BROSSARD – On the first day of free agency, Marc Bergevin addressed some short term needs without compromising his long term vision.
Having spent seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks’ front office prior to arriving in Montreal, Bergevin has learned what it takes to build a winner. While it’s tempting to lure potential free agents to town with lucrative, long term deals, the Habs GM has said from his first day on the job that he isn’t willing to mortgage his team’s future for a quick boost in the present.
“We all saw today that if you want to get in the free agent game, there’s a price to pay,” mentioned Bergevin of some of the enormous contracts that were doled out to UFAs on Day 1 of the free agent frenzy. “I didn’t feel we were in a position to do that today. It’s something you look at and you can make your team better with free agents, but I don’t think that’s how you build your core.
“It’s really hard to get size,” he continued. “When teams have players with skill who have size, they just don’t give them away. If we had one, I’m sure I wouldn’t be shopping him around. If you think you can go in the market and get one, you’re probably going to trade half of your team and I’m not willing to do that. We have to be patient and draft well and bring these guys along.”
One week after he used his first pick at the NHL Entry Draft to select 6-foot-5 winger Michael McCarron, Bergevin made no secret of his desire to beef up his roster. Instead of dipping his line into the free agent waters looking for extra size, the Habs GM instead opted to land a hulking enforcer to his lineup by going the trade route. Swapping prospect Phillip Lefebvre and a seventh round pick in 2014 to Florida for George Parros, Bergevin instantly made the Canadiens a lot tougher to play against.
“If you look at the situation in our conference, I thought George brought something we needed. We’re bringing in a guy with a lot of character and we know what he can bring to the team,” explained Bergevin of the 6-foot-5 forward, who has 160 career bouts on his NHL fight card. “He brings an aspect of respect, not only on the ice but also with his teammates. He’s a high character guy who’s well-liked by his teammates and he protects his teammates. We all know what Brandon Prust does for us. Brandon has the heart of a lion. He’s a warrior and he stands up for his teammates and now he’s going to have help.”
Parros will join forces with the current Habs heavyweight to create one of the toughest one-two punches in the conference. Between them, Parros and Prust racked up 19 fighting majors in 2012-13, but Parros isn’t ready to be recognized merely for his work with his gloves off.
“I’m not afraid to mix it up. I know the type of player I am. Hopefully I can produce offensively and be of benefit defensively to the team, but certainly I’ll try to bring my brand of hockey to the Habs,” offered the 33-year-old, who won the 2007 Stanley Cup alongside Travis Moen in Anaheim. “Fighting is a part of my game, but I also want to contribute in other areas as well. Hopefully I can play with this team and be a positive influence.
“As far as continuing to fight, it’s something I’m very familiar with and looking forward to doing,” he added. “I think that’ll help me find my spot on this team and I’m looking forward to [creating] some space for the guys out there and continuing to do what I’ve done. I don’t have any problem fighting any guy in the league.”
Bergevin also addressed another organizational need before the free agent market even opened at noon on Friday, inking recently bought out forward Daniel Briere to a two-year deal.
“I’m proud to bring Daniel in. He’s a guy with a ton of character. He was the captain in Buffalo and an assistant captain in Philadelphia,” explained Bergevin of the Gatineau, QC native. “He had other options on the table and he wanted to come to Montreal. This is where he wanted to play.”
Despite Briere’s recent dip in productivity, recording just 16 points in 34 games in 2012-13, Bergevin is confident in the returns he’ll be getting out of the free agent forward.
“If I wasn’t convinced, I wouldn’t have done it. I know what kind of player he is and I know his past,” stressed Bergevin of Briere’s 659 point haul in 847 career NHL games. “Sure, he’s not 27 anymore. I understand that. But I believe there’s some left in the tank. If you look at his stats in the playoffs, he’s performed.”
Adding a point-per-game postseason performer in Briere and a Stanley Cup champion in Parros, Bergevin brought in two big game players who are ready for an even bigger stage to showcase their talents. With some space left on the cap and two months until the start of training camp, Bergevin’s new additions could prove to be just the first of many pending offseason moves for the Candiens.
“I’m never finished,” he confirmed. “When I come talk to you after the trade deadline, it’s the end. Right now, this is just the beginning.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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