Three years into their run as team mates on the Montreal Canadiens, it’s time for the three players who helped redefine this team in the summer of 2009, to pay some serious dividends as a group.
I’m referring to Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri. While at the team’s annual golf tournament today, two of them, in fact, Gomez and Cammalleri, made reference to this being year three; year three of Bob Gainey’s five-year plan. You remember Bob Gainey, don’t you? The then-general manager who literally changed the face of this hockey club in the span of 48 hours by first trading for Gomez, and then signing the likes of Cammalleri and Gionta via the free-agent route.
I will long remember that day: July 1st, 2009. While Gainey worked the phones in his office, reporters were parked in the media room at the team’s practice facility at Brossard waiting for news. And the news came with dizzying speed as we were greeted with press release after press release on a day that was highlighted by the acquisition of Cammalleri and Gionta. Those moves, coupled with the decision by Gainey to set people like Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay adrift, led to what was nothing short of a remarkable off-season transformation.
You literally couldn’t tell the players without a program.
But that was then. This is now. And we know the players, all right.
We know Brian Gionta as the captain of this hockey club; a gritty, determined and productive member of this team who had “Captain” written all over him in his first days at training camp.
We know Michael Cammalleri as an offensively gifted player who looked to be on pace for a 40-goal season in his first year in Montreal, before the injury bug took a bite out of his season; and the following season. We also know him as a player who seemed to “give up” on the play far too often last season, particularly when asked to play on the defensive side of the puck.
And we know Scott Gomez as — well — Scott Gomez and his $7 million yearly contract. We know him as a notoriously slow starter who proved to be one the Habs’ most productive players in the second half of the season, two years ago. Last season his notoriously slow start covered 82 games. For the record, at today’s golf tournament, Gomez said he had turned the corner on his disappointing 2010-11 season, and had worked hard to prepare himself for this season.
Obviously, they’re not alone. We’ll also see if newcomer Erik Cole can live up to his off-season billing as a big body who can put up some numbers. We’ll also see if Tomas Plekanec can shake off a so-so second half season and perform like the player who lit it up in the first half of the campaign. We’ll also see Lars Eller is ready for prime time; if Andrei Kostitsyn can finally deliver a first-line performance on a consistent basis, or if he’s destined to be a third-liner (or worse.)
And on it goes as we assess this team’s chances for the upcoming season. We haven’t even touched the team’s defence or goaltending (a conversation for another day.)
Me? I’m waiting to see what Messrs Gionta, Cammalleri and Gomez, three veteran talents, bring to the rink, game in, and game out. I’m waiting to see if they can finally come together as team mates and take this club by the scruff of its neck, and lead it to the promised (playoff) land.
Three years? It’s time.