Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Faith, Rescinded

On the twenty-fifth day of the second month in the year of Our Lord two thousand and seven, Bob Gainey didst trade Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks for Josh Gorges, and the pundits were perplexed, for Rivet was a solid D-man of size and combativeness, yet Gorges was small and obscure and the pundits knew him not, and they were skeptical.

Yet the fans cried out, trust in Gainey, for he has a plan.

And on the second day of the seventh month in that same year, Bob Gainey didst sign Roman Hamrlik to a four-year deal, and the pundits were flustered, for Hamrlik was old and of unspectacular achievement, and they were skeptical.

Yet the fans cried out, trust in Gainey, for he has a plan, though we may know it not.

And on the twenty-sixth day of the second month in the year of Our Lord two thousand and eight, Bob Gainey didst trade Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals for a second-round pick, and the pundits were irate, and Bob McKenzie didst shake his great head in disbelief, and Pierre Maguire didst shout condemnations.

Yet the fans cried out, trust in Gainey, for he has a plan, though his motives may be mysterious and his ways manifold.

And verily, on the twentieth day of the sixth month of that year, Bob Gainey did acquire Alex Tanguay for picks and pieces, and the pundits were pleased, and said, yea finally Gainey has made a sensible deal.

And the fans said, we told you so.

And on the twelfth day of the ninth month, Gainey did acquire Robert Lang, and the pundits exalted him, and said he has made his team into a contender, verily they shall make it to the Conference Final at least in this season.

And the fans rejoiced.

But the team was bad, and did not make it to the conference final, and the pundits were mystified, for what they had forseen had not come to pass.

And then, on the thirtieth day of the sixth month in the year of Our Lord two thousand and nine, Gainey didst trade Ryan McDonagh and Christopher Higgins to the New York Rangers for Scott Gomez and other players of minor import, and the pundits cried out in agony, for while McDonagh was a blue-chip prospect and Higgins a winger of great responsibility and leadership potential, Gomez was a center of diminutive size and gargantuan contract, and they said, there is no conceivable way that this could be good for the Habs.

And from Habistan there rose up a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, for though Gainey whispered to Komisarek and Kovalev, he spoke not to Koivu, who was also a center of diminutive size, but of reasonable contract demands and great heart. And the fans lost faith, and no longer did they say, Gainey has a plan, but cried out as one, Bob, what the fuck are you doing?

And Gainey didst retire to a secluded penthouse over the Rue St. Catharine, and didst keep his urine in jars in the closet, and refused to cut his fingernails, and didst watch tapes of the 2008 second-round playoff series against the Flyers many times, and the people were angry and afraid.


At what point must one give up faith in Gainey? Canadiens fans have been patient with him. We heaped scorn on Carbonneau and the players, but for the most part we’ve trusted Gainey, thinking him a cautious and sensible man. If, on occasion, people have lamented his inability to make ideal acquisitions (i.e. Vinny), they’ve also given him a lot of credit as the best management this organization has had in many a year.

It’s true, his moves have often been inexplicable. The analysts have disagreed with him more often than not. There’s a reason that ‘In Bob We Trust’ is a frequently circulated phrase on Canadiens message boards and discussion sites- because often his trades and signings have seemed to be lateral or even negative, yet they worked, in strange ways which often became apparent only months later. We, more so than a lot of local fan bases, believe that Bob knows more than us, and so we keep the faith and wait.

But this move, this Gomez trade, this is ridiculousness on an unprecedented scale. Gomez may be good, I have no doubt that he can be good, perhaps even he will be good, but for this deal to seem reasonable, he’ll have to be more than good. This is the kind of deal that will only be vindicated by a Stanley Cup, and then only if Gomez contributes to the winning of it with an MVP-level performance.

It’s not a good move because Gomez is not worth that money for that long, he is not a player so gifted that he ought to taking up $7+ million of anybody’s cap space. I don’t care what Gainey thinks he knows about this dude that might make him more valuable, I don’t care if he’s the Winston Churchill of locker rooms and the Mother Theresa of childrens’ hospital visits, he’s not worth that contract. Yes, sometimes in this modern NHL, a bloated contract is the price of doing business, but that means all the more that a GM should reserve his bloated-contract overkill money for truly unique acquisitions, and if such acquisitions aren’t available or don’t want to sign in a given year, than just keep the cap space until something delicious comes along. There’s no crime in being under the cap, no cruel law of hockey says you absolutely have to spend $8 million on somebody.

