I think it's probably time to admit that I must have been wrong and that perhaps it's not Jack Todd that has changed. Perhaps he's always done sensationalism with a hacksaw; perhaps he's always chased the headline while going short on the substance.
I hope not. I hope that my one time favourite Expos-booster was full of sharp and accurate observation. Clearly now he's running low on that.
The reason I bring this up today is because Jack is pulling an easy one – criticising Bob Gainey. Not only that he's criticising Bob while grandstanding Andre Savard, the Canadiens saviour we must have overlooked; the last GM to work here with a plan.
Jack suggests that Gainey's time, despite outward appearances, has been ruled by panic throughout. He suggests that trades, free agent wooing and contract renegotiations were all part of this frantic attempt to keep head above water. In contrast, he puts forward Andre Savard who (in retrospect) did everything with cold and accurate calculation.
But is this really the case? Or is Jack merely playing to an audience he knows will have forgotten the Czerkawski debacle and the Traverse trade as they fret about Game 8 of the season?
When I see wild claims with such questionable basis, it always prompts me to do a bit of investigating. So investigate I did. I thought you might all like to share in the investigation.
At one point, Jack takes quite a liberty in exalting M. Savard as he credits him not only with his draft picks from 2000-2003 when he was GM of the team, but then also with the picks he made after he was shown his graceful redundancy package and lingered on in the organization from 2004-2006. Now, I don't want to belittle Savard's drafting in his own time, because it was a massive improvement on the previous regime, but I think we have to settle on whether it is the GM or the assistant GM who should get credit here.
Perhaps it would be different if Todd gave Gainey any due for the picks from 2003-2006 in his piece, but he doesn't:
"When you review Gainey's own draft choices after six years, you can find only one who is anywhere near star status in the NHL"
That's why I'll re-appropriate Gainey's fair dues from 2004 draft to present and credit him with the Mark Streit pick (NHL star), and for restocking the farm.
I think the alternative would be something like crediting Martin Madden with all those picks from 2001-2003, because, after all, he was assistant GM at the time. In building his somewhat shaky case for Savard better than Gainey, it seems Jack Todd employed the favourite technique of all spin-doctors in shifting the black and the white through the gray. I'll try to be fairer.
|Rank||Andre Savard pick||Year drafted||Level attained||Bob Gainey pick||Year drafted||Level attained|
|1||Tomas Plekanec||2001||Offensive centre||Mark Streit||2004||All-star PP QB|
|2||Jaroslav Halak||2003||NHL goalie||Carey Price||2005||NHL goalie|
|3||Andrei Kostitsyn||2003||Offensive winger||Guillaume Latendresse||2005||Offensive winger|
|4||Mike Komisarek||2001||Average defender, worst NHL team||Mikhail Grabovski||2004||First line centre, worst NHL team|
|5||Chris Higgins||2002||NHL winger, can he score?||Max Pacioretty||2006||NHL winger, can he score?|
|6||Maxim Lapierre||2003||Some time 3rd line centre||Kyle Chipchura||2004||Some time 3rd line centre|
|7||Alex Perezhogin||2001||Disgruntled winger, in Russia||Sergei Kostitsyn||2005||Disgruntled winger, may go to Russia|
|8||Ryan O'Byrne||2003||Borderline NHLer||Matt D'Agostini||2005||Borderline NHLer|
|9||Konstantin Korneev||2002||Defensive prospect (Russia)||PK Subban||2007||Defensive prospect (Hamilton)|
|10||Corey Locke||2003||Minor leaguer||Yannick Weber||2007||Defensive prospect (Hamilton)|
For me that's a push. Though Savard's picks only come from 3 drafts (2 really, if you account for his dismal 2002), he did well to select just about 10 NHLish players. Gainey has had more drafts, but really only 3 drafts (2004-2006) have produced any NHLers so far – simply because those younger than that are still in college or Hamilton.
I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. If you want a look at the complete list of trades, you'll get a start at GoHabs.com. If you want to fill in any omissions, there's more info at NHL Trade History for you.
Looking down the complete list of trades certainly puts an end to any illusion that Andre Savard might have been the GM this team needed to reconstruct it in the early years of the millennium. Apart from trading for just about every player that Michel Therrien had coached in junior, the only moves he made of any consequence were sideways or backwards. if I was to stretch for a big win, I'd have to hide a smirk and say Future considerations for Joe Juneau or even 4th round pick for Quintal, for such was his record.
