Geoff Molson held his first press conference today at the Habs annual pre-training camp charity golf tourney, and if there is one thing that stood out from the "blah, blah, blah," it was his unwavering support for president Pierre Boivin and GM Bob Gainey.
In Boivin's case, I don't think he could be accused of anything right now considering the business model for the Habs is pretty damn sound. Never before has the team had such a rabid following in Montreal while at the same time producing a pretty drab product on the ice. That's a credit to Boivin and his marketing guru Ray Lalonde.
But speaking of that on-ice product, I suppose Molson had little choice other than to support Gainey at this particular time, simply because the season is three weeks away and you're not about to fire your GM now. Besides, Gainey just completed the largest summer overhaul in team history, so the least Molson can do is let that play out before judging it.
But - and to me this is clear as day - should this chemistry experiment blow up in Gainey's face, I'm pretty sure he will not be manning the Habs table at the 2010 draft. It is make-or-break time for Gainey, which does not necessarily mean he needs to win Cup #25 next spring, but the team he's assembled had better show some indication that it is at least poised to do so in the coming years or else I believe he'll be replaced.
So how can this team do that? Let me count the ways.
It would start with top-notch performances from Gainey's summer acquisitions, at least the big ticket guys like Gomez, Cammalleri and - to a lesser extent - Gionta. In the salary cap world you can't afford to have dead money skating around out there, and the three of them combine for over $18 million in cap space. That's about 30 percent of your payroll going to three guys, so they had better produce.
Secondly, Jacques Martin needs to get through to these players and form a cohesive group right out of training camp. Martin is Gainey's second claim of the perfect man for the job, and if he doesn't work out, you have to believe Gainey will be held responsible.
Finally, this team will need to have a playoff spot locked up in early or mid March and not simply squeak in like so many other Habs clubs have done over the past six years. That would show Molson and his merry band of owners that Gainey's new vision for this team is in fact bearing some fruit, even if the Habs get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
It would also help if some of the free agents Gainey allowed to walk flopped on their new teams. If Mike Komisarek somehow becomes a Chris Pronger in waiting this season, that won't look very good. If Alex Kovalev pots 40 goals or Saku Koivu or Alex Tanguay notch 80 points, Gainey will have a little egg on his face, especially considering how little it turned out to cost for signing Koivu and Tanguay. Or if Chris Higgins miraculously develops some scoring touch on the Rangers and...OK, now I'm starting to delve into the world of fantasy.
But that last point is secondary, because if the Habs succeed on the ice I don't think anyone will care how many goals Kovalev has scored or how shots Komisarek has blocked. This team needs to produce and they need to do it now, or else the grand chemist may fall victim to his own experiment.