Set aside, even, the questions about the Habs’ losses in the deal. Higgins, I think, was not long for this organization in any case, since his name has figured prominently in nearly every trade rumor that’s come up in the past two seasons. McDonagh, well, he’s still a long way from NHL ice, and I’ve rarely seen him play, so maybe the great minds in the organization know something I don’t. It doesn’t matter who we gave up, hell, if Sather gave us Gomez for free, wearing a tiara made from the Hope Diamond, it still wouldn’t be a good deal, because Gomez is not worth the money.

There is, remember, a dark side to Gainey’s behavior over the past three years. His actual moves have been rather sedate and almost numbingly prudent. However, his rumored moves- the deals and acquisitions he’s been named as a potential player in- have frequently been horrifying in scale. Every summer, it seems, the Canadiens are considered ‘in the running’ for the biggest of the big free agent sweepstakes, every trade deadline there’s an almost-blockbuster. These moves haven’t happened, and I’ve credited Gainey for that, thinking that he rightly balks at meeting the most outrageous of outrageous demands. But perhaps he’s only been lucky that the deals didn’t go his way, or now the Canadiens would be the dying home of overage, overpaid, one-season-wonders.

Last season, the much-anticipated, much-lamented centennial, was a do-or-die year for Gainey- he built a team that everyone thought would be extraordinary, he intended an epic run. He failed. You can blame his management or you can blame the luck (I personally blame the injuries rather heavily), but nevertheless he failed. With all the free agents, we anticipated a rebuilding, but a plodding, eccentric, Bulldogs-heavy rebuilding- not a grab-desperately-for-whatever-somewhat-prominent-name-was-available rebuilding. Perhaps there are moves still to come; one hopes there are moves still to come, for if this is the end of the Habs activities this July, it is cause for drinking, weeping and the ineffectual pounding of tables. But whatever moves do come, no matter how excellent or elegant, they’re not going to magically improve this one by association. And now, next season becomes another do-or-die season, except now it’s Gainey personally who’s on the line. This is a trade that must, somehow, via some transmutation of money or talent that I cannot even imagine at this moment, be justified; if it’s not justified, it’s going to have to be paid for, in cash and possibly punitive retribution. Good luck, Bob.


Grunthos said...

(Caveat: not a Habs follower.)

So I just went and looked at the Habs' salary situation. I would agree with the obvious sentiment, that Gomez is paid too much. But I think the proper response, in this team's situation, is: so f'n what? Even with Cammalleri, Spacek, and Gill, Montreal *still* hasn't made the cap floor... there's more than 5 million to go yet just for that achievement. Who, other than Price, is due a major raise in the near future? What, other than the front-loading of Gomez's contract, is threatening to hold the team back in the short term?

As a resident of Washington, DC, and thereby someone who pays fairly close attention to the Caps, and as a close friend of a rabid Pens fan, may I say the following: gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the Habs' cap situation is simply misplaced. You've tied up ~$35 million right now, with 6 or 7 slots left to fill, and less than $20 million committed beyond 2011. So far as I can see, Gainey can re-sign D'Agostini, Latendresse, and Plekanec with fair ease, and will still be able to sign or trade for more good players, and will come out of it with a younger team overall. You may not even lose Koivu, and still get all of the above.

There's so much flexibility here, that the $8M you're paying Gomez for each of the next three seasons doesn't even *begin* to hold you back. There's so much flexibility here, Bob could *still* acquire Lecavalier and make him fit in. With room to spare.

Isaih Thomas, Gainey ain't. I don't know if the resulting team will gel well, or win Cups, but it isn't going to suck, and it isn't going to be immobile.

Grunthos said...

And no sooner do I put that out there, then Gainey signs another small forward. So now with Gionta on board you're at the cap minimum, basically looking for a couple of larger forwards to round out the lines, and Lecavalier is no longer an option.

Delicious said...

