Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Everything new is old again

Bob Gainey has a delicious sense of irony, doesn't he?

On the day his former coach Guy Carbonneau was addressing the media for the first and only time about his dismissal, Gainey decided to shuffle his lines again and go with the combinations that Carbonneau himself had come up with.

That meant Tomas Plekanec between Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, Saku Koivu between Christopher Higgins and Alex Tanguay, and Maxim Lapierre between Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos. Essentially, Carbonneau's dream line-up.

It was a dream because Carbonneau almost never had all these pieces at his disposal, and even now Gainey is deprived of Robert Lang. But each of these three lines had a stretch of success at one point this season, it just never happened to be at the same time.

Let's say the new/old line combinations give the Habs the spark they've needed since before the All-Star break. I wonder how Carbonneau will feel then? If he's still trying to figure out why exactly he got fired 10 days after the fact, the confusion will become even deeper if it's his own line combinations that actually get the team out of its funk.

This means that Kostitsyn will be playing alongside Kovalev again Thursday in Ottawa, something I don't feel allows the youngster much breathing room to make plays. But frankly, he hasn't been making too many plays without Kovalev of late, so why not give it a shot?

Something else I don't particularly agree with is Gainey's decision to go with Carey Price in Ottawa. I guess he's relying on what Price did in regulation Tuesday to allow the Habs to earn a point, but I'm more focused on his frightening performance in the shootout where he looked completely overmatched.

The Senators are playing pretty good hockey right now, and I fear they could pounce on Price early. He needs a solid first period tomorrow night so the Habs have a chance to actually play with a lead for the first time in ages, and I'm not sure he's in the right frame of mind to do that.

But the big event Wednesday was not the Habs practice in Brossard, it was Carbonneau's near hour-long meeting with reporters at the Bell Centre. He had a lot to say while saying a lot of nothing over that time, but one thing he said jumped out at me.

When asked if having 11 impending free agents on the team made his life as coach more difficult, Carbonneau didn't pull any punches.

"I can't hide the fact that it was an extremely difficult situation," Carbonneau said. "We all see how much money certain players get paid and everyone is trying to give themselves an advantage. It's a reality in the NHL right now and certain teams will be affected more than others in certain years. With the salary cap I think we'll see this more and more frequently. Teams are going to have to guard themselves from situations like this and adapt a little better. It was an exceptional situation this year in Montreal that never happened before, and I think the coaches and organizations should learn from what happened here."

The former coach did everything he could not to throw either his former boss or former players under the bus Wednesday, but that response essentially did that to Gainey. That's not saying what Carbonneau said isn't true, because it was a potential problem that was identified from the very first day of training camp, and apparently it was a situation that became bigger than the team.

Gainey, in his role as GM, should have seen this coming and could have avoided it being so overwhelming by signing one or two key players during the season or even last summer. His failure to do so made it so his coach-of-the-year candidate became a fall guy, and it only confirmed my belief that Gainey decided his fate was going to be dictated by no one but himself. He knows his job may be on the line here, and he wants to be the one calling the shots when and if he gets the axe.

Even if that means calling shots the coach he fired already came up with.


chris frankel said...


I was sad to see Carbo go, but I don't agree that it will be the ultimate irony if returning to Carbo's lines helps Gainey get the Habs out of this funk. My overall impression of the meltdown since the all star break (and maybe some signs of impending doom before then) is that this sometimes happens to hockey teams. Teams are a funny thing -- completely dependent as they are on a delicate balance / chemistry of confidence, skill, and desire. That the Habs lost this balance isn't entirely the players fault, isn't entirely Carbo's fault, and isn't entirely Gainey's fault for having so many pending UFAs. In short, this shit happens to teams, and the Habs are even more prone to it because of the insane pressure and over-analysis that we as ever adoring fans and media put on them. I think that is part of the deal which makes Montreal the greatest city for hockey, but also the toughest. So, all that to say that I thought Gainey made the right, if difficult, move in firing Carbo. We all know it wasn't because Carbo was a "bad" coach -- none more so than Scotty Bowman when he was let go, or Pat Burns for that matter -- but that something is off with the chemistry of the team that last year was all about skill, confidence, and desire. So Gainey had to shake things up in a dramatic way -- it may work, it may not work, but I will say this -- Gainey is the single best person to run the Habs in a generation -- and if we let one late season meltdown allow him to be kicked aside then we just might be kissing goodbye to stanley cup parades for the rest of our days!

pierre said...

The weirdest to me was not the firing of Carbo by Gainey but the hiring of same by same.

Hiring someone to coach the CH which had 0 years of experience as a head coach was simply a creasy idea to me...... but as unhortodox a move as it was, it was Gainey's move, so, why not letting him go with it and proves his point ? I did, all did, some understood his intentions better than me but whatever his points were it failed us..... Gainey's experiment was a failed experiment.

Their professional relation as DG versus Head Coach were obscure to me..... all I know is that Gainey a mere six weeks before firing his chosen coach was describing him as being the best move he had made for the CH since he started here as a GM...... in hindsight, I am affraid, a terribly self-depreciating comment.... which I pretty much agree with.

Arpon Basu said...

I had no problem with Gainey firing Carbo in principle, but the problem I did have was that he should hjave done it sooner. If he was able to find it within himself to fire his good friend and hand-picked coach, then why did Gainey wait until the situation sank as low as it did? To me, that west coast trip was as good a time as any to make this move. Doing it when he did, I question whether Gainey left himself enough time to make a difference. Having said all that, I still think the Habs will make the playoffs and it won't require a miracle either.