It’s not easy to be a Montreal Canadiens fan, especially with Bob Gainey at the helm.
Most teams, when they struggle year after year, have the good sense to make changes.
No matter what the sport, at some point, the general manager needs to decide if he wants to rebuild the team, or just replace the coach.
In Montreal, fans have now been through several rebuilds and coaches in the past few years. Yet the team continues to the struggle, despite all the change.
But there has been one constant in all of this: Bob Gainey.
Look, I’m going to be honest here. Gainey sucks as a general manager. Maybe he got lucky in Minnesota/Dallas, but he also made a lot of questionable moves there (trading away Jarome Iginla has to rank up there).
Gainey’s way to build a team was more suited in the 1990s, back when the neutral zone trap slowed down the games and made the NHL dull to watch. Teams would methodically play a passive game until every one fell asleep.
In fact, it sounds a lot like a Bob Gainey press conference.
But since the lockout, the game has changed. And Gainey hasn’t.
And it’s frustrating to watch.
And it makes it hard to even want to follow this team. It’s like watching a dog that only has one eye. It keeps banging into things because it can’t see anything on one side, and its depth perception is lost. The first few times, it’s funny. But after a while, you start to feel pity for the dog.
Gainey has been in charge of this team for six years. When he came in, the depth chart was bad, there was no secondary scoring, no good prospects and our drafting was brutal.
Now, with Gainey in charge, our depth chart is bad, there’s no secondary scoring, no good prospects and our drafting is still brutal.
As it stands now, the Habs are one game under .500, and in 11th place in the conference. And except for the win on Friday night against the Bruins, the Habs have look brutal the last five games.
Far be it from me to just say these things without proof. So in honour of Bob Gainey’s playing days, here are 23 bad moves that Gainey has made since becoming general manager of the Habs in 2003.
1. Horrible first-round draft picks
When Gainey took over the Canadiens, the farm team was brutal. Years of bad drafting had taken a toll.
But Gainey was the man that was going to turn it all around. It was part of a five-year plan, you see.
There are always diamonds in the rough in later rounds, but it’s the first round where you get your true superstars.
Since Gainey took over, this is how those first round picks look, and other first round picks taken after the Habs drafted (I left out 2007 to 2009, because it’s too soon to judge which players will have an impact):
2003: Andrei Kostitsyn (10th pick overall) instead of Jeff Carter (11th pick), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Brent Burns (20th), Mike Richards (24th), Corey Perry (28th)
2004: Kyle Chipchura (18th) instead of Travis Zajac (20th), Wojtek Wolski (21st), Mike Green (29th)
2005: Carey Price (5th) instead of Anze Kopitar (11th), Marc Staal (12th)
2006: David Fischer (20th) instead of Claude Giroux (22nd) and Semyon Varlamov (23rd)
Except for Price, the Habs have screwed up the first round. This team would be so much fun to watch if they had more success in drafting. Imagine turning on the Canadiens game, and seeing Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Claude Giroux skating around. Or a lineup of Getzlaf, Green, Kopitar and Varlamov?
Combine that with Cammallari, Plekanec and a few others, and you have a great top two lines to put out there.
Instead, we have an underachieving Belarussian, a guy traded last week for a fourth round pick and a guy who’s not even on the radar screen when we’re talking about our prospects.
2. Trading Mike Ribeiro for Janne Niinimaa
The funniest thing about Janne Niinimaa was learning that at one time, he was dating a girl named Nina and if they got married, her name would have been Nina Niinimaa. That would have been the greatest hockey-related name ever.
I don’t even know if that story is true, but that sadly is the greatest thing about Janne Niinimaa when he played for the Habs.
Sure, Ribeiro was such a pest that even Montreal fans hated him (check out Four Habs Fans nickname for him here). Even I didn’t like him, and I supported Gino Odjick when he played for the Canadiens.
But whether you liked Ribeiro or not, there was no denying he had talent. And on some horrible Habs teams earlier this decade, he showed flashes of it, getting more than 50 points in back to back seasons, including 65 in 2003-04.
To put that in perspective, a 36-year-old Alexei Kovalev had 65 points last year, and fans were holding rallies and signing petitions to keep him, thinking he’s the greatest thing ever. A mid-20s players gets the same, and he has to be traded. Funny the way things work out sometimes.
But Ribeiro had to go. The dressing room was split. If you were to look up “Locker room cancer” in the dictionary, Ribeiro’s name would have been right above Ray Emery and right below Sean Avery, the Dallas version.
So Gainey had to trade him. To the Dallas Stars for Janne Niinimaa. And… um… well… that was it.
