MONTREAL – It is a busy week for Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey, between work on his family charity foundation and trying to land plum free agent Mats Sundin.
Gainey was at Club Metropolis on Tuesday night for a concert in aid of the Gainey Foundation, but the topic kept drifting toward Sundin, the Toronto Maple Leafs captain who is to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Canadiens have a deal with the Leafs for exclusive rights to negotiate with Sundin before he is turned loose on the free agent market.
Gainey said he has had one brief telephone conversation thus far with Sundin. A planned trip to meet him in Sweden has yet to be finalized.
“I’ve spoken to him on the phone and I’ve spoken to his agent (J.P. Barry),” said Gainey. “He’s trying to organize his ideas about what his future looks like.
“It’s a window of time to present who we are, this is what it looks like and do you want to come and play? I don’t know what will happen. We’re interested and we just want to tell him why we are, because we think we can be good partners.”
Gainey smiled at a report that Sundin has contacted the New York Rangers. The Leafs have said that only Montreal has the right to talk to him.
“There will be a lot of blog and media information, like we’re in Sweden today, and he’s seeing the New York Rangers tomorrow and Thursday he’ll be in Los Angeles,” Gainey said.
At the NHL draft last week in Ottawa, the Canadiens dealt a pair of picks to the Calgary Flames for winger Alex Tanguay and would love to add Sundin, a big centre and proven scorer, as they head into their 100th anniversary season.
But Gainey isn’t sure which way Sundin will turn. The 37-year-old may opt to retire, or he could test the open market.
“I think we have a nice presentation for him,” added Gainey. “We have a great city, terrific fans, a team that’s working.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re OK. We’ve got good players. We’ve got stability in our coaching and management, but he has to look at it through his eyes and say: is this a place I see myself?”
He also said the Canadiens were not in the market for San Jose defenceman Brian Campbell and that their priority is to find a centre like Sundin.
Gainey was flanked by his daughters Anna and Colleen and son Steve, a former NHL forward, before the show.
They set up the foundation in honour of Gainey’s wife Cathy, who died of cancer in the 1990s, and daughter Laura, who was killed in an accident at sea in December, 2006 while working on the tall ship Picton Castle. It raises money for environmental and arts education programs for young people.
The show was headlined by Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, whose lead singer Alan Doyle is a friend of Gainey’s, and Montreal rockers Sam Roberts and Michel Rivard. Nikki Yanovsky, Sara Johnston and Shane Murphy were also to perform.
It struck some as curious that it was held on June 24, Quebec’s Fete Nationale holiday.
Gainey said a similar show in his home town of Peterborough, Ont., was held on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, and was a success. It drew about 650 people and raised $120,000.
“People said we shouldn’t have it on June 24, but we said let’s do it,” he’s said. “We tried to reach out to people in the community who would help us celebrate, like Michel Rivard, and he said ‘great.’
“If it works, maybe then we’ll find we have to go to Dallas and do it on Cinco de Mayo.”
Anna Gainey said the family wanted to put on “a different kind of fund-raiser.
“There’s lots of golf tournaments and things that are similar. And my siblings and I are young. This is the kind of thing we want to do – not a black tie gala.”