I remember when he became GM in 2003, someone I knew who has worked in and around the NHL told me the Habs would win the Stanley Cup within five years. Gainey himself claimed that his ambition was to have a Cup-contender after five years. Of course that never materialized, and now there will be no chance to extend the deadline.
Bob Gainey brought some great experience and professionalism to Montreal, and he is an honorable man, but like a first-round pick, his potential did not come to fruition.
Let's take a look at some of his most important moves as GM.*
*Please note that while I have considered the trade to acquire Alex Kovalev as a positive move, the decision not to re-sign him last summer could be considered equally bad or good, depending on whom to talk to.
- Trading for Kovalev
- Trading for Huet and Bonk
- Signing Cammalleri
- Trading Rivet for Gorges
- Re-signing Markov
- Firing Julien and taking over as coach.
- Letting Koivu walk
- Trading for Gomez
- Hiring Jacques Martin
- Trading Huet
- Not doing jack shit at the deadline in what had the markings of a championship season
- Not firing Guy Carbonneau until the damage was done
- Trading Ribeiro for Niinimaa
- Rushing Carey Price
You can make of that list what you want, and please comment on any that I have overlooked.
Gainey's downfall occurred at the tail-end of the 2007-2008 season.
The Habs had a miraculously healthy team, and were poised to finish first in the Eastern Conference and make a long playoff run.
Bear with me here, I'm going to throw out an analogy. Remember that completely awesome game in 1997 between the Avalanche and Red Wings?
It occurred on March 26th, just as the Red Wings were getting in gear for the playoffs. Mike Vernon, who would go on to win the Conn Smythe trophy as the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, said that was the game that really brought the team together. Mike Vernon played no small part in that brawl, as he clobbered Patrick Roy at center ice.
Now think of February 20th, 2008.
Montreal was down by five goals to the New York Rangers. Carey Price had been pulled, and Cristobal Huet was in net. Miraculously, the Habs came back, thanks in part to some outstanding goaltending from Huet. Granted, he did let in two of those five Rangers goals, but he was also the winner. That game was the one that brought the 2007-2008 Canadiens together.
Now imagine if Detroit had traded Vernon in 1997. Chris Osgood is an outstanding playoff goalie, but Vernon was the Wings' man on March 26th, and he was their man in the playoffs.
THAT is what Bob Gainey did. He traded the Canadiens' number one goalie, the one who had been on the ice for the season-defining victory. He traded him away for a second round draft pick. That Gainey did not add to the team was bad enough, and maybe even understandable, for Gainey is an honorable man; but he SUBTRACTED from the team. He made them weaker going into the playoffs, and did so by trading the number one goaltender.
Now we come to the present, and Gainey has stepped down. Since that missed opportunity in 2008, he made some good moves and bad ones, but I am left with a very hollow feeling. Gainey stepped down only after dealing his most savage blow to the Canadiens. Gainey was GM for six years. Saku Koivu was a Canadien for 13 years, and captain for ten of them (tying the indomitable Jean Beliveau as the team's longest-serving captain). Gainey blew up the team this summer, letting every single free agent go. We can forgive, if not understand, every one of those decisions, save one. Gainey cut out the heart and soul of the Montreal Canadiens when he let Koivu go.
And now Gainey has stepped down, a few months after completely gutting his team. I suppose he figures his work here is finished. A rudderless team still without a captain, and a coach who can only be described as mediocre. Simply put, there is little damage left to do.
Only Bob Gainey knows how long he considered stepping down, but if we accept that Gainey did nothing without long, careful deliberation, then we arrive at a depressing conclusion: that Bob Gainey was contemplating resigning even as he cast Saku Koivu aside and hired one of the worst coaches in the NHL.
So now we have a team on the bubble, unrecognizable from the one that looked so good in 2008. The coach is a dunce, the team has no captain, and they are now casting about for management.
This is not a happy day for any Canadiens fan. Whether you abhor Gainey or love him, for he is an honorable man, the team seems to be right back where they were in 2003.