Canadiens busy on opening day of NHL free agency
BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens were busy on the opening day of NHL free agency on Tuesday.
The Canadiens acquired defenseman Tom Gilbert and center Manny Malhotra and traded Josh Gorges to the Buffalo Sabres.
General manager Marc Bergevin also signed Czech prospect Jiri Sekac and re-signed free agent defenseman Mike Weaver.
The Canadiens also saw captain Brian Gionta leave as an unrestricted free agent for Buffalo on a three-year contract.
The moves come a day after the Habs acquired forward P.A. Parenteau from Colorado in exchange for veteran Danny Briere.
Bergevin had said after the Canadiens were eliminated in the Eastern Conference final that the team’s leadership had shifted to younger players like P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Carey Price and Brandan Gallagher.
Seeing off Gorges and Gionta made it official.
“We felt that with our performance during the playoffs, our young core was ready to take a bigger role when it comes to leadership,” said Bergevin, who refused to speculate on who the next captain might be. “Eventually you need to give your young players a chance to take over that role.”
The surprise move involved Gorges, who has been a part of the Montreal defense since 2006 who used his limited no-trade clause over the weekend to reject a move to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s been a tough couple of days and now things are looking bright again,” Gorges said on a conference call. “You know where you’re going and that’s a good feeling.”
Bergevin was looking to move Gorges’ contract, which had been signed with the previous management and has another four seasons at $3.9 million per year.
He reportedly made a bid to keep Gionta, but at a much reduced salary from the $5 million the right winger earned in each of the least seasons. The Rochester, New York, native ended up signing with Buffalo for three years at $4.2 million per season.
“You’re losing great people,” Bergevin said. “Sometimes you make decisions that are not popular. But I’m not here to be popular, I’m here to make decisions.”
Gorges’ place on the right side of the defense will likely be taken by Gilbert, an unrestricted free agent who signed a two-year deal worth $2.8 million. The 31-year-old defenseman, who was bought out of the final two years of a contract with Minnesota in 2012, played for Florida on a one-year deal last season.
Gilbert had three goals and 25 assists in 73 games for the Panthers.
The Canadiens also opted to bring back 36-year-old Weaver, who did well on right defense in the playoffs after he was acquired from Florida on March 4. He signed a one-year deal worth $1.75 million.
The moves on defense should allow coach Michel Therrien to move Alexei Emelin to the left side where he will be more comfortable.
Malhotra signed a one-year deal worth $850,000.
The 34-year-old center, who has come back from a career-threatening eye injury suffered in 2011, had seven goals and six assists in 69 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. While he still has reduced vision in his left eye, Malhotra was praised for his leadership and his ability to win faceoffs.
Malhotra started last season on a tryout with AHL Charlotte and signed with the Hurricanes on Oct. 31.
The much-sought after Sekac, a 6-foot 175-pound Czech, inked a two-year, two-way deal with Montreal after reportedly talking to more than 15 NHL teams.
“He’s a kid that has top-three line skill that can help at some point in the future,” Bergevin said. “I won’t be able to tell you until he’s here at camp and he shows us what he can do. We felt it was a calculated risk to bring him to Montreal.”