Ribeiro has since gone on to play in the all-star game, and has back to back seasons of 78-plus points.
The last thing the Habs needed that year was another defenceman. They already had Craig Rivet, Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov, Sheldon Souray and Francois Bouillon.
Niinimaa was a seventh defenceman that year. To me, he showed his worth when, a few games into the year, he guaranteed a win over the undefeated Buffalo Sabres. Of course, this gave the Sabres even more reason to want to beat the Canadiens. The Habs lost, and Niinimaa went on to backtrack those comments immediately after the game.
You probably don’t remember much else about Niinimaa. He played only 41 games that year for the Habs, before heading off to play in Europe. He tore up the scoresheet with zero goals and three assists though. He was also a -13, which is exactly what you want from a seventh defenceman.
Like I said, Ribeiro had to go. But Gainey could have gotten more than Niinimaa. And if not, then he should have waited. And if the dressing room was torn, Gainey should have stepped in to patch it up until he could have gotten something more for Mikey.
Trading a future all-star for a seventh defenceman with a big mouth didn’t make a lot sense then, and it makes less sense now.
3. Not getting second line help
For years, I made fun of the Ottawa Senators because, well, because they suck.
But one of the biggest things I made fun of them was the fact they were a one-line team for the past few years. Stop the line of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, and you were going to win the game.
But sadly, the Habs have become like that lately.
The second-line players for the past couple of years for the Habs have been Maxim Laperriere, the Kostitsyns and Glen Metropolit. (I would have included Chris Higgins here, but he was always seen as a top-line player for some odd reason).
The Habs have struggled to score goals last season and this year. This year, they’re 28th in goals for per game. Not a good sign.
After the top line of Cammalleri and Plekanec, there’s no help. We have a couple of good players, and a lot of third and fourth liners. And that’s about it.
4. Firing Claude Julien
Claude Julien got his NHL coaching start with the Habs. He helped turn the team around, bringing them from missing the playoffs to the second round in his first full year.
The Gainey took over and fired him. Julien’s record with the Habs was 72-62-11-14
He then went to the Devils, and then the Bruins, posting seasons of 47, 41 and 53 wins. He’s also won the Jack Adams award for coach of the year.
Of course, having one of the best coaches in hockey wasn’t good enough. This is from the TSN web site when the firing occurred:
“Gainey said a coaching change was needed to get some of the team’s star players – particularly Theodore and defencemen Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov – to play better.”
Two months later, Theodore was traded because of bad play. Souray finished with 12 goals and 37 points that season. Markov with 10 goals and 46 points.
The Habs went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs that year, coached by Gainey.
One of the greatest coaches in the league today, but Gainey needed to get his own buddy in there (Carbonneau), so he let Julien walk. And then he did absolutely nothing to improve the team.
5. Rushing Price
People have been high on Carey Price for quite a while now.
In the juniors, he won goaltender of the year, was tournament MVP of the 2007 world junior championships (of which Canada won gold), won the Calder Cup in the AHL and was the most valuable player in the playoffs that year.
But at training camp the following year, head coach Guy Carbonneau came out at said that Price was not ready for the NHL.
Gainey disagreed, and pretty much told Carbo that Price was making the team.
After a half-decent regular season, Price became the #1 goalie, and faltered in the playoffs. He slipped even more the following season, went further downhill in the playoffs, and there have been times this year when he just hasn’t looked as good.
Price was not ready to handle the pressures of the NHL, or the media and fan scrutiny that comes with it. He would have been better off staying in the minors for a while, instead of being unfairly compared to Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden in his rookie season.
That has set Price back, and Gainey deserves the blame for that.
He’s the goalie of the future, as long as his confidence doesn’t get ruined.
6. Rushing Latendresse
Earlier this season, Montreal traded Gui Latendresse because he wasn’t playing well in Montreal.
Expected to be a power forward of the future, Lats was also rushed into the league.
Some believe it’s because he was French and there was pressure to have more French Canadians on the team. But I think it’s because Gainey was getting desperate for a big body out there.
So an unprepared 19-year-old made the big club, and has been mocked ever since.
It is interesting to note that Lats had two goals and one assist in 23 games with the Canadiens before the trade, and has the same amount in five games with the Wild ever since.
Maybe Gainey should show patience when it comes to the young players.
7. No trade deadline deals last year
Last March 5, after the Habs failed to make any deadline deals, despite going in a freefall that had them fire the coach, I wrote that this was the most disappointed I have ever been in this franchise.
That still holds true. The trade deadline is a chance to give fans a bit of hope. But Gainey wouldn’t do that, even though 1) half the team were going to be free agents that he had no desire to resign, and 2) the team was falling faster than Ben Affleck’s career after Good Will Hunting.