...he built a team that everyone thought would be extraordinary

They really thought that? The bad part of the Gomez signing to me is that this team needs to be blown up. At present it reminds me of Mencken's famous description of Warren Harding's rhetoric: "It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights."

Out here I see Anaheim some (making me one of the few, I guess), and the Canadiens are nowhere near as good as the Ducks were. Who = Selanne? Kovalev, I guess, except Kovalev is the best scorer on the Habs and Selanne plays on the second line. Who = Getzlaf? Who = Bobby Ryan? Does Price = Hiller? (Signs point to no.) Who = Niedermeyer/Pronger? And that's a team that didn't make it to the conference finals.

junaid said...

This was a great post. Both the writing and the sentiment.

E said...

grunthos- i get your point, but you'll notice i didn't focus on the cap in the post. even were there no cap, were gainey free to spend as much money as the molson's allowed, i would hate this deal. my concern isn't really cap room per se, it's proportionate use of resources. the canadiens lost a lot of players to free agency this season, there are a lot of holes to fill, and buying ufas means paying more than we were before for virtually every empty slot. just because we have the money now doesn't mean we always will- probably nyr thought they had cap room to blow when they made the deal in the first place, but they obviously don't feel that way now. but my larger point is that a stupid contract is a stupid contract is a stupid contract. a stupid contract might not come back to bite you on the ass, if you're lucky, but a smart contract never will. if gainey doesn't get burned bad on this one, it'll be sheer luck.

delicious- i think if you looked at major hockey analysts' predictions for the 2008-2009 season, as made the prior summer, you'd see the canadiens placed among the top 5 teams in the league most of the time, and frequently in the top 2 or 3. the 2007-2008 team made an impressive run, and tanguay and lang looked like major improvements. whether that was a reasonable view, who knows? but it was certainly a common one.

as to the comparisons with the ducks, i'll grant you they're a good team, but not all good teams need to be mirror images, do they? it should be possible to be utterly un-ducks-like and still be extraordinary... even if the canadiens, obviously, weren't.

Grunthos said...

A stupid contract may be a stupid contract (mind you, the only truly stupid contract here is Gomez's, and that's only stupid for a limited time), but stupid contracts do not always result in opportunity costs. And opportunity costs are what really matter here. What players will Montreal be unable to pay in the next 3-4 seasons because of these signings? As of this point, Lecavalier is the only potential target I can see who is out of range.

Unless there's some dirty secret wandering around Montreal that the Habs are in danger of going under, and the rest of the hockey world hasn't picked up on it yet?

I think your real dismay should not be with what Gainey has just done, but rather with the fact that Gainey used his resource space so inefficiently leading up to this point. The contracts of Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta, and Spacek aren't the problem; the problem is that the Habs don't have sufficient talent coming through the pipeline and demanding major RFA-induced raises in the next 3-4 years. In the absence of such cap pressure, the new UFA signings (plus Gomez) aren't costing Montreal squat. Indeed, they are Gainey's best available plan given where he sat on June 30th, because he bought the *youngest* impact UFAs (thus minimizing the fiscal overpay) and because he didn't have to trade away real value (i.e. draft picks he can use to restock the system) to keep the team competitive over the next three years.

Is the result a great team? Doesn't look that way to me. But they weren't a great team last week, either.

E said...

i think we could go on about this for a while and never quite see eye-to-eye, so perhaps it benefits no one to continue arguing... which doesn't mean i'm going to stop.

my problem is that the opportunity costs over the next 3-4 years aren't knowable at this point. i'm not sure of who all the ufas will be in those years, but i'm willing to bet there will be some as useful or more so than gomez, to say nothing of the tidbits that might come available via trade. my beef with the gomez signing is that we're now paying 8 million-ish for the kind of player you just don't need to be paying 8 million-ish for. remember, i'm not complaining about spacek, or cammalleri, or gionta, or even gill (although i reserve the right to once i've done more investigation, should i feel combative). but say we signed all those dudes and just kept koivu or lang (although i'm unclear on his present injury status) rather than making the gomez trade- would that team be substantially worse? it seems utterly unnecessary to me, even more so in the light of gainey's later activities, to take gomez.

Grunthos said...

