â†µAt the time, all the indicators seemed to be pointing in the right direction. After all, if Gainey could help the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Finals three times in ten years (1991, 1999 and 2000) as either head coach or general manager while establishing a permanent foothold for the sport in the American South, there was every reason to believe he could reach even greater heights after returning to the city where he had become a hockey legend. â†µâ†µ
â†µWind the clock ahead to Spring 2009, and it's easy to wonder how it's all gone wrong and at the worst possible moment. Expectations in Montreal -- always high in a city that expects not just wins but Stanley Cup champions -- was ratcheted even higher this year as the team was coming off of a first-place regular-season finish in the Eastern Conference under now-former head coach Guy Carbonneau. â†µâ†µ
â†µBut the Habs failed to return to the form they showed just a season ago, eventually forcing Gainey to fire his old friend and return to the bench just a week ago. The results haven't been pretty. â†µâ†µ
â†µIn the six games since, the Habs are a dismal 1-3-2, this after Carbonneau put together a 5-2-0 run right before he was fired. Cutting the Canadiens down to size over the more recent stretch were the Islanders, Devils and Senators. But the most galling loss of all had to be at home last Saturday night, as a Maple Leafs team with little more to play for than pride took down Montreal by a score of 5-2. On that night, Don Cherry noted on Coach's Corner on Hockey Night in Canada that even a Maple Leafs fan like himself was rooting hard for the Habs to make the playoffs in the midst of their current woes. â†µâ†µ
â†µDespite it all, Montreal holds a one-point lead over ninth place Florida for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with just 10 games remaining for each team. Looking ahead, the Habs hold a slight advantage as they'll play six of their 10 remaining games at home, while Florida, a team desperate to make the playoffs in hopes that it might save the franchise, will split its remaining schedule equally between home and enemy ice. Better still for Montreal, only four of their remaining games are against teams ahead of them in the standings, while Florida has five. â†µâ†µ
â†µGiven the listless form the Habs have demonstrated of late, they'll need every advantage they can get. As for Gainey, he better hope for a miracle. From where I sit, in order for him to keep his job, the Habs will not only need to make the playoffs, but they'll probably have to steal around against a higher seed. But given the team's form of late, there's every indication that the lineup needs a major overhaul more than a minor tuneup. And after having Gainey at the controls for almost six years, one wonders how much patience the organization really has left. â†µâ†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.