Here’s who the Habs lost during the summer to free agency: Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Mike Komisarek, Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, Tom Kostopoulos, Mathieu Dandenault and Francis Bouillon. Nothing in return for any of them.
Gainey knew he wasn’t offering contracts to most of them. And with the team falling down in the standings, he never bothered to trade any of them to shake up the team. According to what he said to the media, he didn’t even try.
“We weren’t out kicking tires. I think it’s a message to our players, a vote of confidence for the players that we have, that many of them that have been sidelined with injuries or were not having the seasons they hoped for, that now is the time to get there. We weren’t anxious to move players. We feel we have good depth at each of the positions — in goal, on defence and with our forwards.”
Five days later, Gainey fired the head coach because the team he assembled wasn’t playing up to snuff.
Which brings us to the next mistake.
8. Firing Guy Carbonneau
Bob Gainey fired Claude Julien specifically so he could bring in Guy Carbonneau to coach.
Carbonneau had a 124-83-23 coaching record, and was a coach of the year candidate for the 2007-2008 season.
At the time of the firing, the Habs had 93 points, were second in the northeast division, but the team had no secondary scoring, thanks to injuries, bad drafting and a lack of trades.
Gainey told reporters at a press conference that “in the last eight weeks our performance has been below average, and I believe that a change of the direction at ice level was necessary. With 16 games left in the season, I believe that the change was necessary to maximize our chances of being one of the teams to participate in the playoffs this spring.”
Doesn’t that sound totally contradictory to what he said when he didn’t make trades at the deadline?
Of course, Gainey took over the team, and had a horrible record.
Which leads us to the next point…
9. Thinking he could coach the team better
This is a case of making a mistake to cover an earlier mistake that was to cover an earlier mistake.
It’s happened twice now with the Canadiens. But the team doesn’t respond to him.
In his first year of coaching, the Minnesota North Stars upset everyone to make it to the finals in 1991.
Since then, Gainey has got his team past the first round once out of six seasons. That’s it.
When he took over the team last year, the team went 6-6-4, before being swept in the first round by the Bruins.
Gainey can’t coach, and the team doesn’t listen to him. Watch him fire Jacques Martin later on this season to take over behind the bench, only for the team to continue to plummet.
10. Hiring Jacques Martin
After realizing he couldn’t do any better, Gainey decided to hire Jacques Martin, who has led the Florida Panthers to a perfect non-playoff streak before taking over the reins of the Canadiens.
You know, Jacques Martin, the guy who in 14 years, has made it past the second round of the playoffs one time.
The guy, who in three seasons with the Panthers, never got the team into the playoffs.
The same Jacques Martin, who so far this season has led the team to a 11th place spot in the standings.
The one who plays a defensive style game, but the Habs went out and signed offensive-minded players.
Yeah, that’ll work.
11. Allowing Kovalev to run the team
Alexei Kovalev killed this team last year. One of the first trades made by Gainey, Kovalev had his chance to shine in Montreal.
In four full years with the team, Kovalev had one good season.
But he almost single-handily destroyed this team last year.
Kovalev has a reputation (one that he’s fully earned) of taking shifts, games and weeks off. It got to the point last year that Gainey went for a walk with Kovalev, giving him two games off for a breather before allowing him to come back to the team.
Sounds like a suspension, doesn’t it? Except it wasn’t. That would be too harsh for our precious little Kovy and wouldn’t look good.
Nope, Kovalev disappeared for a few days (my guess is he was on Playstation 3 the whole time), then came back re-energized for a few games, before deciding to skip a few more shifts.
Of course, this all impacts the young players, who want to be like the great Alexei Kovalev. So they start taking shifts off and disappearing for games at a time.
Yes, Gainey allowed this sort of thing to go on. And with his attitude towards Kovalev, he encouraged it.
12. Letting Saku Koivu walk
It’s not too often you get a true leader.
Someone whose worth is measured not in goals or assists, but in heart and determination.
They don’t come around very often. So when they do, it’s important to keep them.
Koivu was one such player.
Koivu has won seven medals on the international stage. He led this team on the ice with a big goal when needed, with a defensive stop when needed it, and with leadership when needed.
Off the ice, he played an important role in the Montreal community.
Probably the biggest leader Montreal has had since Jean Beliveau.
And Gainey let him go.
Koivu signed in Anaheim for $3.25 million. Montreal should have signed him for the same (or less if he would have taken a hometown discount, which I think he would have).
You don’t let leaders walk.