Gainey on the other hand, seems to know that to deliver a winning trade one has to take a chance. And in taking chances, at least he has delivered some winners. There was the Alex Kovalev triumph of a trade (unmentioned by Mr. Todd since it didn't fit his argument?), and wins like Garon for Huet and Bonk, 2nd rounder for Lang and the Rivet deal which is a Habs winner (unless you happen to be developing a case against Gainey, in which case it's a push).
Unlike Savard, whose biggest moves involved sideways swaps of Linden and Zubrus for Zednik and Bulis, or Rucinsky and Brunet for Audette and Van Allen; Gainey has dealt in stars. He's brought in players like Kovalev, Tanguay, Gomez and Schneider and at times he's traded stars of his own like Theodore and Ribeiro. While Savard's trades might never look as bad because he was playing around the edges, he certainly never took a good swipe for the fences, and hence never came close to hitting one out of the park. And while he may never have really gone for, Savard did still strike out hard a few times, such as Weinrich for Traverse, Hackett for Sundstrom, Savage and a 3rd for berezin and Asham and a pick for Czerkawski.
Gainey may be the Henry Rodriguez of trading averages, but at least he's shown pop. Andre Savard is the 0.189 hitting Peter Bergeron who's hits meet applause if they clear the second base coach.
Free agent signings
This shouldn't take long.
When Savard was here, bless him, he did once pursue Brett Hull. And maybe he pursued others that we may never know about. But what did he deliver in free agent signings to the might Montreal Canadiens? Why, Yanic Perrault, Doug Gilmour and Randy McKay. Not great, considering the adulation for the draft wizard. You'd almost think he'd set himself a fifteen year plan with that glacial rate of signing and upgrade to the horrible 200o team.
Gainey, as Todd eagerly points out, does have some marks on his record in the free agent arena. However, just as in the realm of trades, the fact that Gainey has taken chances in order to rebuild is a good leg up on Andre Savard. Add to that the fact we now boast Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek in lieu of the old guard and that Gainey just this summer won the lured the prized scorer Cammalleri to Montreal, the Brett Hul debacle gone right.
Usually I wouldn't have touched on contracts in this rebuilding piece, because it seems the very minimum requirement of the GM job (i.e., if you can't do this, then what can you do). But since, Jack Todd slings mud at Gainey for some albatrosses he created, I have decided to remind everyone of Andre's own gaffes:
"From the panicky signing of José Theodore to a lucrative three-year deal to the decision to send everyone from Koivu to Komisarek to Kostopoulos and Alex Kova-lev packing, panic has been the rule of the day since Gainey took over.
Where to start? Well how about signing Patrice Brisebois to a 3-year contract extension with a no-trade clause for the highest salary ever paid to a Canadiens player in season?
Andre replicated that stellar form with a lovely 3-year extension to Dykhuis too and an extension to Traverse. Spotting the amateur talent might have been a strength but locking up these three while Francois Beauchemin slips through the cracks wasn't something to brag about. Maybe he's forgiven because there's no limit to the amount of money you could hand out back then. Might be more convincing if he'd made a free agent signing...
If you've followed me this far in the piece, I trust I won't find you re-penning Jack Todd's opening words anytime soon:
"When a tall, dignified chap in a well-tailored suit came strolling into the press dining room at the Bell Centre before the Canadiens home opener, it struck me.
There was the best general manager the Canadiens have had since the early years of Serge Savard's reign, before Savard got too caught up in business activities to give the GM job his full attention.
No, I'm not talking about Bob Gainey. I'm referring to André Savard..."
I think if anything is clear after this little examination it is that no matter our current GM's faults and mis-steps, Gainey still trumps Savard. To be fair to Andre, he was a very effective talent spotter (probably still is), but in the other aspects of a GM's job, he was a massive disappointment for fans hoping for rebuilding. Gainey, by contrast has tried a few methods and failed, but he has also had his successes.
This season Gainey must take the slings and arrows as they come, because this new team was all his idea. But let's not mistake decisiveness and committing to a course for panic. I see more panic in resigning 3 underachieving hometown defencemen than I do in the Gomez trade. I'm glad Gainey didn't panic and trade Streit for nothing (aka Berezin) when his contract was coming up. And, quite the opposite of panic, I think Gainey finally does have a plan and is in the midst of putting his pieces together on the stage. Though, a losing streak offers a carrion-picking headline writer more reads, I still much prefer it to be bcked by some substance. Maybe in the future it will be. After all, we have Monday morning's column offering the possibility of a withdrawal with the proviso of 12 more impossible OT comeback wins.
Oh, and as a final note on lazy journalism. Though I'm sure we're all thrilled Glen Metropolit had a good game the day before Jack wrote his piece, the guy doesn't hold a candle to Steve Begin as a steal on the waiver wire (another Gainey era move, btw)...