Montreal Canadiens fans do not think much of the Gainey/Gauthier era. What automatically springs to mind? Well, there’s a laundry list of blunders…among them, trading Chris Higgins and Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez and Tom Pyatt. Dumping Cristobal Huet (their starting goalie at the time) in 2008 for absolutely nothing when they were contending for first in the East and could have made a serious run. This move put a 20 year old Carey Price at the helm who admitted himself that he was not ready for the limelight and that he had some maturing to do, both as a person and a goaltender. Another horrendous move was trading Jaroslav Spacek for Tomas Kaberle, even after Canes GM Jim Rutherford openly said that Kaberle was his worst signing ever and couldn’t believe someone was actually willing to make a deal. Last but not least, there was the overall colossal failure of a season in 2012 where they finished 15th in the East. Not only that, but the most storied franchise in the league became a mockery because of Gauthier’s antics. Stupidities such as keeping track of food in the media press box, and trading Mike Cammalleri mid-game then trying to charge him to keep his jersey. Last but not least, firing Jacques Martin and replacing him with Randy Cunneyworth, and then completely throwing him under the bus two days later by saying that he should have hired a French speaking coach.
However, all this frustration has made passionate Hab fans blind to the actual quality moves that they made. Gainey was at the helm for six seasons and only missed the playoffs once (on the last game of the season). As he said in his exit interview, the Montreal Canadiens don’t just have a right to make the playoffs as 29 other teams are striving for the same goal. Even Gauthier made some decent moves that are hard to appreciate because of the way he conducted himself. People also always make reference to the moves Gainey “almost” made. Sure, if he made some of them, he would have set the franchise back even further, but we can only go by the actual transactions, not the “what ifs.”
Was the Gainey/Gauthier regime an astounding success? No, not even close. However, was it a complete failure? Not at all. Here are the top 15 moves from the Gainey/Gauthier era.
15. Acquiring Glen Metropolit Off Waivers (Gainey, 2009)
Typically, it’s hard to find any type of quality addition through the waiver wire, as it usually consists of players that multiple teams have given up on (usually, for good reason). Glen Metropolit was a 34 year old, 5’10 journeyman that Philadelphia had turned their backs on after a lackluster season. He didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he started with Montreal, registering 3 points in 21 games. However, Gainey and the coaching staff saw something in him and felt that he could be of value for at least another season. Metropolit went on to exceed everyone’s expectations and was way more than just a serviceable player in his last NHL season, as he put up 16 goals and 13 assists in 69 games and was a sparkplug on the ice. Not bad for a guy that nobody else wanted.
14. Trade: Andrei Kostitsyn For 2nd Round Pick In 2013 Draft (Gauthier, 2012)
This one is pretty easy to evaluate. Once Montreal ridded themselves of Andrei Kostitsyn, he went on to Nashville and did a whole lot of nothing with his buddy, Alex Radulov. Nashville was doing wonderful that season until they plagued themselves with these two. Radulov was done with his KHL season and decided that he had some free time to go play in Nashville and they accepted him. That must have flew over real well with the players on the Preds, especially when him and Kostitsyn were out partying at 4 am in Phoenix before a playoff game and then were made healthy scratches…but we digress.
The point of this verbal assault is that nobody knows what Andrei Kostitsyn is up to nowadays. We do know that he’s looking to get back in the league and there are no suitors. Meanwhile that second round picked turned out to be Jacob de la Rose. He impressed the Habs brass so much last year that he won himself a roster spot. Night after night, coach Michel Therrien was praising the efforts of Jacob de la Rose and he is certainly part of the plans going forward.
13. Trade: 2010 2nd Round Draft Pick For Robert Lang (Gainey, 2008)
When Robert Lang was acquired, he gave the Habs offense the shot in the arm that they needed. He had his detractors and the move was heavily scrutinized at the time because Lang was 38 years old and his foot speed wasn’t what it used to be. He went on to be one of Montreal’s most consistent contributors that year as he registered 18 goals and 21 assists in 50 games. Unfortunately for Lang and the team, he went down with a season ending injury when he severed his Achilles tendon. The Habs were setting the East on fire in the first half of the season and couldn’t seem to recover once Lang went down. They ended up dropping from 2nd in the east all the way to 8th, making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth and getting swept by Boston. That second round pick also went on to be Jared Knight, who is currently riding the bus in the AHL.