13. Letting Michael Ryder go
Okay, I’ll admit that besides Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder has been my favourite Canadiens player of the past five years. He’s a Newfie, so I felt like I had to support him.
It didn’t hurt that he scored 25 goals as a rookie. Then followed that up with back to back seasons of 30 goals.
And how does Gainey reward him? By never signing him to more than a one-year deal.
Then the team decides to stick Ryder on the fourth line, meaning he’s not seeing powerplay time, or playing with the other talented players.
Yes, Ryder had his faults, especially defensively.
But you know what? He showed up every night. He played every game as if it meant something. When the Habs needed to beat the Leafs on the final game of the season in 2007 to make the playoffs, Ryder scored a natural hat trick to bring his team back from a 3-1 deficit to a 4-3 games. The Habs had three shots in the third period, and 26 overall. Ryder had something like 20 of them.
That was the thing with Ryder. He shot the puck. Unlike many other players, who seem scared that a goal will make people feel like they should be doing it more often.
So of course, the Habs couldn’t let a 30-goal scorer back in the lineup. So Gainey let him go.
Right to arch-enemies Boston Bruins. This was on the same level as Johnny Damon leaving the Boston Red Sox to go play with the New York Yankees.
Last season, Ryder scored 27 goals. That was more than any other Hab. He scored 10 powerplay goals, which would have put him second on this team. He was a plus 28, which is better than any Canadien last year. And he scored seven game-winning goals, which would also have been tops.
No siree, we don’t want those types of players on this team. We’re much happier with Sergei Kostitsyn, thank you very much.
14. Not making the big trade
Even though the Habs have seen some bad general managers in the past couple of decades, at least they had the guts to pull the trigger on a big deal.
Whether it was Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon or Brian Bellows, those general managers made the moves to get that player they thought was going to help out, score goals and make fans buzz with excitement whenever they were on the ice.
Gainey’s biggest move? Trading for Scott Gomez. You know, the guy with the huge salary that has scored 20 or more goals only once in a season only in nine seasons.
The Habs need a top player. Even expansion teams have had 50-goal scorers more often than we have in the past 20 years.
If Gainey has the chance to get one, he should go for it. Not hem and haw until the other team decides not to make the trade.
By not making the big trade, Gainey is in essence saving himself. If he did make a blockbuster, and it blew up in his face, then there’s more likely a chance of him getting fired.
But by not making a big deal, then ownership can’t judge him on that, and he doesn’t look as bad.
That Gomez trade, by the way, is also on this list.
15. Not able to land a tier one player
Montreal hasn’t had a big name forward since Mats Naslund suited up for the Canadiens in the 1980s.
Now, Gainey can’t be faulted for that long of a streak, but many of us are still waiting for that superstar player.
We covered it in the trade section, but what about free agency?
No Mats Sundin, no Peter Forsberg, no Marian Hossa, no Teemu Selanne, no Marc Savard, no Marian Gaborik.
What does it take to get a superstar? Apparently, whatever it is, Gainey doesn’t have it.
16. Signing Sergei Samsonov
A few years back, a lot of free agents didn’t want to come to the Canadiens, because of a bevy of reasons: high taxes, fan pressure, media pressure, not a Stanley Cup contender, etc.
So any tier two free agent seemed like a great signing.
And that’s what happened in 2006, when Gainey signed Samsonov to a $7 million two year-contract.
Samsonov ended up spending the next two years stealing money from the team. It was so bad, that the Habs put Samsonov on waivers five months into the first year of the contract. They then traded him to Chicago for two players they bought out. Chicago ended up putting him on waivers and sending him to the AHL.
But how could Gainey, the genius that he was, not see this coming? Coming off seasons of 40 and 53 points, it’s not like Samsonov was lighting up the league.
Samsonov was never going to be more than a third-line player, and should never have been offered such big money.
17. Trading for Gomez
So let me get this straight. Scott Gomez, a player who will not score 20 goals this year or any other year if he upholds his career pace, will be hampering this franchise with his $7.35 million (that’s per year folks) for the next five years.
That contract is so bad, that the Rangers never thought they’d get rid of it.
Until Gainey came along and made the trade.
And what happened? Gainey got laughed at, by every other team and their fans.
Even Islanders fans were calling it a dumb move.
Gomez, in case you haven’t been keeping track this year, has three goals and 14 points in 25 games. Yet, he’s making more money than Joe Thornton, Mike Richards, Jason Spezza, Marc Savard, Jarome Iginla, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. Which of those players would you rather have?
18. Blowing up this team twice, and still getting nowhere
When Gainey took over this team in 2003, it was a mess. They finished out of the playoffs, and things weren’t looking good, except for the goaltending position, where they thought they had the goalie of the future in Jose Theodore.
