When the Montreal Canadiens make the transition from Bob Gainey to Pierre Gauthier later today - presumably on an interim basis to start - I suspect the one question that everybody wants answered is one that won't be; and that is, what was the plan that Gainey actually had in mind for the 2009-10 season and not the one that was actually put in place, which involved throwing a lot of money at Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. I suspect two things: One, that it wasn't - and that the moves that he put in place were a fallback plan after his pursuit of Vincent Lecavalier fell short; and two, we won't hear the definitive answer in a public forum, even if it would a lot of last year's machinations into their proper perspective.
But like a lot of Habs watchers, you had to think that Gainey knew the value of putting a French-Canadian superstar such as Lecavalier in a Montreal sweater, and not just because of his heritage either. Lecavalier would have been the centre with size that Montreal has lacked all these years; and a quick look at NHL stats this morning shows you that, his slow start notwithstanding, Lecavalier has been an excellent worker for the Lightning this season, something that's been doubly challenging since the team's two other elite forwards, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, usually play on a different line.
Lecavalier is currently 20th overall, with 55 points in 57 games, one spot behind the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf and ahead of the Blue Jackets' Rick Nash, the Pucks' Corey Perry and the Flames' Jarome Iginla. Not bad production and if he were producing like that on the same Canadiens' team as Tomas Plekanec, then Montreal's fortunes might have been greatly enhanced this year.
As it is, the Canadiens are still hanging tough in the playoff race, despite losing their top defenceman Andrei Markov for most of the first half and losing their top forward, Cammalleri, at least through the Olympic break. Not many teams would be able to survive a so-so season from their de facto No. 1 goaltender, Carey Price, but Montreal has done so because Jaroslav Halak has picked up the slack. Halak was the 271st player chosen in the 2003 NHL entry draft. Gainey was hired by the Canadiens in early June of that year; officially, he took over control of the team on July 1. That 2003 draft, considered one of the finest in NHL history, provided great opportunity for a number of teams, including the Flyers (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) and the Ducks (Getzlaf and Perry). Montreal took Andrei Kostitsyn 10th overall that year; Carter, a 46-goal scorer last year, was the next player chosen.
In three of Gainey's five full seasons at the controls, the Canadiens posted 93 points. Their one real shining glory came in 2007-08 when they unexpectedly won the Northeast Division with 104 points but faltered in the second round against Philadelphia. From there, it's been - not all downhill exactly, but a whole lot of treading water. Still, sport at any level is often as much about what could have happened as opposed to what did. On the day that Gainey stepped away from the team where he starred for all those years as a player, you wonder if his ability to pull the trigger on a Lecavalier deal might have changed everything - for him and for the team.