Criticism is common place in Montreal

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    By Habster
    Bob Gainey finally pulled the trigger on Monday by signing UFAs Roman Hamrlik and Bryan Smolinski to contracts. The Canadiens were unable to sign the big name UFAs like Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez or Ryan Smyth but it wasn’t from a lack of effort. Numerous reliable sources (including the players and agents involved in the process) stated that Montreal had made very attractive offers and were in the running right up to the end. Briere was allegedly offered a 6 year/$42 million while Smyth was supposedly offered a 5 year/$32.5 million. Both contract offers were allegedly more money annually than what Philadelphia and Colorado had given them.
    As Habs fans, we can all speculate and debate the reasons why these players went elsewhere: higher taxes, constant media pressure, non playoff contender or language issues to name a few. The media have already started the “blame game” and are unfairly criticizing the Montreal Canadiens for not landing these players (especially Daniel Briere). Some media outlets have even questioned why Bob Gainey, Pierre Bovin or George Gillett did not travel to Los Angeles to hand deliver the contract offer and persuade Mr. Briere to sign with the Habs. Can you imagine Gainey leaving his office at the Bell Center and abandoning negotiations for other UFAs to attract one player.
    Thank god, Bob Gainey has the courage and for a lack of a better word, BALLS!!! to stand his ground so as not to be persuaded by our wonderful local media “experts”. The Ronald Corey and Rejean Houle era has come and gone when it was common practice for the french media to influence their decision making process (Patrick Roy would have retired as a Hab if cooler heads had prevailed and management had settled things down).
    Yes, Gainey did not land the “big fish” UFAs but the additions of Hamrlik, Smolinski and to a lesser degree, Tom Kostopoulos have improved the team. Roman Hamrlik is a better all round defenseman than Sheldon Souray and will provide much better defensive zone/one on one coverage. Hamrlik won’t score 26 goals next season but neither will Souray who had a career season offensively. When you factor in the plus/minus and goals scored stats, then Souray is a-2(26 goals and -28) while Hamrlik is a + 29 (7 goals and +22). A bit simplistic but at the same time rather revealing don’t you think!! Hamrlik will also help tutor young prospects like Ryan O’Bryne or Pavel Valentenko when/if they make the Habs roster. He was credited with helping develop Dion Phaneuf in Calgary so Hamrlik has some successful experience in this area.
    Bryan Smolinski will not be as good a shutdown center as Radek Bonk but he will provide more offensive punch. Smolinski is a better face off guy and even at 35 years old, he is still a better skater than Bonk. I think Maxim Lapierre will be the shut down center while Koivu, Smolinski and Plekanec will center the more offensive lines. Tom Kostopoulos will provide more grit and bring a solid effort every game. He is very strong along the boards and is a good skater who will improve the 3rd and/or 4th lines (will replace Mike Johnson).

    In the end, there will always be critics who will have something negative to say no matter what is done to improve the team. If Bob Gainey would have signed Daniel Briere or Ryan Smyth, there would have been criticism that the player was paid too much and his salary would cripple the team’s financial ability to add other players to the roster. Let’s take a step back and take a deep breath (especially the media) while Mr. Gainey continues to improve the team with the recent additions as well as giving some of the younger players a chance to shine.