Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gainey comes out punching, Koivu packing his bags?

Post-mortem day in Brossard was far busier than usual this year.

With 10 unrestricted free agents and another five restricted free agents, there were a lot of players us brutal media types wanted to poke and prod as to what they intend to do this summer.

To skip over some of the boring details, I'll start with this: Alex Tanguay, Alex Kovalev, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois all expressed an interest in returning here next year, while we didn't get a chance to talk to Francis Bouillon and Tom Kostopoulos, but it's a pretty safe bet that both would jump at a contract offer if it came.

"If the Canadiens call next week," Tanguay said, "I'm ready to talk."

The more surprising news was that Saku Koivu and Mike Komisarek did not overtly say they wanted to sign with the Canadiens.

In Komisarek's case that's understandable, because his agent Matt Keator (who also represents RFA Christopher Higgins) is notorious for instructing his clients to hit the market and go to the highest bidder. If Komisarek does that, despite his admission today that he had a bad season, he will make upwards of $5 million a year simply because of the nature of supply and demand with a slim defence crop available this summer.

I used to think he was worth that kind of dough, but I'm not positive after watching him play without Andrei Markov next to him the past few weeks.

But when Saku Koivu refused about two dozen opportunities to simply say he would love to be back with the Canadiens, I was originally pretty stunned. Koivu only needs to play one game next season with the "C" on his jersey to surpass Jean Beliveau as the longest-serving captain in Habs history. It's a record that would mean the world to Koivu, but his comments Thursday lead me to believe that he wouldn't mind seeing what life is like outside the Montreal fishbowl.

Thursday's meet the media day was a perfect example, as there were about 100 reporters, photographers, cameramen and TV personalities on hand to pick at the carcass of this failed centennial season. And even though Bob Gainey said the media pressure is not as great as it seems in Montreal, he's also a man who will be looking to convince some free agents to come to this team.

Koivu has had to deal with numerous attacks from the media over the course of his career, largely based on his inability to speak French after 10 years as captain, but also because he once truthfully said the Habs were not Cup favourites, and another time he and several other European players skipped the pre-season golf tournament.

He estimates that if he's still available on July 1, he'll be gone, and it will be pretty freaking weird to watch Koivu play in another uniform if that were ever to pass. He downplayed his desire to play with his brother Mikko in Minnesota, saying it would be extremely cool but he would rather not risk casting a shadow over his little brother by signing with the Wild (I've got news for you Saku, Mikko's shadow is now considerably larger than yours, and that's not because he's a bigger guy).

Koivu has never had a chance to be on the open market, and though he and his family love the city, having this kind of opportunity probably won't come again because Koivu is not getting any younger at 34. And I think we all saw flashes of that age in the playoffs.

My take on it is that Koivu will surely be asked to take a hometown discount to sign with Montreal, and probably even a lesser role on the ice, and I'm not sure he's willing to do that. I'm also not sure he feels he has a legitimate shot at winning a Cup in Montreal, that if it was going to happen this was the year, and it's been wasted.

Gainey did not disappoint in his 25-minute meeting with reporters, just like a night prior after Game 4 ended and he accused the Bell Centre fans of "bullying" Carey Price.

Personally, I believe fans who pay those ridiculous prices to get in the building can do whatever they want, but the mock cheers for Price were just stupid. He didn't have an outstanding series, and he had a pretty horrendous second half of the season, but so did a lot of his teammates. Price expressed a willingness to stay in Montreal and deal with the inherent pressure of playing goal for the Habs, but he was still seething from the incident Thursday afternoon and I got the distinct impression that if he were a UFA like 10 of his teammates will be, he'd be gone.

Also, I'm not sure how Gainey's "rude, obnoxious assholes" quote was relayed to everyone, but I just wanted to make it clear he was talking about fans in LA who booed Darryl Sydor out of town. But the inference that he felt the same way about the fans who gave the mock cheers to Price would not be a stretch.

Gainey's highlight moment Thursday was calling out Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton for leaking the names of the players being discussed in the Vinny Lecavalier trade talks. Gainey called the leak a "disgrace" and gave it partial blame for the Habs terrible second half.

I understand not being happy that names got out - which, by the way, essentially confirms that the names that got out were in fact the ones involved - but to go from there to blaming it for a meltdown like the Canadiens had is going way, way too far.

Yes, that's a distraction, especially to two guys like Tomas Plekanec and Christopher Higgins who have serious self-confidence issues and take everything way too hard. But to the point where it would send the entire team spiralling downward into an abyss of mediocrity? I don't think so.

I was dying to ask this question, but the Habs PR staff cut Gainey's news conference off and wouldn't let me get it in.

With what Gainey said Thursday, does this mean the potential of a Vinny Lecavalier trade happening at the draft in Montreal is essentially out the window? Gainey was still pretty pissed off about the situation Thursday, and this is three months after the fact. Now Brian Lawton is also pissed, calling Gainey's assertions "preposterous" and denying that he leaked the names to try and up the price on Lecavalier.

If Gainey needed to get that off his chest, maybe he should have done it the same way he's accusing Lawton of doing it - with a discreet media leak. Doing it on a press conference being broadcast live on two networks in Quebec and attended by every major media outlet in the country may not have been the best way of going about it, just like Price's reaction to the fans was probably not the best move either.

