Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin speaks to reporters at the team’s annual golf tournament on Tuesday Sept. 3.
Photograph by: Ryan Remiorz, THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL — The Canadiens' annual golf tournament is a traditional kickoff to a new season and the mood is generally one of optimism.
So it wasn't surprising that general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien expressed their satisfaction Tuesday following an off-season that saw the Canadiens add some size and toughness (forward George Parros and defenceman Douglas Murray) and leadership (forward Daniel Brière).
But if you listened closely to Bergevin, you understand that any optimism is guarded.
"We have a ways to go," the general manager said. "We're moving forward, but it's a process. I'm not buying time: that's just the way it is. We're doing our best to build this team for a long time."
While the Canadiens finished first in the Northeast Division last season, a first-round exit from the playoffs still hurts and there are questions from last season that remain unanswered.
The biggest question mark might be goaltender Carey Price.
Bergevin conceded that Price struggled at the end of last season, but expressed confidence that the goaltender will bounce back.
"Every goaltender's going to have periods where he struggles," Bergevin said. "People forget that for the first 35 games last season he played very well for us."
Added Therrien: "As coaches, we have to do what we can to help our players get better. We believe he's going to be the goaltender we expect him to be."
Part of the help available to Price is the addition of goaltending coach Stéphane Waite. Waite and Bergevin go back to their days together in the Chicago Blackhawks organization, and Bergevin credited Waite in the development of Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, the goaltenders who helped the Blackhawks win Stanley Cups in 2010 and 2013.
Bergevin said he wasn't concerned about Price's post-playoff meltdown when the goaltender complained that he wasn't able to go shopping without attracting unwanted attention. Bergevin described Price as a quiet kid and said it had nothing to do with a subpar playoff performance.
"He would have felt that way event if he had played well," the GM said.
One other factor in the Canadiens' late-season slump was the loss of physical defenceman Alexei Emelin, who suffered a major knee injury.
"He's a big part of our team," Bergevin said. "We missed him last year when he went down and we're looking forward to having him back, but we'll take our time as we need him at 100 per cent."
Emelin underwent major reconstructive knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. When Bergevin was asked if the original prognosis of a late November return was still in play for Emelin, he said: "It may be later than that."
Bergevin said he was excited to add Brière.
"He's a player who had options and he chose to come to Montreal," the GM said. "For a French-Canadian (to make that choice) it's huge and it means a lot to us. He's been a leader everywhere he's been."
Bergevin consulted with Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren before signing Brière. He said Holmgren wasn't happy to let Brière go, but with the Flyers up against the salary cap the team had no choice but to buy the centre out.
"After they made that decision, I called Paul, and even though we're in the same conference Paul is a quality person and he had nothing but good things to say about Daniel," Bergevin said.
Said Therrien: "It's important that (Brière) wants to play for us. We've seen that he's capable of raising his game at the right time. We were looking for and we got some respect."
Bergevin said he's not opposed to negotiating a contract extension for Norris Trophy-winning defenceman P.K. Subban, but noted: "It takes two to tango. Both parties need to be ready to negotiate at the same time."
Bergevin declined to say whether he was ready at this point.
Therrien said he expected youngsters Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk to be given more responsibility this season, but wouldn't put a timetable on when Galchenyuk will be given a full-time spot at centre.
"We all want our kids to run before they walk, but the reality is they have to walk before they run," Therrien said. "We all know Alex is going to be a good centre, but he's only 19 years old. He's going to have more responsibility, but only time will tell when he's going to be a centreman.
"I'm going to be cautions: I don't want to hurt his confidence," the coach added. "It's tough to be a centreman in the NHL. There aren't many 19-year-old centremen in this league."
Therrien noted that he worked with young superstars in Pittsburgh — think Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — and that it was important to have a plan and stick with it.
The Canadiens got lucky with the weather Tuesday as only a few drops of rain fell on the golfers who made sizable donations to the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation for the opportunity to join the players at the Laval-sur-le-Lac club. The green fees and a live auction, which included a dinner in the Canadiens' locker room, a chance to join the team on a road trip to Philadelphia and a trip to Switzerland to tour the Lindt chocolate factory with tennis star Roger Federer, helped to raise a record $580,101 for the charity.
For more on the Canadiens' golf tournament, including video interviews with owner Geoff Molson, GM Marc Bergevin and players George Parros and P.K. Subban, go to hockeyinsideout.com.
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