News item: Scott Gomez has signed a one-year, $900 000 contract with the Florida Panthers. This will help with the mortgage payments, and the car repair bills, since Scott is now on a fixed income, and set to draw only $1.5M from the Canadiens for the next two seasons. Such financial downturns are hard to absorb, and we can only hope he squirreled away some of the tens of millions of dollars he earned earlier during his MegaBucks contract he signed with the Rangers.
Of course, any mention of Scott Gomez is enough to send Canadiens observers screaming to the battlements, of how we had to endure seasons of his ineptitude and diffidence, while Ryan McDonagh, one of the pieces we swapped to New York in return for the privilege of Mr. Gomez's 'services', is rounding into one of the best young defensive defencemen in the league. Imagining him as a pairing on the left side of P.K. Subban, the lost opportunity which was all too realizable, is almost too much to endure.
So it's no surprise a lot of fans gnash their teeth at the Scott Gomez trade, and proclaim that the minute it was announced they hated it and predicted a catastrophe. I however wasn't that prescient, I'd spent a few seasons not following the Canadiens too much, so I couldn't evaluate it properly, not really knowing the players involved. I was in Montréal at the time, visiting my girlfriend at the time, and reading her Gazette Sports section, trying to make sense of it all. Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Moen, Jaroslav Spacek... Really? And Saku is gone? Alex Kovalev was made an offer, he dithered, and lost out and ended up in Ottawa, to his public chagrin. Is that significant? And this Spacek guy, and Roman Hamrlik, that's our defence now? That doesn't sound good does it? Wasn't this Mike Komisarek supposed to be good? Why did they let him walk?
Ultimately, I decided that Bob Gainey was a good man and a smart GM, he'd won a Stanley Cup in Dallas after all, he knew what he was doing. That's as far as I could venture on this one.
The Réjean Houle hire, however, I called it. I rang the bell. I screamed "Iceberg, right ahead!" as loud as I could. But it was too late.
We all know what an unprepossessing character Réjean Houle is. Ken Dryden aptly described him in his book "The Game" as the small-town naif who never matured or wised up. His bad investments were a great source of mirth in the dressing room. One wag opined that he would finish his career with more "points (de suture, meaning stitches) on his face than on the scoresheet" which was funny but unfair, given that Réjean had a decent career, especially the WHA years, but referred to his astounding ability to flub on shots and miss open nets, as well as his legendary bad luck with injuries.
After his playing days were done, Réjean, ever the company man, started working at Molson. My sister worked at National Relations Publique, and one day asked me who Réjean Houle was. I did the best I could, and she nodded as if the picture I was painting made sense. She then explained that he had been at her offices, and had made quite an impression, and not a good one, with the awkward way he would shuffle over to everyone he saw, with arm extended out way too soon, with poor timing and no charm, and repeat, incessantly: "Réjean Houle, Brasserie Molson... Réjean Houle, Brasserie Molson..."
His bad trades were kicks to the gut. I remember how he crowed about landing Jocelyn Thibault, and implied that the Avalanche were trying to foist Stéphane Fiset on him, but he had stuck to his guns and insisted on Mr. Thibault, as if it was a feather in his cap, as if he'd kind of swindled them a little. It didn't seem to occur to him that they no longer had any use for him once they had Patrick Roy, that Mr. Thibault was almost a perishable item. About another stumper, in which he dealt away Lyle Odelein, he explained that he was getting in return Stéphane Richer, and how that would make his club tougher to play against, since Stéphane was a big boy. In his inimitable French-Canadian accent, he proceeded to list his height and weight: "Stéphane is six foot tree, two hundred pound, he's a big player..." And I wondered how trading away Lyle Odelein and his toughness and dedication was mitigated in any way by Mr. Richer, as spectacular a player as he had once been, fleetingly.
So some moves give you the ice-cold shower heebie jeebies, like the Réjean Houle hire and subsequent Patrick Roy trade, or more recently the Tomas Kaberle trade, but for Scott Gomez trade I didn't have that sinking feeling, that premonition. Which is good, since as the ship was slowly filling with water and our fate was doom, I was blissfully unaware, and didn't experience terror all the way down. I had another season where I actually enjoyed myself, unlike the wiser Canadiens fans, who knew there were no lifeboats big enough for this catastrophe.