The difference is that people will forget what Price did as soon as he starts winning games for the Habs. But I don't think Lawton will ever forget what Gainey did today, especially not before the draft.

So I think Habs fans can now kiss Vincent Lecavalier goodbye.


Topham said...

If Gainey or Lawton pass up a trade that would be best for their team because of a personal vendetta, then they are both worse GMs than we thought.

Arpon, are you not somewhat disturbed that Gainey harped on about how all teams are competitive and want to win. How normally we do this, normally we do that. It seems he's quite happy to follow the same path year after year and see what happens.

You know what, Michael Phelps, Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, the great champions; they don't think that way. They go top work the day after the loss and decide how they might avoid it in the future.

I always hoped Gainey was like this. Uless his media conference was a ruse to throw other GMs into disarray, I don't think he's the workhorse of GMs in this league. I don't think he has an irrepressible desire to win. Do you?

jkr said...

A couple of things. Yes, open trade rumors can affect a team's play. I saw it here in Toronto when the Leafs were at the top of their division when the Lindros rumors with names attached were leaked. The Leafs went into the tank & sunk in the standings. We're naive to think otehrwise.

I don't really care what Lawton thinks. The names were leaked from somwwhere & my guess is that it did come from the clowns running the Lightning. It's clear Gainey has no respect for Lawton if he brings this up in an open forum.

Ted said...

I'm surprised that Gainey would be surprised that this could and would happen. Didn't he have the same problem a couple of years ago with Burke and discussions that took place between the two of them?

I think there is an intent to sour the talks and avoid having to deal with the VL issue.

I know one thing for certain. If I were GM (and you wouldn't want me as GM) I would not want to have a contract for 10 years at 8 million per or whatever the amount is especially going into a reduced cap space period.

Arpon Basu said...

I do think Gainey has a burning desire to win, but he also has an overly developped sense of perspective, which is why he comes off as somewhat aloof. He also learned a lesson this season in managing expectations, which is what I think he was trying to do when he talked about how there's as much pressure in Nashville as there is in Montreal (could you believe that one?) The problem I see have with Gainey is that, up until now, I have found him to be too conservative. He's basically admitted that the names that got out in the Lecavalier rumours are the ones that were being discussed. What that tells me is that if he had sweetened the pot a little that deal could have been made.

Anonymous said...

Awesome work Arp. This season was much better with you in the game. I don't think I missed a single posting... but what now? The Impact? Al's? Mike Weir, esquire? Don't leave us hanging.

Jeff said...

I think the VL deal had already been squashed to the point of no return when BG made his assertion that the names were leaked. Clearly Gainey wasn't the source of the leak as the impact on his team was at stake. Since Tampa wanted to maximize its ROI on VL, it is only logical that they would play the Habs players to guage/elicit better returns from other teams. The leak may not have come from Lawton personally but it damn well came from Tampa.

Schrick said...

Arpon, how can you say that Gainey is "conservative" when he made the biggest gamble of his career on Price? And he will lose that gamble sooner rather than later.

Schrick said...

He has doubled up on his gamble on Price now twice...(actually three times if you count the mid year slump)

pierre said...

I would concour withTopham suggestion that Gainey is not that passionate about the CH's destiny and it's success..... had he been our team would be far ahead of where it is now..... the mess we are in are the results of his work..... experience and expertise cant be at faults behind such poor performances from our GM but lack of drive and ambition can..... his body of work is incoherent while he's made mistakes every single year since he's been with our organization..... we have been the laughing stok of the league this year as a consequence of it all.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I would hate to be the laughing stok of the league, but we did make the playoffs... That said, the season the Habs had was far from pretty, but the fact is the team is WAY better than it was 5 years ago. Imagine going into the playoffs with Markov, Tanguay AND Lang... oh, and Schneider! wait, just imagine... The fact is, the transactions he made weren't there to help his team out. Unfortunate, but not the GM's fault. I think last year's season was the worst thing that could have happened to the Habs going into the Centennial year. It's one thing that we made the playoffs but to have been seeded number one overall really gave the players a false sense of worth, and the fans a false sense of achievement. We were good, but obviously not that good. And it was clear that coaching is STILL a huge part of playoff hockey. And it was prooved again this year, by a former Habs coach no less, however, I don't think Bob had much of a chance with the team he had left come game time against the Bruins. Oh, and I don't think Carbo would have made the difference seeing as the only reason we made the playoffs this year in the first place is due to Bob's decision to put his three best players on one line. Oh, and Halak's 4-game win streak... and Lapierre's growth during the Holidays... and the ridiculous number of games we won in the beginning of the season, that we never deserved o win! Point is, it was never meant to be. But Bob does have a huge problem NOW, with pending free agency... Good luck!

Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

ps. Sliver24, get your own blog!

B B said...

While bemoaning the season, the subject of free agency came up. I'm thinking along the line of offering to RFA's over UFA's because a) they're usually younger players; B) if they are re-signed, it will jam the cap on their team. It may sound like Brian Burke, but by offering to players like Kessle, the Habs will either gain a serious offensive threat, or put Boston against the cap in future seasons.