Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Some NHL Talk

Montreal is in uncharted waters, right now. For the first time since 1992, Montreal is in position to finish the season in First Place in the Eastern Conference; this is an unbelievable turn of events which has most of us, in this city, stunned - though, one might add, we are also extremely approving and self-satisfied with this state of affairs. The fact is that, at the start of the season, not even team captain Saku Koivu saw the Habs as a playoff contender, never-mind the talking heads in Toronto who had the Habs finishing, I think, thirteenth in the east and 22nd overall...

It's exhilarating to watch these players contend with the superstars of other teams and come out on top; their youth and energy, their well-rounded talents and speedy skating, all of it contributes to the success of the Team the Gainey Built. The fact is, if you include the phenomenal talent of Montreal's two goaltenders (Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak), there are very few teams in the NHL who play a more exciting style of hockey.

And no one saw it coming - no one. The talking heads in Montreal were hopeful, but cautiously pessimistic in their pre-season predictions, saying Montreal would probably narrowly miss the playoffs, or at best, finish the regular season in 7th or 8th place in the east. When queried about how the team could become a true contender, they said Gainey needed to make a high-impact trade, that it was necessary and failure to do so would denote his failure as a General Manager.

What people forgot was that Bob Gainey turned the Minnesota North Stars cum the Dallas Stars around, made them into a well-oiled, Stanley Cup contending machine. He is a quiet, laconic man, who says - in the words of Travolta's Chili Palmer - no more than he has to, if that; this makes him a PR nightmare and journalists constantly misread his actions and expressions.

But the fact is that his team-building has worked. The youths he's drafted and the small, quiet trades he's made have created a team which continues to be a threat no matter what line is playing, no matter who other teams have targeted for constant-coverage or injury.

So I think we, Montrealers and especially Montreal's sports journalists, owe Mr. Gainey an apology. He is a talented man who knows his job and does it well.

In the future we should abide by what seems to have been a good tactic so far: Trust in Gainey.