12. Trade: 2011 2nd Round Pick For Dominic Moore (Gauthier, 2010)
2010 saw the Habs go on an epic playoff run, as they came back from down 3-1 to topple Ovie and the Caps and then went on to best Sid and the Pens in 7. The Canadiens were missing a little something going into the playoffs. Scott Gomez was their #1 center and was actually producing at the time, but even at his best, with the Habs, he was no longer a strong two-way player. Going into the playoffs with Tomas Plekanec as the only center that could play a shut down role would have been a huge mistake, especially against the Caps and Pens who had incredibly potent offence. The addition of Moore gave coach Jacques Martin an option and stabilized the forward lines. Moore wasn’t only a nightmare for the opposition’s top line, as he chipped in offensively as well and even scored the game winner in game 7 against Washington.
11. Acquiring Steve Begin Through Waivers (Gainey, 2003)
Steve Begin would have put his head through a wall for the Habs. He was essentially a reject and was picked up to temporarily fill a hole on the 4th line. He wasn’t expected to last the entire season, but it didn’t take long before heads were turning due to his “blood and guts” determination. He ended up lasting five seasons with the Habs and never took a shift off, to the point that Gainey ripped up Begin’s contract and gave him a raise in the middle of the season. While his offensive numbers were never staggering, he was the ultimate teammate and would do whatever it took to win.
10. Trade: 2010 1st And 2nd Round Draft Picks For Phoenix’s 1st Round Pick And 4th Round Pick (Gauthier, 2010)
Alright, this one isn’t as complicated as it looks and we’ll break it down. The Canadiens wanted to move up in the draft and Mr. Burns (aka Gauthier) made a last minute move to swap first round picks with Phoenix. However, in order for that to happen, the Canadiens had to give up their second round pick in exchange for Phoenix’s fourth…so why was Gauthier so adamant on moving up? The Habs brass really wanted a shot at drafting Jarred Tinordi. Has Tinordi developed into a star? Not yet and maybe he never will. However, 6’6″ hulking defensemen don’t just grow on trees. Sometimes bigger defensemen take longer to develop and it’s not as if Phoenix scored any diamonds in the roughs with their picks as they ended up with Oscar Lindberg and Mark Visentin. Time will tell, but it seems like an intelligent, high potential move to us.
9. Trade: 2nd Round Pick In 2011 And Conditional 5th In 2012 For James Wisniewski (Gauthier 2010)
Andrei Markov got hurt again and the power play was sputtering. P.K. Subban was still pretty young and had not developed enough accuracy with his shot to be “the main guy” on the power play. Trading for James Wisniewski may have saved the Canadiens season as he provided a temporary cannon at the point. He put up 30 points in 43 games with the Habs , playing the best hockey of his career and winning himself a huge contract with Columbus going forward. Was he a rental until Markov came back? Absolutely (Wisniewski actually used those words on his way out to describe the situation), but it was just what the doctor ordered.
8. Mike Cammalleri Signing (Gainey, 2009)
Montreal’s 2010 magical playoff run was the Halak and Cammalleri show. Whenever the Habs were seemingly down and out, Mike Cammalleri would come out of nowhere and rifle one over the goalie’s shoulder. He marvellously put up 13 goals in 19 games, with three of them being game winners. This signing was instrumental in the Canadiens success because with the departure of Alex Kovalev, the team simply did not have any game-breakers that could be depended on to score goals at pivotal moments. It was also a great move by Bob Gainey to let Ottawa outbid him on Kovalev’s services and use that money to sign Cammalleri. Kovalev’s game ended up being abysmal and Cammalleri picked up 50 points in 65 games and then scoring 47 points in 67 games the following season.
7. Trade: Jozef Balej And A 2nd Round Pick For Alexei Kovalev (Gainey, 2003)
Speaking of Mr. Kovalev, let’s get one thing straight: the Alex Kovalev that Montreal picked up in 2003 was not the same version of Kovalev that was let go in 2009. When the Habs and Kovy parted ways, there was not much gas left in the tank. Montreal had Kovalev when he was still near his prime as he was only 31 when he made his debut with the team. The best part of this deal is that Gainey gave Glen Sather the option of either Jozef Balej or Tomas Plekanec. Both players were relatively unknown at the time but Balej was billed to have more potential, so Sather opted for Balej. As it stands, Plekanec has had a long and successful NHL career and still plays a vital (and sometimes underappreciated) role for the Habs. As for Balej, people are reading this saying “who is Jozef Balej?” Exactly. Gainey managed to turn a rent-a-player into a permanent fixture as he locked him in until 2009 and he became a fan favorite in Montreal.
