BROSSARD – Marc Bergevin exploded out of the gates when the free agent market opened on Tuesday.
After brokering a deal with the Avalanche to bring forward Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau to Montreal on Monday, the Canadiens’ general manager closed another half-dozen dossiers in the span of a few hours on Tuesday afternoon.
Bergevin started his day by landing UFAs Manny Malhotra and Tom Gilbert with one-and-two-year deals, respectively, before announcing a trade with the Sabres that sent Josh Gorges to Buffalo for a second round pick in 2016.
The 6-foot-2 Malhotra will fill the spot vacated by restricted free agent Ryan White, who did not receive a qualifying offer from the team.
“[Malhotra] is a centerman with an excellent faceoff percentage. He’s a penalty killing specialist and that’s why we brought him to Montreal,” explained Bergevin of the veteran forward.
Inking Gilbert coincided with the signing of another blue-liner in Montreal, with Mike Weaver re-upping with the Canadiens roughly 20 minutes before the noon deadline on July 1.
“Tom is a right-handed shot who along with P.K. [Subban] and Mike Weaver can help us get all our defensemen back to their proper sides. That’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” confirmed the Habs’ GM of Gilbert, who has 520 career NHL games under his belt and previously played with Weaver in Florida. “It also gave us some flexibility with the salary cap. Tom is a guy who can play 18 to 20 minutes and he can move the puck.”
While the team welcomed new players to the mix on Tuesday, they also said goodbye to a few departing veterans, with Gorges and UFA captain Brian Gionta both set to join the Sabres for the 2014-15 campaign.
“Gio and Josh are good people. They were great for the Montreal Canadiens but I have to make difficult decisions. That’s part of my job,” said Bergevin of Gionta and Gorges, who spent five and eight years, respectively, with the Canadiens. “Sometimes you have to make decisions that aren’t popular, but I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to make decisions and sometimes they aren’t easy ones.”
After losing two of the team’s most prominent leaders, Bergevin is hoping to see some of his young stars step up to fill the void and take on more responsibility.
“We felt the team’s recent playoff performance allowed our young players to take on a bigger leadership role here. Eventually you have to make room for them to take on that role,” described Bergevin, citing Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher as examples.
Bergevin didn’t limit his UFA search to North America, locking down right winger Jiri Sekac, who hails from Tomas Plekanec’s hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic.
“He’s a player who’s gotten a lot of attention recently. He’s a young guy who can play on one of our top three lines,” shared Bergevin of the 22-year-old forward, who spent the last three seasons in the KHL. “I always say we let the players make our decisions for us, but he’s a talented player who can help us, so we took a chance.”
The Habs’ GM capped his day by signing 34-year-old netminder Joey MacDonald to a one-year, two-way contract and Canadiens prospect Jeremy Gregoire a three-year, entry-level deal. He may have spent his Canada Day wheeling and dealing, but despite his busy workload on July 1, the Habs GM reminded the gathered media that Tuesday was only the beginning of free agency.
“My phone is never off,” he said. “We have cap space and we’re open to everything.”
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.
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