Monday, February 8, 2010

Gainey Out as Canadiens GM. Gauthier Era begins

Well I was hoping for a quiet late afternoon to catch up on some reading, but the Montreal Canadiens called a press conference, for 4pm Monday afternoon, to announce changes in management.

Team president Pierre Boivin announced the resignation of GM and Excutive Vice-President Bob Gainey, who will remain on as an advisor to his successor Pierre Gauthier.

CBC's Elliotte Friedman had tweeted, late Monday morning, that the decision was made on Sunday, but the truth was, Gainey had made his choice over the Christmas break. He felt he could not go another four-to-six year term.

With the Canadiens Centennial behind him, and new ownership taking control, and his contract expiring in June, Gainey felt the time was right. "Given the choice between staying too long and leaving early, I prefer to leave a little bit too early,"he said. "I did my best."

"I leave the team I love the most, to the man I trust the most," Gainey said on passing the torch. "In my heart, I am always a Canadien. It's been a privilege to participate with the organization again, in a different roll. I'm very thankful."

The move was a surprising one, give the proximity to the NHL Trade Deadline, but Gainey felt that with the Olympic break approaching, that Gauthier would have time to adjust.

Chances are Gauthier had an idea it was coming long before Gainey's "December decision". The two have been working together for six years. The peculiar dismissal of Guy Carbonneau, meshed with the even odder temporary promotion, and subsequent dismissal of Bulldogs coach Don Lever, and hiring of coach Jacques Martin leads some to believe that Gauthier was already making key coaching personnel decisions for Gainey.

Gauthier was Gainey's assistant GM and has prior experience with Ottawa (1995-98) and Anaheim (1998-2002).

He left the Senators for Anaheim, after turning them into a playoff contending team, to be closer to his wife and family in California.

He was fired in 2002 by the Ducks, after the team failed to make the playoffs for three straight seasons. Gauthier also traded away key assets, such as Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, despite going on record that he would not trade them.

Gauthier said he is happy with his team and, much like Martin has stated most of the season, emphasized the team is still working on the slow process of finding an identity.

"Our team is a new team," he said. "We've added 11 players from nine different organizations in the past 12 months. We only have four players, I think, with two or more years experience with this team."

Gauthier and Boivin also discussed the francophone factor in the Canadiens organization.

"You bet it's important," Boivin responded when asked if any candidates for the GM position needed to be bi-lingual. "French is the language spoken by 2/3, 3/4 of our fans and clients. It's a matter of respect and sensitivity to the reality of Quebec."

"Our first and only objective is to win the Stanley Cup and be the best team we can be every year," said Gauthier in a later interview on PrimeTime Sports. "and it is part of our mission to have a francophone presence."

Gauthier also said the team is working to keep centre Tomas Plekanec in Montreal after this season, and spoke on the futures of goaltenders Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak.

"We have two very good young goaltenders that give us a chance to win every night," he said. " We believe we can go forward with them, and they give us our best chance to get into the playoffs. Down the line, they'll both No. 1 goalies, and we'll need to address that in time."

That said, don't be surprised to see both goaltenders with the Canadiens by the end of March 3.

photos: Graham Hughes (AP/Canadian Press)

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