The crease conundrum
This year, with his team struggling at the trade deadline, with a clear problem to solve and with two obvious alternatives available on the rental market, Curtis Joseph and Eddie Belfour, Gainey chose to pass. He didn't speak on deadline day — he has said almost nothing publicly since his daughter's tragic death at sea in December — so any suggestions as to his thought process are pure speculation. But since he had an obvious short-term problem to solve, and his best goaltending assets (injured Huet and first-round pick Carey Price) were both long-term propositions, he must have simply balked at the price.Bob Gainey is taking a little bit of a hammering in the press lately for his activity, or lack thereof, leading up to the trade deadline.
His only move, after all, was to ship out pending-UFA defenceman Craig Rivet in exchange for youngster Josh Gorges, a deal that seemed to signal the Habs were a seller instead of a buyer. Curiously, that was where the dealing stopped.
The problem I have, however, with the notion that Joseph, Belfour or any other of the rental netminding options were 'the answer' for the Habs is that, even with regular starter Cristobal Huet, this wasn't a winning team.
In the 14 starts Huet had leading up to the game in which he tore his hamstring, the spiralling Canadiens were 5-9-0 and desperately swapping the French 'tender with David Aebischer in an attempt to right the ship.
In all, Montreal was 9-17-1 in a skid that lasted from Dec. 21 to... well, until the new guy arrived.
Enter Jaroslav Halak, the top netminder in the AHL at the time, and he rattled off three wins in a row in his first three NHL starts. In all, between the time of Halak's first start and the day of the trade deadline, the Habs were 4-1-0.
Now, if you're Gainey, and your team is suddenly on the upswing after a long fall down the standings — one that continued unabated regardless of who was in goal — do you make a move to shore up your goaltending? Especially when you have, at best, a low-seeded playoff team in a weak conference, a club that dealt it's longest-serving veteran and has its remaining two pending-UFA blueliners filling the top spots on the defence core. Especially when your lone marquee free-agency signing has been one of the league's biggest busts, a cancer in the room and an anchor on the payroll.
Especially when crawling into the postseason means a date with one of the conference 'powers' in Buffalo and New Jersey, and far more likely than not, an early exit.
The difference between the 2006 Edmonton Oilers club that added a veteran 'tender and went to the finals and the 2007 Montreal Canadiens that didn't (and won't) was that goaltending was, unequivocally, the hole on that Oilers team.
In Montreal? Hardly. There's a shoddy blueline anchored around two offense-first skaters and a forward corps that hasn't scored at even strength all season. There's dressing room turmoil and tragedy in the front office and a star who's publicly questioned the team's coach in the foreign press.
This, frankly, isn't Montreal's year, and 'going for it' in any capacity isn't the move to make.
Besides, were the Canadiens really the team that needed a Joseph or Belfour the most? Scan the netminding wasteland currently backstopping the turtle derby in the middling portion of the Eastern Conference and there are a handful of teams who could have used that help: Boston, the Islanders, Carolina, Tampa Bay or even Toronto. (It makes you wonder just how high the rental price was given none of the above made that call to bring in a veteran between the pipes.)
Gainey didn't so much raise a white flag at the trade deadline as look to the future, one in which Halak, Gorges, Andrei Kastsitsyn, Mike Komisarek, Maxim Lapierre, Guillaime Latendresse, Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, Mike Ryder and the other youngsters play a big role. And I don't think it's a coincidence those are the players keying a lot of their recent success.
Will there be some heat if the Habs miss the playoffs, as they almost certainly will? Definitely. But Gainey's shown in the past he's not afraid of the heat, especially when there's a plan in place and some hope for the future.
Besides, if you want to jump on someone, Garth Snow's your man. Here's a GM who went for it big time despite his team's tenuous position in the standings and is now regretting now having a backup plan in the form of a solid backup.