Bob Gainey sent a strong message to the guys in his dressing room Wednesday by doing nothing at the trade deadline, and feeling pretty good about the decision as well.
I personally feel he needed another defenceman and, ideally, some help in the middle, but Gainey said Wednesday that he liked his team and had no regrets about watching players like Olli Jokinen, Jordan Leopold, Derek Morris and others go elsewhere.
But he made a point of framing his inaction at the deadline with a message to some of his underperforming employees that it's time for them to deliver the goods.
"It's a challenge to the players to play to their maximum, to their potential," Gainey told reporters in Brossard. "I'm happy with our defence. I also feel we have the players up front to score the goals we need, and we have a better diversity of players than we've had in the past."
Not sure if Gainey fully believes that, but the point here is that he's going to go forward with the team he finalized with the acquisition of Mathieu Schneider and Glen Metropolit.
This makes the return of Alex Tanguay and, eventually, even Guillaume Latendresse vitally important, because if they're not able to make a seamless comeback from their shoulder injuries then the team is in trouble. In fact, I feel both of them fell into the category of players not playing to their potential, so not only do they have to return to the level they were at before the injury, they actually need to exceed that level.
I'm not sure if that's going to happen, especially when it comes to Latendresse who might never reach his full potential. But if guys like Christopher Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn can wake up a little, if Tomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev can continue this little run of success they've had, if Carey Price can embrace this challenge and use it to drive him to new heights, if Roman Hamrlik and Mike Komisarek can find their games and solidify the back end, if Ryan O'Byrne can somehow grab hold of a spot in the top six and thrive, then maybe the Habs will be OK.
But that's a lot of "ifs," and almost every one of the teams the Habs are competing with for playoff positioning addressed their "ifs" Wednesday, or at least made some trades.
In the case of the New York Rangers, I think their problems run a little too deep to be fixed by Morris and Nik Antropov, but on paper they're a better team today than they were a day earlier.
The Penguins adding Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, the Hurricanes repatriating Erik Cole, the Flyers adding Kyle McLaren and Daniel Carcillo, and the Sabres adding Dominic Moore and even Mikael Tellqvist means the race for the last five spots in the playoffs just got tighter. And most importantly, the Florida Panthers did not get weaker by trading away Jay Bouwmeester, and even added Steve Eminger.
So Gainey's message sent to his underachievers had better be received because a playoff spot is far from a given for the Habs right now, especially with how every team around them improved. Wednesday night's game in Buffalo will be this team's first opportunity to show that their general manager's confidence was not misplaced.