Bob Gainey resigned from his position as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens Monday afternoon, making way for interim GM Pierre Gauthier.
The Canadiens are currently in sixth place, at the top of the Eastern Conference’s playoff log jam. They’re one point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and, incredibly, just 13 points ahead of the last place Toronto Maple Leafs.
With 22 games left in their season, anyone could overtake Montreal. The East is wide open. As unlikely as it seems, even Toronto could wind up in the postseason.
Between now and the playoffs there is also a little event called the trade deadline, where the Habs will undoubtedly be looking to move one of either Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak. Also, prized centre Tomas Plekanec is entering into negotiations to sort out his contract for next season. Otherwise he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with the highest bidder.
This is the time for a strong leader, one who can represent the franchise and present themselves as a powerful figure who has the support of ownership. Gauthier may be a canny negotiator, but the word “interim” in front of his title will be a handicap.
GMs from other teams will try to fleece the Canadiens for Price and Halak, knowing that Gauthier must move one of them and that he is only in charge by default. Don’t believe me? Ask John Ferguson Jr. what it’s like to try and work deals without the full, vocal support of your ownership. Ask Cliff Fletcher what it’s like trying to swing a trade when you’re just an interim GM.
Further, Plekanec’s agent will have a hard time taking Gauthier seriously. There’s more than just money at stake when you sign a free agent. They also want to be on a winner. Since Gauthier will probably be relieved of his duties in the off-season, he can’t make any kind of guarantee of what the team will look like in the 2010-11 season. He stinks of lame duck.
That cannot be appealing to the Plekanec camp.
During Monday’s press conference Gainey said he had to leave because he couldn’t take the day-to-day grind of being a GM any longer.
That may be so, but he’s left his team in the lurch. If he could have bucked up until the off-season, he would have broken ties with the Canadiens at an optimal time. Instead, his departure might distract the Habs during their playoff run and will undoubtedly hinder personnel negotiations.