Strain is showing on beleaguered Gainey
Bob Gainey, always among the game's most composed and gentlemanly characters during his playing days and as a team executive, was uncharacteristically blunt Wednesday night in the moments following the Canadiens' postseason dismissal at the hands of the Bruins.
According to Gainey, his No. 1 goalie, Carey Price, only responded to the Bell Centre crowd's "bullying" when the 21-year-old lifted his arms in frustration upon receiving a Bronx cheer for making a routine stop in the second period.
"If you're not going to stick up for yourself," mused Gainey, Montreal's general manager/coach, "then who is?"
Had he left it there, which is normally how the 55-year-old Gainey would operate, then he would have been fine. But moments later, he was more aggressive in his criticism of Habs fans, recalling how, in his days as Dallas GM, the Stars were able to obtain Darryl Sydor from the Kings.
A coveted first-round pick (No. 7 overall in 1990), Sydor was dealt to Dallas in February 1996 after he became a target of Los Angeles fans, whom Gainey depicted as "rude, obnoxious [expletives]."
Clearly, Gainey was letting Habs fans know what he thought of them, and he offered up Sydor as the cautionary tale, in hopes that the hectoring of Price wouldn't eventually force the franchise to deal him. In Montreal, they've seen the severe and lasting damage of making hasty goalie trades (witness: Patrick Roy to Colorado in December '95).
The next day, in a standard postmortem, Gainey turned his wrath on rookie Tampa GM Brian Lawton. According to Gainey, Lawton leaked to the media the names the two GMs discussed months earlier when Montreal supposedly was on the verge of obtaining Vincent Lecavalier.
"Disgraceful," said Gainey, that Lawton would tell the world that Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec, and Chris Higgins were in play and that his players should have to read and hear that in media accounts. It was Lawton's attempt, said Gainey, to gain leverage around the league while shopping for a better deal.
Lawton quickly shot back through the media that Gainey's accusation was "preposterous and simply not true."
What's obvious in it all is that Gainey, highly respected among his peers and in the media, is chirping like never before, likely because he is feeling the heat like never before in his some six years in the corner office.
The Canadiens have been constant postseason disappointments during Gainey's tenure (which included a DNQ in '07), and his overall plan to let so many of his best players reach unrestricted free agency this July 1 no doubt worked against team chemistry all year. The club is for sale - in part why so many of the players are now UFAs - and it is also without a coach. Gainey sacked Guy Carbonneau late in the season. He also was the GM who canned Claude Julien, the guy parked behind the Boston bench for the four-game sweep of Club CH.
No telling how all of it plays out in the next few weeks, especially with George Gillett looking to sell (Gillett, by the way, made a point to seek out Julien for a handshake in the hallway). To see Gainey so edgy, after leading a life and career so sotto voce, it would not be surprising if he were to step down and leave it to the next guy in charge to manage the roster, along with those oft-unrealistic expectations in Montreal.
Keep in mind that superstar singer Celine Dion could end up buying Gillett's controlling interest in the club. Dion is pals with Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix, busy himself these days with his search to replace Francois Giguere as GM.
If Dion buys the Habs, she could try to entice Lacroix back to La Belle Province, where he was a player agent prior to taking over the Avalanche (nee Nordiques) front office. Perhaps she can also serenade some sense into the Habs' loyal followers, whose passion, though admirable, is often fanatical to the point of farcical.
No teeth in Sharks' gameThe odds didn't look favorable last night for the Sharks as they headed into Game 5 of their series with the Ducks. Jumbo Joe Thornton and his friends, who lost the first two games in San Jose, looked listless, frustrated, and passionless during their 4-0 loss in Game 4 Thursday night, leaving them in a 3-1 series deficit.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of the 233 teams faced with a 3-1 deficit in Stanley Cup history prior to this season, only 20 (8.6 percent) averted elimination in Game 5. Thornton, the former Bruins centerpiece, was particularly ineffective in the first four games, registering but two assists and a minus-4 (three of those negatives came in the Game 4 flop).
"He was aimlessly wandering, all night," said Mike Milbury, the NESN and CBC commentator. "No purpose to his game. No energy. It's really sad. And I don't see how Steve Yzerman [Team Canada's general manager] can pick him for the Canadian Olympic team - not off of what he's shown again in the postseason."
Thornton, according to reports out of Anaheim Thursday night, made himself unavailable to the media after the loss. He has never played for a team that has been able to win more than one postseason round, and going into last night, his career playoff ledger read: 74 games, 11-39 -50, roughly 30 percent below his career regular-season average.
"My bottom line is effort," said Milbury. "If a guy doesn't use effort, then all bets are off."
Not that Jumbo Joe has been alone among the Sharks' underperformers. Captain Patrick Marleau, who stood as the face of the franchise prior to Thornton's arrival, carried but 1 point (a goal) into Game 5. Thornton at least had 11 shots, while Marleau had landed only a half-dozen.
As Sharks coach Todd McLellan noted prior to Game 4: "We're still waiting for some players to play better. [The media] can guess or anticipate who they might be."
Following the Game 4 loss, McLellan added, "I'm not surprised that [the Ducks were] hungry. I'm disappointed that we weren't. That's the only word I can use: disappointed. I think our character was questioned tonight."
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.