Habs Host Caps in First Game of the Gauthier Era

Yesterday, I racked my brain trying to come up with something sensible to say about everything that's happened to the Canadiens, not only in the last two days since Bob Gainey decided to step down as Habs GM, but this entire season... even the entire 7 years of Bob Gainey's tenure. I even had part of a blog written up, but it just didn't feel right.

Should I sit here and criticize 7 years of moves by a General Manager? Should I criticize his will to be the general manager, to bring this team to a new level? Do I have the right to do that? Or even the knowledge to do that?

Truth be told, I don't know how to answer any of those questions. As fans, we've learned how to sit behind our computers, call into radio shows and complain amongst friends about the moves and non-moves of our teams. But truth be told, we don't know how things work in a general manager's office, especially not Bob Gainey's office. We don't know what kind of pressures he was feeling from Pierre Boivin or even George Gillett (or, more recently, but obviously not for long, Geoff Molson). We don't know what it takes to make a trade, or how other general mangers perceived him. We don't know what kind of staff he had scouting and working with the team.

So while we may agree or disagree with whatever moves Gainey or his staff decided to make over the years, I believe we need to respect the work that he did for the Canadiens over the course of seven years. And honestly, it couldn't have been that bad. Gainey took a team going nowhere and did help fill up the prospect and talent pools. He did bring legitimate NHLers to the team and he has iced a respectable teams. Moreover, he took over a team that George Gillett bought when no one wanted anything to do with it, and helped Gillett turn over a 100% tax-free profit. From a business perspective, he certainly did something right.

Whether I agree or disagree with some of Gainey's hockey decisions, or the way he went about some of his business, like the Georges Laraque situation and free agency this past July, I will respect what he's given to this franchise, not only in the last seven years but over the course of his entire life and his career, I will respect Bob Gainey the man, and I will wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. Beyond that, nothing more needs to be said about the Bob Gainey era, at least not on the part of this blogger.

(Although, if you do want a good write-up on the Gainey era, visit Kyle Roussel's blog and read his latest entry. Excellent stuff).

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WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

So here we are, seven years after Bob Gainey took over the Habs, and we find ourselves cheering for a team fighting for their playoff lives, but a team in the midst of an identity crisis. We find ourselves the fans of a team with a new General Manager with experience running franchises that weren't exactly powerhouses, and one that, despite that experience, we don't know much about.

Described as ''The Ghost'' by Ottawa journalist Bruce Garrioch (actually, Garrioch doesn't seem to think much of him at all, based on some of his recent tweets), not much is known about Gauthier or what he is capable of. The nickname stems from his tendancy to disappear for long stretches of time during the season. La Presse columnist Francois Gagnon seems to agree with that assessment, coining Gauthier as the new Ghost of the Bell Centre.

During his tenure as GM in Ottawa, Gauthier was known for going on long scouting trips, regardless of whatever scouting staff he had hired, as well as avoiding the media. While that might actually be a good thing for this team, albeit frustrating for some of the fans and media members, it's an interesting change from an eloquent speaker in Bob Gainey. And while Gainey never really hogged the media limelight, he certainly knew how to play games with them, and say things without really saying anything when he didn't want to reveal his hand. Gauthier will not play those game, as he has already proven to be a man of few words, a man who will be fairly direct in what he has to say, in his one press conference as GM.

He has been credited by some for drafting Sundin, Nolan and Lindros in Quebec City, helping the rebuild process in Ottawa, and wheeling and dealing as the general manager of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. How much can really be credited to him for his work in Ottawa, Quebec and Anaheim (not to mention in Montreal as Gainey's assistant these last few years) is up for debate. But as I said at the beginning of this entry, I'm not going to sit here and over-analyze every move he's made in the past.

But every move Gauthier makes from hereon in deserves to be heavily scrutinized. He's been handed the reigns to the organization, given a generous contract extension and entrusted with bringing the Canadiens to the next level, something Gainey failed to do. There is no interim title, no safety net. Gauthier is the General Manager. And how he deals with the Plekanec free agency issue, the goaltending controversy, the over-inflated contracts and everything else going forward will either benefit or burden this team for a long time.

The winds of change are passing through Montreal as we speak (and no, I don't mean that ridiculous air funnel that I have to walk through on Rene-Levesque Boulevard to get to work every morning). Where will they go from here? What kind of GM will Pierre Gauthier be? What will he do with pending free agents? With the trade deadline? At this year's free agency? Only time will tell. But he will be given his fair chance. He deserves at least that much.

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YES, THERE IS STILL A GAME TONIGHT

Won't bother with stats today. All you really need to know is that the key to tonight's game is puck possession. Ovechkin and his crew score so many goals because they always have the puck. In turn, that makes things easier for Jose Theodore or who ever they have in goal, and very difficult for the opposition to do anything.

The Canadiens have had this very problem all season. They're always chasing the puck, they never have puck possession, and it leads to way too many turnovers, way too many penalties against, and not nearly enough powerplays or scoring opportunities. Add to this the fact that the Canadiens will now be without four of their best goalscorers (Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, Pouliot and Bergeron) until at least March, and the task of ending a 14-game Washington win streak becomes incredibly difficult.

If they play like they did against the Canucks and Penguins, they might have a chance. But logic will dictate that this game might be a write-off for a Canadiens team struggling in almost every aspect of the game. Then again, as I've said many times before, there is nothing logical about this team, and they've shown that they can shutout Alexander Ovechkin and beat the Washington Capitals in the past.

That being said, I'm going to predict a win for tonight. Habs 5 - Caps 4 in a shootout. Take it or leave it. Either way, we can only hope for a hard-working performance from the Canadiens and an exciting game.

Enjoy the game!

Prax
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