MONTREAL -- From his time as captain to his tenure as general manager, Bob Gainey has spent a lifetime providing leadership for the Montreal Canadiens.
Now, he's handing the reins to a trusted colleague.
Gainey stepped aside Monday as Montreal's general manager and was replaced by assistant Pierre Gauthier in a surprising front-office shake-up for hockey's most storied franchise.
Team president Pierre Boivin -- with Gainey and Gauthier on either side of him -- made the announcement at a Bell Centre news conference. Gainey will remain with the club as a special adviser to Gauthier, an assistant to the general manager under Gainey.
"I look forward to assisting Pierre and the team in our pursuit of our 25th Stanley Cup," Gainey said. "I'm leaving the team I love most in the hands of the man I trust most."
Gainey starred for the Canadiens from 1973-89 and the Hall of Famer rejoined the team as GM after the 2002-2003 season. Montreal made the playoffs four out of five seasons during Gainey's tenure.
"I think that is an accomplishment in today's NHL, where 45 percent of the teams miss the playoffs every year," said Gainey, who won five Stanley Cups as a forward with the Canadiens.
Boivin said Gainey informed him during the Christmas holidays that he would not seek to extend his contract after it expired in June.
"I believe that the GM position requires a long-term vision and a long-term commitment," Gainey said. "At this point I'm not prepared to make a commitment of four, or five, or six more years in this position. The decision between leaving a little too early or staying a little too long -- between those two choices I prefer to leave a little bit too early. I've done my best. Now it's time for me to pass the torch."
The Canadiens, who celebrated their 100th anniversary on Dec. 4, had missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years when Gainey was hired, including three straight seasons from 1998-99 to 2000-01, matching the worst drought in team history.
Montreal went 241-176-46-7 in the regular season during Gainey's tenure, including a 28-26-6 mark this season. The Canadiens finished first overall in the Eastern Conference two years ago, the team's first regular-season conference title since 1988-89 -- Gainey's final season on the ice.
But the Canadiens haven't advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs since winning their 24th Stanley Cup in 1993.
"It's been a privilege to participate with the Montreal Canadiens' organization again in a different role," said Gainey, the team's captain from 1981-89. "Spectacular evenings at the Bell Centre with jersey retirements, including my own. It's been fabulous and I'm very thankful for the opportunity."
Gainey's tenure, however, included personal tragedy. His daughter, Laura, was lost at sea in December 2006. That came 11 years after his wife, Cathy, died of cancer.
"It's a great honor to be named general manager of the Montreal Canadiens," Gauthier said. "I've always thought that working in the National Hockey League is an honor. Working as a general manager is also a great honor. But working for the Montreal Canadiens as a general manager is the greatest honor."
Gainey, who won a championship as general manager of the Dallas Stars in 1999, hired Gauthier as the Canadiens' director of professional scouting in 2003. Gauthier, who served with Gainey and Bobby Clarke as co-general managers of Canada's 1998 Olympic team, added the assistant general manager's duties following the 2005-06 season.
Gauthier expressed his gratitude to Gainey, whom he described as "a great friend," for bringing him to Montreal and agreeing to advise him in his new duties.
"I've enjoyed working with him and learned so much from him," Gauthier said.
Gauthier said the Canadiens' primary objective is to win the Stanley Cup, and his priority is to move the team from the middle of the pack into the top tier of the league.
"I like this team," said Gauthier, who hired current Canadiens coach Jacques Martin in the same capacity with the Senators in 1996. "I like the coaching staff. I've worked with Jacques before. I'm very comfortable with this group and I've had a lot of time in the organization and we have a very strong organization. As soon as we leave this room today, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get the job done."