Monday, April 23, 2012

Memory Monday: Doug Gilmour

[Memory Monday Archives]

Want to piss of a Leafs fan who is making fun of you because the Canadiens finished lower than Toronto in the standings this season?  Instead of going back to the old "1967" routine, here's a new suggestion for you: say, "I love when Doug Gilmour played for the Habs." (Canucks fans may try the same with Mats Sundin)

Killer, as he was known, may now be most famous for his stint in Toronto, but he also played for the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, and 131 regular season plus 12 playoff games for our Montreal Canadiens.  He captained three different teams (Calgary, Toronto, and Chicago) and as Hab fans will painfully remember - won a Stanley Cup on Montreal Forum ice as a member of the Flames in 1989.  With 1,414 points in 1,474 career games, he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.

In the summer of 2001, Gilmour had just completed the least productive season of his career, scoring only 38 points in 71 games for the Sabres.  That off-season, he was unrestricted free agent, and remained unsigned, contemplating retirement, well into training camp.  It was at that same time that fans of the Montreal Canadiens were hit with the horrible news of captain Saku Koivu's diagnosis with non-hodgkin's lymphoma, meaning he'd need to undergo chemotherapy treatments and would be out long-term.  Koivu, a 5'10", 183 lbs, feisty, natural-born leader, would need to be replaced if the Habs were to have any shot at salvaging the season, but fortunately for the club, the 5'11" Gilmour was still available and fit the bill.  He was signed to a one-year deal in early October.

Gilmour's regular season production in Montreal of 41 points in 70 games was only moderately better than the year before, but he brought a lot to the team off the ice, helping them through a tough year and allowing them to squeak into the post-season.  And after all, it is hard to put up points when you spend the year centering Richard Zednik and Oleg Petrov, as Gilmour did for the most part.  In fact, making the playoffs wasn't far off from miraculous if you look at the roster during this season mid-dark years, led by center Yanic Perreault's 27 goals and 56 points.  The biggest star that year was goaltender Jose Theodore, whose 2.11 GAA and .931 save percentage would ultimately win him the Hart Trophy.

But Gilmour was also important to the team for his demeanour and intensity on the ice, on the bench, and everywhere else, all of which earned him an "A" on his jersey, effectively acting as a captain in Koivu's absence.  Koivu would return to the team with 3 games remaining in the regular season and be a productive player in the playoffs.  The team's strong leadership core allowed them to upset the Boston Bruins in the first round.  Gilmour's career seemed to go through a revival, as he was tied for the club's scoring lead with the inspiring Koivu and Donald Audette (after first round star Richard Zednik was lost following a dirty elbow from Boston's Kyle McLaren).  Many Canadiens fans will painfully remember the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes, where the Habs led 2-1 in the series and 3-0 after two periods in game 4, only to lose that one in overtime and never look the same again, but it was still an amazing against-all-odds run while it lasted.  Besides, the tough Gilmour gave us this clip below in that second round which will live on forever as Habs legend:

Now that's a warrior.  After scoring 10 points in 12 playoff games, Gilmour again considered retirement, stating that the Habs were in good hands with Koivu's return and that he wanted to concentrate on his family, but in the end Montreal management convinced him to sign for one last season.  Despite a career year of 71 points in 82 games for captain Koivu, the Canadiens had less success the following season and Gilmour himself fell below the .5 points-per-game level, so Montreal gave him a chance by sending him to a team still battling for a playoff position - those same Leafs he once captained - to let him finish his career close to home.  The return at the deadline was just a 6th round pick, but Gilmour would only get to play in one game with Toronto as he was injured in his first game back, ending his season.

Again the summer brought thoughts of retirement to Gilmour's mind, and this time they would win out.  The Hamilton Bulldogs, already then farm team of the Montreal Canadiens, offered Gilmour an AHL deal to keep playing, but he declined, instead taking a few years off before settling on a role of Player Development Advisor for the Leafs.

Since that time, Gilmour has moved into coaching; first as an Assistant Coach for the Toronto Marlies, and now most recently as the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs (since 2008).  Gilmour took his team to the post-season in his first full year as coach, earning him a 5-year contract extension with Kingston following the 2009-10 season.  The next season, unfortunately, Kingston slipped in the standings, missing the playoffs, and having Gilmour re-think where he stood.  That summer, he opted to move upstairs and take over as the team's General Manager, hiring former teammate Todd Gill to move in behind the bench.

And that is where the fiery-eyed intense competitor remains today.  Kingston missed the playoffs again this season, finishing last in the OHL's Eastern Conference, but there is little doubt that with time and more experience, the 48-year old Gilmour will be in a position to move up the ranks and someday make his way back to the NHL.  Despite the extensive list of candidates the Canadiens have spoken to already to fill the void in the General Manager position, Gilmour's name has not yet come up (at least publicly), but it isn't unthinkable that he could join a team's management trust as an Assistant GM or in a similar capacity if he decided he was ready to leave Ontario again.

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