MONTREAL – It was midseason report card day at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Monday and Bob Gainey took a moment to reflect on what his players have accomplished through 41 games this season.
Bob Gainey is Bob Gainey and while he wasn’t exactly gushing about his club’s performance, it was clear the Canadiens’ GM was a happy man. And why shouldn’t he be? His Habs are on a tear and gunning for the top spot in the conference they earned last season.
Currently in fourth place in the East, the Canadiens have given up the second-fewest goals in the conference and are fourth in goals-scored. Offensive success had been driven by the power-play the last few years; this year, though, the Habs have proven to be a force to be reckoned with at even strength.
“We are a better team this year, not the same team, but a better team,” said Gainey. “Our power play might not be where it was the last two seasons, but we’re stronger in other areas. Our five-on-five play has much improved and we continue to be a tough team to play against, which is the most important thing.”
The Canadiens’ clinic has been a rather crowded one through the first half, with the likes of Mike Komisarek, Christopher Higgins, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, Carey Price
and Georges Laraque all strengthening their bond with the team’s therapists. While that hasn’t derailed the Habs’ season, the others haven’t been shy about picking up the slack.
The recent rash of injuries that his team has survived to date has proven what they're made of, and Gainey likes what he’s seen.
“Injuries are a part of life in the NHL, but we have gotten to see our young players from Hamilton able to step right in for us,” said Gainey. “We’re putting together third period comebacks because we have a young and quick team. We’ve gotten better in a number of areas that are tougher to correct, such as having the necessary depth to compensate for injuries. Seeing players arrive and be able to fill a slot for us tells us that maybe we need to give that player a close look sooner than we expected.”
Gainey did single out a few players that have particularly caught his eye to date. From his offseason acquisitions to his emerging young players, Gainey likes the direction his team is headed.
“I wouldn’t say Josh [Gorges] is a surprise but he’s really climbed up the depth chart over the last 18 months. He’s gone from being a seventh defenseman to fourth,” Gainey said. “Robert Lang has come in and made important contributions for us. Jaroslav Halak has also played a key role. Guillaume Latendresse has found a comfort zone playing with Maxim Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos. There aren’t any numbers or percentages that you can calculate for those kinds of things, but it’s important for our team.”
When asked to pinpoint his favorite move since becoming GM in the summer of 2003, Gainey did not hesitate. The man who brought Alex Kovalev to Montreal without even giving up a player on his roster back in 2004, Gainey still found something he was even more proud of.
“I would have to say my hiring of Guy Carbonneau,” said Gainey. “He has proven to be the right man for the job and continues to help our players be the best they can be.”
While his team continues to win on the ice under Carbo’s guidance, Gainey has some important decisions to make in the coming months. With a slew of free agents to tend to, Gainey is prepared to rely on his trademark patience.
“I think time is our ally right now,” said Gainey. “We have until July 1 to make our decisions regarding who will still be with us. I don’t feel there is any urgency there and we will open discussions before July 1. The important thing is that Montreal has proven itself to be a place where people want to play.
“Economically speaking, our situation also allows us more time to see how the landscape might change down the road,” added Gainey. “The general feeling is that the salary cap may not be where it is today and having time on our side might prove to be a wise thing.”Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com