The Habs in the 2002-2003 season had only two players to finish with 50 or more points (Koivu and Richard Zednik). Jan Bulis played some time on the top line.
Gainey took over, and also captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of Habs fans.
Gainey blew the team up, and systematically tried to piece together a winning formula.
Last year, it once again all fell apart, as the team struggled for most of the season and was swept in the first round. This past summer, Gainey blew it up again, letting eight players leave to free agency, trading another one, and having one more retire.
Now the team sits with a record of 13-14-2, good for 11th spot in the standings, and things aren’t looking good, except for the goaltending position, where they feel they have the goalie in the future in Price.
Sound familiar? The team hasn’t changed since Gainey took over. The players are different, but the results are the same. He just hasn’t brought in the right guys needed to make a winner.
19. Fired Don Lever and Ron Wilson
We all know there are certain coaches that general managers like. When a GM takes over, he wants to put his own stamp on the team.
So they hire their friends, or guys that worked with them before.
That’s what happened in Montreal, as Gainey fired Julien to give Carbonneau the job.
But he already had other good coach down in Hamilton in Don Lever, and Lever’s assistant, Ron Wilson (who won a Calder Cup as a coach in 2001 with the Saint John Flames).
Lever and Wilson helped lead the minor league Canadiens to the Calder Cup championship in 2007, and kept the team a contender despite horrible drafting by the team.
So how does Gainey reward the duo? After firing Carbonneau, he calls up Lever to be his assistant for a few games, and then fires him in the summer.
Lever is now the coach of the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, with Wilson as his assistant.
And Habs fans are stuck with Jacques Martin.
20. Overall drafting
When you look at this team, does anyone drafted by the Canadiens blow you away?
We’ve already gone through the first round picks, but look at later rounds that have played with the Habs this season that Gainey has drafted.
Max Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre, Jaroslav Halak, Matt D’Agostini, Ryan White, and Ryan O’Byrne.
There’s no player on that list that make other teams worried, or other teams would love to have.
Why can’t the Habs draft a superstar player, someone who has the potential to score 50 goals one season? Why can’t Gainey learn to find those gems in the later rounds?
21. Signing Georges Laraque for too much money
Despite what many others think, Georges Laraque plays an important role with the Habs. It doesn’t help that Laraque has spent much of his time with the Canadiens on the injury list.
Every team needs an enforcer, someone who can keep the other teams in check. Ottawa has Chris Neil, Calgary has Brian McGratton, and Toronto has almost every one else.
So Laraque fills that role on this team.
But he doesn’t need to be paid $1.5 million to do so.
When you look at other scrappers on other teams, they don’t make near that much money (except for Donald Brashear and Neil, who is also overpaid). Colton Orr costs about $1 million. Derek Boogaard gets $875,000. George Parros also gets $875,000.
An enforcer is an important part of any team.
I like Georges Laraque. We need a scrapper on this team to protect our star players. I would just like him a lot more if he doesn’t cost us so much in cap space.
22. Not getting an experience goalie to back up Carey Price
Young goalies are going to make mistakes. They need a leader to be there for them, to push them not necessarily for the #1 spot, but to push them to be a better goaltender.
Last year, Montreal signed Marc Denis. This year, it was Curtis Sanford. Of course, both goalies get sent to the minors so they never actually get a chance to meet Price.
Instead, Gainey decides to keep Jaroslav Halak, another young goalie pushing for the job, someone that some fans scream to be the #1 anytime Price slips, which he’s going to do as a young keeper.
That’s not what Price needs, and that’s not going to help him. All it’s going to do is frustrate him, and we’ve seen it happen.
If Price is going to be the #1 goalie, then he has to be the #1 goalie. Not the #1A or #1B option.
23. Not realizing it’s time to move on (and should have done so after last year’s playoffs)
This is his biggest mistake, and for me, the most frustrating. Whatever he’s doing, it’s not working. Whatever he tries, he fails.
Any other team would have fired him by now. But for some reason, Gainey seems to be bullet-proof in Montreal. People ignore his mistakes for some reason, but Gainey can’t ignore it.
He’s not helping the team, and if you’re not helping, you have to go.
While some of the problems are one-time things (signing Samsonov, signing Laraque to too much money), most of them are symptoms of long-terms problems (rushing young players, drafting).
Let’s just say that it was a lot easier to come up with 23 mistakes Gainey has committed instead of 23 good things. Anytime your general manager is creating more negatives than positives, that’s not a good sign.
That’s why it’s time to fire Gainey now, before he creates even more mistakes.