Habs add size and experience in free-agent frenzy

 

 
 
 
 
Manny Malhotra signed a one-year deal worth $850,000 with the Montreal Canadiens.
 

Manny Malhotra signed a one-year deal worth $850,000 with the Montreal Canadiens.

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MONTREAL — Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin added some size and experience while saying goodbye to some veteran leadership as the annual free-agent frenzy got underway Tuesday.

By the time the first day of free agency ended on Canada Day, the Canadiens had welcomed right-winger P.A. Parenteau, defenceman Tom Gilbert and centre Manny Malhotra, while saying goodbye to captain Brian Gionta, alternate Josh Gorges and veteran centre Daniel Brière

Bergevin made his biggest move on the eve of the free-agent shopping spree when he sent Brière to the Colorado Avalanche for Parenteau and a fifth-round draft pick.

“I liked Danny, but maybe things didn’t work out the way we both wanted,” Bergevin said.

Parenteau, who grew up as a Canadiens fan in Boucherville, described himself as a top-six forward, but Bergevin said Parenteau’s exact role would be sorted out in training camp.

“(Coach Michel Therrien) plays four lines and we think Parenteau fits on the top three lines,” Bergevin said when asked if the 6-foot, 193-pound Parenteau could replace Thomas Vanek as the right-winger on one of the top two lines.

Bergevin added there were some youngsters who might also be in the mix, including Sven Andrighetto, who had a strong second half with the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs, or Czech Jiri Sekac, who signed a two-year, entry-level deal Tuesday.

Gorges was traded to Buffalo Tuesday for a second-round draft pick in 2016 and Gilbert will replace him in the top four on defence. The 31-year-old Gilbert gives the Canadiens a right-handed shot with an offensive bent. He had three goals and 25 assists in 73 games last season with Florida. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds, but he’s not an overly physical defenceman. Gilbert signed a two-year deal worth $2.8 million per season, which represents an annual saving of $1.1 million over Gorges.

Bergevin said he knew trading Gorges wouldn’t be popular, but added he wasn’t in the job to be popular. The GM said the acquisition of the right-handed Gilbert helped balance the defence and will allow Alexei Emelin to play on the left side. That suggested Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban will form the No. 1 pair next season. Bergevin said it was also important to create room for young defencemen Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn.

Gilbert said he talked to the Canadiens last summer after he was bought out by the Minnesota Wild, but couldn’t reach an agreement. He signed with the Florida Panthers after attending camp on a tryout.

“After I got traded from Edmonton to Minnesota, things didn’t work out for whatever reason, but it made me think about what kind of player I am,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said he prided himself on his skating and his ability to make a quick first pass.

“Playing against Montreal, they’re a good transition team and I think that suits my style,” said Gilbert, who added that he chose Montreal because he felt the team had a good chance to win.

Malhotra, who was a first-round draft choice of the New York Rangers in 1998, gives the Canadiens a fourth-line centre. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is a character player who was one of the NHL’s top faceoff performers last season with a 59.4-per-cent success rate. He had seven goals and six assists in 69 games with the Carolina Hurricanes and will earn $850,000 with the Canadiens.

Malhotra might have made more money elsewhere, but the 34-year-old said he was at the point in his career where it was more important to play for a team that has a chance to win.

Malhotra is a replacement for Ryan White, who became an unrestricted free agent after he wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Canadiens.

The Canadiens came out of the day with 20 players under contract and about $16 million left in cap space. A big chunk of that will be needed to sign restricted free agent Subban to a new contract. Bergevin said it was possible the team could also sign another free agent or make a trade.

“My phone’s never off,” the GM said.

Trade-deadline acquisition Mike Weaver signed a new one-year deal for $1.75 million, a healthy bump from the $1.1 million he made in the past two seasons.

“I was pleasantly surprised when Bergy called me about 20 minutes before the market opened,” said Weaver, an unrestricted free agent who felt that negotiations with Montreal were dead. “I knew I wasn’t going to be in the first wave of (free agents) so I was glad to get it done early.”

The Canadiens added a couple of young players Tuesday, signing Jeremy Grégoire and Sekac.

Grégoire was a sixth-round draft choice last June, but his stock took off after he scored 35 goals and added 34 assists for Baie Comeau in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He will attend the Canadian national junior camp in Montreal next month.

Sekac, a 22-year-old forward, played last season with Lev Prague, which announced last week that it was leaving the Kontinental Hockey League because of financial concerns. Sekac, who has spent the past three seasons bouncing between the KHL and the Czech league, is a 6-foot, 174-pounder who had 11 goals and 17 assists in 47 games last season. He has some North American experience, having spent two years in the United States Hockey League after a brief stop with Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League.

“There were a lot of teams that were interested in him and we’re hoping that he can help us sooner rather than later,” Bergevin said.

The Canadiens will be looking for a new captain after Gionta signed a three-year, $12.75-million to join Gorges in Buffalo. Gionta’s agent, Brian Bartlett, talked with Montreal, but the Canadiens’ offer didn’t come close to the Buffalo deal in terms of length or money. The move will allow Gionta’s parents to see more games because they live an hour away in Rochester, N.Y.

Thomas Vanek will also be going home. He signed a three-year, $19.5-million deal with Minnesota. Vanek is from Austria, but attended the University of Minnesota, his wife is from Minnesota and the family has a home there. Vanek might have been able to get a better deal elsewhere, but it was a foregone conclusion that Minnesota was his preferred destination.

Unrestricted free agents Michael Blunden and Devan Dubnyk also found new homes. Blunden signed with Tampa Bay for $600,000, while Dubnyk — a goaltender who didn’t win any friends when he left the Canadiens’ Black Aces during the playoffs — signed with Phoenix for $800,000.

phickey@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: zababes1

 
 
 
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Manny Malhotra signed a one-year deal worth $850,000 with the Montreal Canadiens.
 

Manny Malhotra signed a one-year deal worth $850,000 with the Montreal Canadiens.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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