Well, I agree we don't want to belabor this endlessly. Certainly, the exact costs are unknowable at this point in time; but regardless of whether the top center is Koivu or Gomez, Gainey is nowhere near Dave Tallon territory yet.

I would imagine that the cold-bloodedness of it rankles, although I don't want to put words in your mouth. Gainey just dumped a very loyal soldier for a player who is unlikely to be much more productive on a per-game basis (although Gomez's expected games played is significantly higher), at something like double the price. It's the kind of move that makes sense in a sports management simulation, but does nothing for the real-life fan unless it leads to silverware.

A Concerned Citizen said...

I've got to say, I think it was indeed the injuries that killed any momentum the team may otherwise have had.

My problem is, Gainey could have circumvented that by acting LAST year when the team was miraculously healthy, and seemed poised to make their deep Cup run a year early. That didn't seem to sit well with Gainey, and I really believe he ignored the knock of opportunity, thinking that it would come calling again during the 08-09 season. Surprise surprise: it didn't.

That did it for me, when he traded Huet and did not otherwise enhance the team. Lots of people blame circumstance, etc, saying Gainey tried to get trades done but couldn't. Well, this is a results-oriented business, and Gainey's results have been dismal.

Now I have had to watch my favorite three Habs be told to take a hike. We can agree to disagree on Kovalev, but I'm also disappointed that Bouillon is being shown the door. If those two are understandable, it is NOT acceptable what has happened to Koivu. Gainey has a lot of explaining to do to the community, as well as the fans, and he has been as tight-lipepd as ever. Where that is usually a good thing, in this case it smacks of arrogance and disdain for Montreal fans far and wide.

I rescinded my faith (in Gainey) back at the trade deadline last year.

MathMan said...

To E: It is a sad day for all true Hab fans. Koivu will be sorely, sorely missed.

To Habsfan1993: You may find this interesting reading about last year's trade deadline -- an article that includes a description about the Hossa trade from the perspective of Don Waddell:

Gainey *was* going for broke that year. He wanted Hossa and there were no other impact players available. He got beat at the bell without getting a chance to improve his offer.

Snap Wilson said...

First of all, great to see you back. Loved the Crosby post, very though-provoking.

You're right, of course, that the Gomez trade can't work under any circumstances, even if he's productive. It's a desperation move from a drowning GM, and it hurts to criticize Gainey, who was one of my favorite players. All he can do is hope the Habs have a good season and hope people don't dwell on who is making how much.

Doogie2K said...

I haven't been through the conversation or the archives since your return, but I wanted to mention that with Koivu now officially gone, your post on the Ryan Smyth trade of two and a half years ago rings true for me once again. The situations aren't identical, but there are parallels there that I can't deny in my heart.

How did both my teams get so Goddamned hard to cheer for lately?

E said...

doogie- that's because that post was really about today anyway, or the anticipation of it. it's harder now.

saskhab said...

I don't know, E. It's been a weird week. On one hand, we got 3 players who, given their skill level and age, are probably sounder investments production wise than what we had before. On the other hand, we lost all semblence of continuity and feel like we'll merely be an overachieving expansion team that will make the playoffs continually.

I just don't know if you can build a team the way you want to anymore. At best, Gainey was brutally logical in his reshaping of the roster. That's all I can hope for, really. And while all Habs fans seemingly lost their favourite players, we at least didn't lose our best one in this purge, as Markov is still a Hab (and now maybe our default captain).

These new guys... they're going to have to surprise us in ways we didn't think were possible. I feel for them, because they seem set up for failure. They're like our rebound lovers after a messsy divorce. We can't possibly feel for them on the emotional level we did with our previous relationship, but hopefully we'll have some fun for a while.

