“We’re a good team with a young core, but we’re not a mature team yet, like a Chicago or a Los Angeles,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said. “We still have lots of work to do in terms of building through the draft and developing our young players, but we are well on track.”
Photograph by: John Kenney, The Gazette
Anyone looking for news at Marc Bergevin’s post-season news conference was in the wrong place.
The Canadiens’ general manager played it close to the vest when it came to questions about how he will handle contract negotiations with 11 free agents, including P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and captain Brian Gionta.
Bergevin has a policy of not discussing ongoing negotiations. He said there would be internal review of the season before any decisions. He said he couldn’t provide a timeline on negotiations, although he noted that Markov (and Gionta) are in line to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
The GM said he was happy to see the Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference final but, when asked about the state of the franchise, he repeated the comment he made before training camp in September: “We’re not there yet.”
“I thought our young players learned a lot,” he said. “What they learned over the last 17 playoff games is something you can’t buy. We’re a good team with a young core, but we’re not a mature team yet, like a Chicago or a Los Angeles. We still have lots of work to do in terms of building through the draft and developing our young players, but we are well on track.
“The fact that we went to the conference finals doesn’t mean that we start ahead of everyone else on Oct. 1,” added Bergevin. “Tampa Bay is going to be strong next year. Ottawa will be better, Toronto will be better. Everyone in our division will be better next year. Same as the start of this year, the first priority is to make the playoffs. Anything can happen after that.”
The Subban situation is a no-brainer. Since he signed a two-year bridge contract six games into the 2012-13 season, he has won a Norris Trophy and has established himself as one of the NHL’s elite defencemen. There may be some quibbling over the final terms but he’ll be earning top dollar for a long time.
Bergevin praised Markov’s contributions during the past season but there has been no indication the two sides have moved beyond an impasse over the length of the contract.
Gionta? Bergevin said: “We’ll see what we can do to bring him back.” He praised Gionta’s leadership but, in the same breath, he noted that there are other players to fill that role.
“(Josh) Gorges is a really good leader. Carey (Price), P.K., and Patch (Max Pacioretty) are taking that role. We have a lot of young leaders who will help moving forward. A guy like (Tomas) Plekanec might not be a player who talks a lot, but by his play and the way he competes, he’s a leader.”
He referred several times to the “young veterans” on the squad and said that he as looking forward to young defencemen Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn playing a larger role next season.
“I think the day they become everyday players with the Canadiens will be sooner rather than later,” he said. “Do I want them to play in NHL next season — yes. “I want some internal competition at camp.”
Bergevin believes that it’s important to have veteran depth on defence but noted that if the youngsters make the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis, they will have to be given the opportunity to play.
The GM put on his rose-coloured glasses when he said he was happy with Thomas Vanek’s performance. Vanek did contribute to the Canadiens getting to the playoffs but his post-season play was disappointing, which was why Michel Therrien dropped him from the top line.
Bergevin confirmed that the “body injury” Dale Weise suffered in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final was a concussion. But he defended the decision to allow Weise to return to the game. He said Weise felt he was okay and he passed the NHL-mandated tests. Bergevin said the Canadiens learned that he was concussed the next day.
The Canadiens decided not to offer a contract to Brady Vail, who was drafted in the fourth round (94th overall) in 2012. Vail had 32 goals with Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League and had a goal and three assists in 17 games with Hamilton over the past two seasons. But Vail, who is eligible to go back into the draft, did not make an impression on the development team of Scott Mellanby, Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois.
In other news, the Canadiens have given the Florida Panthers permission to speak with assistant coach Gerard Gallant about the team’s head coaching vacancy. Gallant has the NHL head coaching experience the Panthers are seeking and he coached Florida prospect Jonathan Huberdeau in junior.
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