More To Come From Bold Bob

Much can happen in 24 hours.

Welcome back Mr. Schneider!
Sayonara Sergei!
Have a Kit Kat, Kovalev.

We all knew that the Canadiens needed a shake-up.

This week GM Bob Gainey has managed to put the Habs locker room through a spin cycle. Interestingly enough, this turnaround has been done without any permanent changes:

Kovy could be playing in Saturday’s matinee against the Senators; SK-74 can be re-called, as can Ryan O’Byrne; and Gregory Stewart should know his stay up in the big leagues is like a game of snakes and ladders. Schneider will see the season through, but Montreal didn’t give up any manpower that could have an immediate impact on the ice.

Gainey, a quiet and conservative man, made a bold statement to everyone in the Canadiens organization – both to the players on the ice and the personnel behind the bench.
With a couple of weeks still to go before the NHL trade deadline, Bob Gainey has put the team on notice. By giving The Alexei Kovalev a forced holiday (and in a way, by sending Sergei down to Hamilton) Gainey has let the team know that he isn’t afraid to go after anyone.

Play hard or pack your bags.

By making these roster moves, however, he’s also sending a (mixed) message to his coach. In one respect, he has given Guy Carbonneau a vote of confidence. He’s made some roster moves to give Carbo a chance to win some games. By intervening with Kovalev, he’s helped out his friend who obviously is unable to communicate effectively with the struggling Russian.

As TSN’s Bob McKenzie mentioned during Tuesday night’s Leafs-Sabres game, a huge controversy would have erupted if Carbonneau had even sent Kovalev to the press box for a single game, let alone tell him to stay home for a two-game road trip.

While the blame for the recent team woes have been passed to certain players, Carbonneau needs to understand that right now he is not getting the job done and that Dad has had to come downstairs and help clean up the mess.

If Gainey is making the roster decisions that a coach should normally make, it will be interesting to see if the Habs GM shoulders any more ice-level responsibilities.

More on-ice shake-ups might be avoided, however, depending on how the team reacts over the next few games. Acquiring Mathieu Schneider was a good move. He will bring some much needed stability to the Montreal blueline and hopefully give the powerplay a little punch.

As a 39-year old defensemen, he brings leadership and experience. He will be a good influence in the locker room and on the ice. I wouldn’t mind seeing him paired up with Josh Gorges in a mentoring role similar to the Hamrlik/O’Byrne situation we saw at the end of last season.

With the quantity of good defensemen on the current roster, Schneider isn’t being looked to as a saviour – just as another piece of the puzzle. By spreading his minutes wisely, however, he could end up being a pretty important piece.

There are some who think Gainey over-paid for Schneider (2nd and 3rd round draft picks) but that price could seem well worth it if he brings stability to the blueline and in turn, the team.

With Montreal’s powerplay struggling, many have faulted Bob Gainey for not signing Mark Streit last season. In hindsight, it seems like a poor decision, but let’s re-visit it for a moment:

  1. Streit was defensively porous – he has been a minus player for his entire (albeit short) NHL career. [Note: I will admit that it is impressive that he is currently a plus player on the minus-laden team]
  2. While Streit has obvious offensive upside, his questionable defensive play turned him into a seventh defenseman last season. He poured in the points, but many of them came when he played as a forward.
  3. In the off-season, Montreal’s blueline looked solid. Markov/Komi, Hamrlik/O’Byrne, and Bouillon/Gorges/Dandenault/Brisebois looked to provide enough offensive depth.
  4. By the end of last year, Streit no longer wanted to sign with Montreal. He made it perfectly clear that he only wanted to play as a defensemen. The Islanders could offer up a spot as a top-2 D-man, the Habs could not. This is more because of how Carbonneau used Streit than any negligence on Gainey’s part.

Streit was not only offered more money than Gainey was willing to pay, but also a bigger role as a defensemen. At the time it was an easy decision for the Habs GM to make, as it was for most Canadiens fans.

During his tenure, Bob Gainey has brought this team back from the darkness. He has made sound hockey decisions that have made the team competitive now while also ensuring that it has a bright future.

The success of the team ultimately falls upon his shoulders. That is why his is acting right now – making bold moves to keep his team afloat. He will do what needs to be done.

In Bob We Trust

Don’t be surprised to see another trade.

Gainey has smartly positioned himself to be flexible on or before March 4th – if necessary. He still has two weeks to evaluate the team and its needs. Without picking up the phones, he has made available the services of Alex Kovalev (which would free up cap space). By bringing in Schneider, he creates an overflow on the blueline.

With cap space, defensive depth and prospects, another trade – big or small – is a very real possibility.

My guess? Look to the desert.

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