E said...

sask- do you mean build a team the way *i* (miss e) want to, or the way you-in-the-generic-sense want to? again, as yet, *i* haven't said much about how i'd build a team other than that i wouldn't have traded for gomez. this is a week-old post, from before ufa day, so it doesn't really encapsulate my thoughts about gainey's overall actions, merely this one fraction of them.

the thing that scares me is that i don't see the brutal logic in his actions. brutal logic, i can take, but this seems only marginally logical, if by logic you mean somewhat-reasonable-expectation-heavily-laced-with-wishful-thinking-while-crossing-your-fingers-and-praying-hard. it looks at first glance like panicking, and on second glance like slightly thoughtful panicking, but these are not the kind of moves i want my gm making, or putting himself in the position of having to make. there's a sidebar link about gainey, written back when, that shows me in my accepting-his-moves-as-good-cold-gming mode, after the huet trade. i could do that. but i'm tired of sitting back and having faith despite the pained shrieking of both my sentimental mind and my rational mind. gomez is the point where i stop believing in things unseen and start expecting demonstrable evidence. if it works out beautifully, mea maxima culpa and all hail bob, but... i'll believe it when it happens and not before.

Mr. Mills said...

Does/Did Bob have the option of doing nothing?

Could he have stood pat (i.e. not bringing in Gomez)and decided to keep last year's team that failed miserably?

Could he have let all the ufas go and still met the salary floor (i.e. not bringing in Gomez)without making a few deals with players overvalued?

Are we okay with a GM who decides to do nothing (either way) and what does that say about the team and its chances?

Forget potential, hypothetical opportunity costs. Pretend that, no, actually we can't see into the future (and I believe 16 years to be a long enough wait anyway)and determine we'll finally land that amazing, game changing superstar.

I don't see a G.M. trying to save his skin (unless you're right and Bob has gone insane); he has to know that his actions devoid of on ice-results won't save his job. And he has to know that on-ice results aren't a lock (if nothing else, last year provides an excellent object-lesson).

I see a G.M. who thinks he has a job to do ( I agree).

E said...

and how does keeping koivu at one year, three million, and not trading for gomez, while still letting bouillon, brisebois, komisarek, tanguay, lang, kovalev, and schneider go, and still signing cammalleri, gionta, spacek, and gill, qualify as 'doing nothing'? he probably could have signed mike comrie for ten years at eighty million dollars too, that woulda been 'doing something', but it still wouldn't have been a good thing to do.

'needing to do something' is not a justification for 'doing anything'. and that's my problem with the rationalizing of this great transformation- everybody's so damned pissed about how last season worked out that they're willing to accept change just for the sake of change. that idea is soothing to an angry mind, but it's not necessarily good gming and it's definitely not rational. nearly the same team, with many fewer injuries, was fantastic in 2007-2008, so it's not that the players themselves are so deeply toxic they need to be purged from montreal like the black death... and yeah, for the record, i do think there were probably ways to meet the salary floor without taking on a contract so bad that the entire hockey world was shocked sather could move it at all.

Julian said...

Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland A's, in the book Moneyball :

The day you say you have to do something, you’re screwed. Because you are going to make a bad deal. You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You may never recover from the player you signed at the wrong price.

Doogie2K said...

Could he have stood pat (i.e. not bringing in Gomez)and decided to keep last year's team that failed miserably?

Something that we need to remember is that the 2008 team was extraordinarily lucky, particularly in terms of avoiding injury to any significant players until late March. 2009? Not so much. The puck luck died and the injury bug made up for lost time. Neither year is fully indicative of the team's talent level; I figured they were a 4-6 team that could do some damage if they got the right matchups. This team? I dunno what the shit we got now. It would be great in NHL 09, but that's not how they decide the games.

Mr. Mills said...

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter."

As a habs fan of a certain age, I never experienced first hand the glorious past. It remains to me an artifact from a distant time. This of course adds to its mystique as I am free to imagine for myself those honours while staring at pictures of heroes past with their silver urn and "burning foreheads, parching tongues."

As a Habs fan of a certain age, I have frequently been left with nothing more than idle histories of the future, written in so many septembers, revisioned in aprils and early mays. Histories of this sort are a necessary comfort in winters that offer proof our dreams were made of clay. These histories are eternal springs that let us imagine "happy boughs that never shed their leaves."

I doubt, yes. But I relish this uncertainty each season --as it unfolds-- and don't slaughter mystery by writing an ending for tomorrow of either sort.

I hope, always. But I permit myself to live in Mystery (In Bob we Trust, i suppose)and do not become irritable when others reach after "fact and reason".

I look forward to the day when the cup is covered in idyls present.It is the team name that I see carved in silver. And the players, I suppose I shall thankfully remember them too, though their names be writ on water.