Minnesota North Stars, 1991-1993
Dallas Stars, 1993-2002
Montreal Canadiens, 2003-2010
Central Division Titles, 1996-2001
Northeast Division Title, 2007-2008
President’s Trophies, 1997-1999
Playoff Appearances: 1994-1995, 1997-2001, 2004, 2006, 2008-2010
Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1999-2000
Stanley Cup Victory: 1999
By 2003 the Montreal Canadiens had fallen into a rut. Since 1983 the Habs had relied on former players like Serge Savard, Rejean Houle, and Andre Savard to help restore the team’s former glory. At first the formula worked with Serge Savard but after Savard’s departure in 1995 the team had taken an embarrassing turn with inconsistent play; poor playoff performances and no hope in sight.
In 2003 the Canadiens asked another redoubtable former Hab: Bob Gainey to restore the luster to the once golden Montreal franchise. For once the Canadiens chose a man who was amply qualified to rebuild a hockey team.
Before his return to Montreal Gainey had led the Dallas Stars from their transition from Minnesota to Texas; provided the team with a sterling head coach; and molded them into a competitive, excellent, dominant championship caliber team that dominated the Central Division during the waning years of the 20th century.
Even though he was only the sixth best GM of the 1990s; the fourth best GM of the 2000s; and the fourth best GM of the Third Expansion era (1991-2001—according to my rating system) Gainey had displayed great front office prowess and brought a lot to the table as a general manager.
Bob Gainey was a venerable member of the Montreal Canadiens 1970s dynasty teams. He joined the Habs in 1973 as a first round draft pick. One of the greatest defensive forwards of all time, Gainey was the first NHL
player to win the Frank Selke Trophy awarded to the best defensive forward in the league. Gainey won the award four times. Eventually he succeeded Serge Savard as team captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
Gainey ended his NHL playing career in 1989 but continued playing in France until 1990. He was hired by the Minnesota North Stars to be their head coach. In his rookie season, even though the team had a losing season and finished fourth in the Norris Division, Gainey led the North Stars to their second Stanley Cup final appearance in their franchise history; falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
In 1992 Gainey also became general manager of the North Stars and was also elected to the HHOF.
The North Stars were a team in transition. First moving from Minnesota to Dallas while experiencing inconsistent on-ice hockey play; then falling into the Central Division basement. By 1995 Gainey yielded the coaching reins to Ken Hitchcock (thus launching his fabulous NHL coaching career) while focusing on rebuilding the team.
Bob Gainey had a keen eye for young talent: drafting Jere Lehtinen in 1992; Jaime Langenbrunner in 1993; Marty Turco in 1994; Jarome Iginla in 1995 (although Gainey dealt Iginla away in 1995 for Joe Nieuwendyk); and Brenden Morrow in 1997.
All of these men made the Stars winners, playoff contenders, and 1999 Stanley Cup champions.
But after 2001 the Stars dimmed and burned out. Ken Hitchcock was gone and so, too, was Bob Gainey.
When Gainey took his act to Montreal he regained his keen eye for amateur talent: drafting Carey Price and P.K. Subban to name a few.
The Habs never reached the same heights as the Stars did under Bob Gainey. The best they ever did was to reach the 2010 conference finals where they were beaten by the Flyers.
Bob Gainey resigned as GM of the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 for personal reasons. The previous 15 years had been rough on him personally. He had lost his young wife to brain cancer in 1995 and in 2006 his youngest daughter was killed in a sailing accident when she was swept overboard and drowned; her body never to be recovered. It’s amazing that he was able to persevere and continue to do solid managerial work in the wake of two horrific losses like that.
He stayed as a team consultant until 2012 when the Habs reached bottom. Gainey has since returned to the Dallas Stars where he does consulting work for them today.
(Next week’s column will feature the late Leo Dandurand.)