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Gainey steps down as Habs GM; Gauthier takes over

by Dan Rosen
With just one week left before the Olympic break and a little more than three weeks before the trade deadline, the Montreal Canadiens are experiencing a major shift at the top with the resignation of Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Gainey.

Gainey announced he was leaving his positions effective immediately at a press conference Monday afternoon at Bell Centre, saying he is not prepared to give the Canadiens a long-term commitment.

Pierre Gauthier, who was Gainey's assistant, will take over as Executive V.P and GM, Canadiens President Pierre Boivin announced. Gainey will stay on in a special advisory role to Gauthier, who is the 16th general manager in franchise history.

Gainey said he realized around the holidays, shortly after the Canadiens Centennial Celebration was complete, that he didn't have the desire to stay on for the long term. He has spent the last couple months working on an exit strategy with Boivin.

"I believe the general manager position requires a long-term vision and a long-term commitment," Gainey said in his opening statements. "At this point I'm not prepared to make a commitment of four, five or six more years in this position. The decision between leaving a little too early or staying a little too long, between those two choices I prefer to leave early. I've done my best and now it's time for me to pass the torch."

Gainey feels the timing of his departure is important for Gauthier because it gives his replacement the Olympic break to get fitted into his new role with the club. The trade deadline is March 3 at 3 p.m. ET.

"With the trade deadline to follow, important decisions will be made by someone who has made a long term commitment to the organization," Gainey said. "I'm leaving the team I love most in the hands of a man I trust most."

Rumors swirled Monday that Gainey was resigning because he did not have the same power under the new ownership group (the Molsons) that he had under the old ownership group (George Gillet, Jr.). Boivin threw cold water on those rumors.

"Nothing has changed in the way that this business and this team have operated since the Molsons have bought it," Boivin said. "It's the general manager's job to take the hockey decisions and our philosophy is to give them full latitude to do that and to support them."

Gainey has no immediate plans other than to watch the Olympics "on HD TV" and to stay in contact with Gauthier through the transition and the trade deadline.

"Over the long term, I want to capture a little more of my own time," he said. "I want to have more control over my own schedule and my own time. What I'll do with it, I don't know. I might play the piano, I don't know."

Gainey, 56, was hired as the Habs' GM on June 2, 2003. The Canadiens made the playoffs four times under his watch and were the top seed in the Eastern Conference with 104 points at the end of the 2007-08 regular season.

The Habs dropped to eighth in the East with 93 points last season and were ousted in the first round, so Gainey, Gauthier and the executive staff went about changing the culture of the team.

They overhauled nearly half the roster, and the Habs are again on pace to reach the playoffs this season. They are sixth in the ever-changing Eastern Conference with 62 points (28-26-6) after a recent three-game winning streak.

"I think the future is healthy here," Gainey said. "It's a good place."

As Gainey reflected on his last six and a half years, he said he is most proud of being a part of the bridge that connects the new generation of Montreal fans to the older generation.

The Habs recently completed their Centennial Celebration and Gainey played a major role.

"I think that was a bridge I was lucky enough to approach six years ago," Gainey said. "I feel the bridge between the old generation and the current one is complete."

Gauthier has been the GM previously in Ottawa (1995-98) and Anaheim (1998-2002). He was hired by Gainey to be Montreal's Director of Pro Scouting in 2003 and inherited the title of assistant GM in 2006.

He will continue to run the Pro Scouting Department for the foreseeable future.

"We'll evaluate things as we go along, but I feel very competent being able to carry on with the group we have," Gauthier said.

The team thought about opening up a public search for Gainey's replacement, but "not for very long, and I'll tell you why," Boivin said.

"With the trade deadline to follow, important decisions will be made by someone who has made a long term commitment to the organization. I'm leaving the team I love most in the hands of a man I trust most."
-- Bob Gainey

He went on to say that the list of people who can adequately be GMs in this League is small to begin with and most of them are "under contract and are untouchables" anyway. And, that's before you put the restrictions in to be a GM in Montreal.

"When you look at the criteria in order to be successful in this job in this market, and you come to a list of people who have experience, ability to communicate in both languages, have a track record and are prepared to be here, your list narrows down very quickly," Boivin said. "I've learned in this business you do your homework, make sure you turn over every rock, and you go with the best person. We're fortunate that person was in our organization already."

Gauthier expects to field many calls prior to the trade deadline, but he is wary of changing too much of a team that is just starting to grow together now and develop chemistry. He said that he will not trade either goaltender, Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak.

"We have two very strong young goaltenders and they have been a very big part of our team this year," Gauthier said. "They give us a chance to win every night and that's a very important thing in a very close league. We believe we can go forward with these two young men and that's our best chance to get in the playoffs this year."

Gainey joked that maybe now he can start writing his memoirs.

"That's a possibility I suppose," he said. "In a broader sense, today is a happy day for me. I'm happy for Pierre, but it's also a very good day for me. It's been a privilege to participate with the Montreal Canadiens organization again in a different role. It's been fabulous and I'm very thankful for the opportunity."

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