Friday, July 03, 2009

Did the Montreal Canadiens need to be overhauled?

It's been swept under the rug a bit, but I still think it's a very pertinent question

To headline writers, Bob Gainey has blown up a team that crashed and burned in 2009.

To anyone with a developed memory and a modicum of sense, Bob Gainey also blew up the team that won the Eastern conference, and were it not for one hot and one cold goaltender might have battled the Penguins for a place in the Stanley Cup finals. Not only that, the team was an example of well-oiled NHL machine for 18 of the last 24 months.

I think those facts make the question very valid.

My personal opinion on the matter was that the Canadiens as a unit of players were largely fine. In my opinion, they did not need an overhaul. In fact, on the eve of free agency, I mused that bringing in a couple of new defenders (to replace Bouillon, Dandenault, Brisebois and perhaps Komisarek) might be change enough. I longed for another scorer (as everyone always does), but didn't think the playoffs hinged on it. I think the captain was a keeper. I think that Kovalev and Tanguay have been great performers for Montreal, given the inevitable drop in goals from players who come here.

Obviously Gainey and I should have talked.

Gainey, who happens to be privy of all the pertinent facts (to my very limited idea), thought differently.

Let's assume change is/was necessary...

I have to stretch to accept this view, but with an effort I can see it. But in the end, one has to defer to those with the inside scoop and those with the experience in the business. The amazing thing is, once I did this, I began to understand what Bob Gainey did over the Canada Day break.

Once you see change is necessary, you can see why Koivu wasn't offered a contract, why Higgins was traded, why Bouillon, Begin and Dandenault were ditched, why none of the coaches are back and why Gainey signed the players he did.

I even start to think of reasons why the change might have been necessary, like the fact Koivu and Kovalev never wanted to play together, like assistant captains Higgins and Komisarek being apologists and excuse generators after losses, like Dandenault constantly complaining about ice time. The list goes on.

Change of culture

I think what Bob Gainey identified that the rest of us were kidding ourselves about was the reason the Canadiens were ultimately underachieving at this point of the team's progression. I think Bob found a deep rooted problem with work ethic, entitlement and laziness. And how else to purge that than to clean house.

Now, I'm not saying that Saku Koivu or Kovalev were slackers, but clearly they weren't able to rein in or convince the younger players, many of whom were and are still slackers to step in line.

It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if every player in the Canadiens organization (as well as all others) was a free agent this July, because that house cleaning might have taken a different direction. As it was/is, Gainey could only make changes to certain players, those whose contracts were under review.

The scorched earth approach that Gainey has favoured in his retooling has certainly made it possible for a change in culture. For one thing, it shows the young guys that what happened in the past is not acceptable. It also provides the team with new and willing additions who will come in and adopt the new system as if it has been the Habs way all along – they know no different.

In other words, Gainey has succeeded in changing the culture, if that was his goal.

I have been putting together an article for some time about the stomach for winning. There have been a lot of questions about the sentimentality and entitlement that was previously rife in Montreal – whether it be signing sub-par fan favourites or stubbornly sticking with prospects well past their due date. I won't get into the whole thing, suffice to say, i think Gainey has gone a long way to prove that he's willing to do what it takes to win now. He's fired his friends, he's alienated the press and making friends is nowhere near the priority on his list anymore.

You may not agree with his talent assessment re: players like Hal Gill and Brian Gionta, but you have to give the guy credit. He saw drastic change was needed and he made the difficult decisions it took to make the change drastic indeed. And he continues to face the all-knowing press...


I want to know what you all think. Did the Canadiens need to be overhauled to the extent that they were. Was Gainey's diagnosis right (regardless of what you think of his treatment course)?

Let us know.

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