6. Trade: Jose Theodore For David Aebischer (Gainey 2006)
Jose Theodore’s 2005-2006 season was as close to a meltdown as we’ll ever see. People often assume that his 2001-2002 season where he won the Vezina and Hart trophies was his only good season, but that’s unfair, as he provided steady play for the following two seasons. For whatever reason, after signing a big contract in 2005, Theo could just not stop a puck. His save percentage was below .890, which is almost unheard of for a starting goaltender in the modern era. It was at the point where Theodore was single handedly costing the team games when they were right in the thick of the playoff race. Bob Gainey had no choice but to deal the goaltender, but it wasn’t that simple. Theodore still had two years left on his contract at 5.5 and 6 million dollars. Which GM in his right mind would acquire an expensive goalie who is also having a personal meltdown between the posts every night? Pierre Lacroix. He figured he’d fleece Montreal like he did when they acquired Patrick Roy. Not this time, as Theodore continued to play poorly for the next two seasons.
5. Trade: Jaroslav Halak For Lars Eller And Ian Schultz (Gauthier 2010)
Some will argue that Montreal could have gotten more in return for Jaroslav Halak, but we’re not interested in debating that right now.. What’s impressive about this trade is that the right decision was made at the right time. Had Gauthier gone the opposite route and traded Carey Price, could you imagine how far back the franchise would be set back? As a Habs fan, could you fathom how nauseating it would be to see Carey Price winning the Vezina and Hart trophy with another team. Price is the best goalie in the league at this current time, and Lars Eller is a dependable 3rd liner center and adds size that the Canadiens didn’t have. The timing of this trade is incredible because it was right after the Habs magical playoff run where Halak was the toast of the town. People were walking around with “Halak” stop signs for crying out loud! He even made an appearance at a shopping center after the trade was completed and people were literally crying. It took some real intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger on a move like that at the time. Alright…that’s about it for the Gautier compliments.
4. Trade: Mathieu Garon And A 3rd Round Pick For Radek Bonk And Cristobal Huet (Gainey, 2004)
Let’s rewind back to move #6 for a second. When Jose Theodore had his meltdown, someone had to be there to pickup the slack or else the Habs would have slid to the basement of the Eastern Conference. Thankfully, Gainey pulled a move to bring Huet into town to salvage the season. Huet definitely had his critics during his tenure in Montreal, but the stats do not lie. In the 2005-2006 season when Huet took over for Theodore, he went 18-11-4 with a 2.20 goals against average and staggering .929 save percentage. His solid play continued until he was traded two years later as he posted a .916 save percentage each season and even made an All Star game appearance. Was he the second coming of Patrick Roy? No, but he was a huge upgrade from Mathieu Garon who the Kings anointed their starting goalie and who tanked. Radek Bonk was supposed to be the main acquisition in the deal, but ended up being the “throw-in.” Larceny by Gainey, but not as good as what’s coming up.
3. Trade: Craig Rivet And A 5th Round Pick For Josh Gorges And A 1st Round Pick (Gainey, 2007)
At the time Craig Rivet was an aging defenseman that was struggling heavily in the new NHL (post first lockout). While he wore the CH on his heart, he lacked foot-speed and he’d be the cause of a ton of errors on the ice. That first round pick that Montreal received for him ended up being Max Pacioretty, undoubtedly their best pure scorer and best forward (and possibly their captain within a few weeks). Not to mention Josh Gorges, who was supposed to be in Montreal for “a cup of coffee” and ended up providing steady defense for eight seasons. He was also a key component of the leadership core of the team.
Gainey is sadly going to be remembered for the infamous Scott Gomez/Ryan McDonagh trade, but this moment of brilliance should not simply fly under the radar.
2. Drafting P.K Subban In The 2nd Round (Gainey, 2007)
Draft picks that were not acquired via trade were mostly avoided in this article because much of the credit goes to the scouting team. However, there were certain draft picks that MUST be included because they were simply that good, and also because Gainey had the stones to make the right pick amidst scrutiny and pressure from the media. P.K. Subban was drafted 43rd overall in the 2007 entry draft and is now one of the best defensemen in the world. When scanning the entire 2nd round of that draft, other than Wayne Simmonds, there is not a single player that currently plays a prominent role in the NHL.
1. Drafting Carey Price 5th Overall (Gainey, 2005)
I know a lot of you are rolling your eyes. To quote Brian Burke when he was referring to Pittsburgh’s success: “they won a fricken lottery!” That is true because 2005 was the year after the entire season was cancelled and the picks were chosen at random. However, think of the pressure Gainey was under with such a high pick. The media was screaming for him to draft Gilbert Brule. Here’s a quote from everyone’s favorite “know-it-all.” Pierre McGuire. the exact second Montreal drafted Price: “Think about it now, Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet, they traded Mathieu Garon, they have Yan Danis who was signed as an unrestricted free agent coming out of Brown University. This is not a fit for Montreal! They have so many other needs!” Well, despite the media, fans and Pierre McGuire’s objections, Gainey made the right call as Carey Price is currently the best goaltender in the world.
Whether we like to admit it or not, Bob Gainey’s fingerprints are still all over this team.
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