. However, as Mats Sundin, Daniel Briere and Brendan Shanahan will tell you, cash isn’t necessarily king when it comes to attracting UFA’s to Montreal. Gainey could have come away empty handed. He didn’t. He came away with a total of five players over a 48-hour period; four of whom represent an upgraded nucleus to this team.
Of the 10 unrestricted free agents on this Canadiens’ team at the conclusion of the season, don’t look for ANY to be back. That includes the captain, Saku Koivu. Gainey acknowledged the writing was on the wall for Koivu, when the Canadiens did not make him a contract offer prior to July 1st. The Habs were prepared to move on with life without Koivu, regardless of whether or not they were able to land a front-line centre; which they did, in Gomez. The Canadiens DID make Alex Kovalev an offer, but that offer is now off the table.
Despite the dollars dished out by Gainey over the last 48 hours, the Canadiens’ GM still has about $4 million in his wallet to spend on a seventh defenceman, if there is one out there that meets his needs.
In the meantime, Gainey has to hope that his latest acquisitions can take their place in the Canadiens’ locker room and help players like Tomas Plekanec and the Kostitsyn brothers rebound from spotty seasons, and lead the way for youngsters like Matt D’agostini, Max Pacioretty, Kyle Chipchura and Ryan O’Byrne to step in and take on added responsibilities on a team that has changed course like no other in the history of this franchise.