On September 12, 2008 we found out that Bob Gainey’s patience is in fact, limited.
After what can best be described as an eleven week courtship in which the Montreal Canadiens feelings towards Mats Sundin were not reciprocated, Gainey chose to move on and instead turned to his long rumoured plan B and acquired Robert Lang from the Chicago Black Hawks for a second round pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft; a pick that ironically once belonged to Sundin’s former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And while some may express disappointment at the Habs acquisition of Lang, one must look at the big picture to understand the factors that went into Gainey’s decision to ultimately pull the plug on his negotiations with the Sundin camp.
Since the beginning of the summer no topic has dominated the airwaves, the newspapers, and the computer screens like what seemed to be a never ending saga of the Habs pursuit of Mats Sundin. Sure there have been other topics that have briefly held sway in Habs Nation for a day or two, the Tanguay trade, the Laraque signing, and even just yesterday, with the Patrick Roy announcement. However, while these stories claimed the spotlight, it was the Sundin saga, that like the energizer bunny, simply refused to die.
Finally, today Bob Gainey’s patience ran out. With his team on the verge of training camp, Gainey was more than aware that the ongoing Sundin story had the potential to hang over his team for at least the next few months. Instead of answering questions pertaining to this upcoming season, Gainey feared that his players would be subjected to constant questions from both the media and the fans about a player who admittedly was no closer to making a decision than he had been since last season ended.
Granted there had been signs of that already, an outdoor question and answer session with Alex Kovalev, where the team’s best player was forced to engage in the Sundin speculation. Even in the last couple of days we saw the frenzy that developed over Gainey giving a half-smile at a press conference when asked about Sundin coming to Montreal.
Simply put, in this the Canadiens centennial season, Gainey does not want distractions, in training camp or during the season, knowing that the shadow of Sundin would only grow larger as time progressed. Now Gainey has in one fell swoop rendered all the Sundin rumours and innuendo a moot point.
Which brings us to Robert Lang, a player who for the foreseeable future in Montreal circles, figures to be cast by many fans and by those in the media as a mere substitute for Mats Sundin. And while Robert Lang is maybe not the player Mats Sundin is, one can’t help but note that the Canadiens have along with the earlier acquisition of Alex Tanguay added two top six forwards without sacrificing a single player off the roster, a roster that finished first in the Eastern Conference last year.
In looking at Robert Lang, one can’t help but notice his eight consecutive seasons of 50 points or more, or the fact that Alex Kovalev enjoyed his best season statistically with Lang as his centre. Obviously for Gainey, there were other considerations that helped elevate Lang as the Canadiens plan B, his decade as a plus player in the NHL, his 53% faceoff percentage last year, his $4 million-a-year salary, and perhaps most of all his enthusiasm when informed of the trade.
Of course, Robert Lang wasn’t the only player happy to be coming to Montreal for this upcoming season. Patrice Brisebois was rewarded as well by Gainey with a one-year contract.
There will be some who will also criticize the resigning of Brisebois, although it will be substantially fewer than last year. In a year, in which Brisebois proved himself to be a valuable team player, who accepted his reduced playing role on the team with grace and humility, one can’t help but be happy to see him rewarded by the Canadiens.
Throughout the summer, Brisebois patiently waited to see if the Canadiens wanted to bring him back for another year. There was no circus atmosphere around Brisebois, a player who declared that he only wished to play for the Canadiens. And while Brisebois, once again figures to be a depth player for the Canadiens, he brings enough attributes and skills to the table both off and on the ice that he figures once again to be a valuable member of the Canadiens family.
In retrospect, I found myself increasingly a little uncomfortable with the long and drawn-out dance with Mats Sundin that the Canadiens had entered into. I must admit there was a part of me that thought (and I don’t think I was alone in this) that if Sundin couldn’t make up his mind, when presented with all the Habs were offering, that Bob Gainey should just move on and find players who want to play in Montreal; players that understand what it means to wear the bleu blanc et rouge.
Tonight, Bob Gainey did just that.