While critics are quick to point fingers and place blame for the injury-riddled club's early exit from the postseason, Montreal's head coach and general manager preferred to focus on what went well for his team this season.
“We had a great year in certain areas,” explained Gainey. “Our expectations were such that it was hard to surpass them and we helped create those expectations. We helped create them with our performance in the previous year; we helped create them with the excitement of players like Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec in the previous year.”
Managing those sky-high expectations, Gainey made some bold moves last summer to help ease some of the pressure off of his goal-scorers. Perhaps better than even he could have anticipated, the result was a promising 7-1-1 record through the first month of the regular season.
“When I go back and look at September when we made the trade for Robert Lang, and I looked at the team on paper, where we had added Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang to supplement our offense, I thought that we could put back the offense we lost in Mark Streit,” offered Gainey.
“We also projected a number of players to progress and grow, and really throughout the first half of the season, we got most of that,” he added. “We had a good record in the first half of the season and it was in the second half where we had the problems and once they started to accumulate, we weren’t able to carry through the team on paper from last September to becoming the team that was competing in the playoffs.”
With no less than 10 unrestricted free agents on his hands, the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in Montreal and questions about his own future coming at him every day, Gainey has a busy summer ahead of him. And that’s exactly the way he likes it.
“Why I don’t feel this pressure here is because I know that the guy in Nashville wants to win just as badly as we do,” said Gainey. “We’ve got no entitlement to a place in the playoffs; we’ve got no right to a place in the playoffs. That’s why we play, for one. And that’s why we put our goal there every year.”
Facing a firing squad of journalists at the Bell Sports Complex on Thursday afternoon to close the books on 2008-09, Gainey reflected on the season that was with his usual panache. Searching for answers about why the coach/GM stuck with Carey Price through thick and thin this year, one desperate reporter even used his own wife as an example of a fan that would have instead given Jaroslav Halak a shot between the pipes in the playoffs.
“Well, I think Carey Price is a thoroughbred. Your wife may not recognize it, but I don’t bake bread very well, so I guess we each have our expertise,” deadpanned the usually stoic Gainey. “I used Carey Price at the end of the season last year, which gave him some great experience. It put him in a starting role so that he could accelerate the number of games he could play in and he could accelerate the number of rich games he could play in."
“And at 21 years old, I think he’s doing pretty darn well," continued Gainey. "Besides that, he’s playing pretty well – he’s a good goalie. If I was playing against him, I’d say ‘Man, that’s a good goalie.’ And that’s why I put him in. Can you pass that along to your wife?”
Needled further by some media members about the perceived uncertainty of his own future with the Canadiens, Gainey glared at the throng of journalists that surrounded him and put an end to that in a hurry.
“Well, I’m sitting here today with the idea that I still have work to do.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
Here to stay?