The lukewarm reception that Habs’ General Manager Bob Gainey received during Friday night’s Centennial Celebrations at the Bell Centre left me shaking my head.
Regardless of what you think of the job Gainey is doing as general manager of this hockey team, he deserved more than the tepid response he got from Habs’ fans Friday night, just on the basis of what he accomplished in this city as arguably the best defensive forward this game has ever seen.
But, like I said. If you were among those fortunate enough to witness Friday night’s stirring tribute to 100 years of Montreal Canadiens hockey, and had your hands in your pockets when Gainey was introduced to the crowd, that’s your prerogative. You would have to believe that the reason Gainey got less of a rise out of the crowd than, say, Guy Carbonneau did, is because of his work as the general manager of this club, and not as a result of his performance as a player with the “bleu, blanc, rouge.”
Let’s assume (as dangerous as that might be) that you are particularly upset with the changes Gainey made during the off-season; upset with the fact that he let players like Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev walk, while replacing them with the likes of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri.
Do you really think the Canadiens would be a better team had Gainey re-signed all of his unrestricted free agents at the end of last season, instead of going out and replacing them with the players he ended up acquiring?
Let us also assume (more danger lurking) that Gainey was on the right track with his moves, leading up to two years ago, when the Canadiens finished the season number one overall in the Eastern Conference. How many of you honestly thought the Canadiens would suffer the kind of meltdown they suffered last season, based on their performance the year before?
So, for the purpose of this exercise and the sake of argument (and you can argue all you like) let’s simply look at the players who got away, vs. the players who replaced them, this season, concentrating on the forwards.
The old (so far this season):
Alex Kovalev: four goals, 10 assists
Saku Koivu: three goals, nine assists
Alex Tanguay: four goals, 13 assists
Robert Lang: six goals, 10 assists
Heck, let’s throw in Chris Higgins, who left town via the trade route:
Three goals, six assists
Now. Let’s look at the three key free agents who were brought in to help pick up the offensive slack as a result of the departure of the above-mentioned players.
Scott Gomez: three goals, 11 assists
Brian Gionta: eight goals, five assists
Mike Cammalleri: 15 goals, 10 assists
Heck. I’ll even throw in Tom Pyatt, one of the players who came to Montreal in the Higgins-for-Gomez trade. He has yet to register a single point, but I think Tom Pyatt has more upside than Chris Higgins, at this point in time.
The problem hasn’t been with the players the Canadiens picked up in the off-season, although I would definitely like to see more from Scott Gomez, and did indeed see more from Scott Gomez, in Montreal’s 5-1 win over Boston Friday night. The problem has been the effort (or lack of same) from the players still here from one year ago, who were supposed to step up. Players like Andrei Kostitsyn and Max Pacioretty (who are now beginning to round into form); Matt D’Agostini (who is working his way back into the lineup after injury problems) and Guillaume Latendresse (who is now playing hockey in Minnesota.)
The story on defence is one we’ll have to save for another day. The same holds true for the goaltending. But as far as the forwards are concerned, I still feel a whole lot better about this club, and it’s chances, than I did one year ago.
And, yes, I know. There’s another conversation to be had about questionable draft picks during the Gainey era. Like Kyle Chipchura, a wasted first-round pick from 2004 who the Canadiens finally gave up on, and sent to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth-round pick. We’ll have that conversation down the road, trust me.
This is all about the “here and now.”
And right now, what has me pulling my hair out in frustration (and I don’t have much left to pull) is the Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of this group. On any given night, will we see the team that stunk out the joint, like they did in recent games against Toronto and Buffalo, or will we see the team that put in a superb effort, as was the case Friday night against the Bruins?
That’s the question the 2009-2010 edition of the Montreal Canadiens have to answer, as they head into game number 30 of the season, tonight at the Bell Centre, against the Philadelphia Flyers.