MONTREAL – The undersized Montreal Canadiens are suddenly bigger and tougher.
General manager Marc Bergevin didn’t sign anyone as the NHL free agent market opened on Friday, but he swung a deal with the Florida Panthers for six-foot-five 228-pound enforcer George Parros.
“I felt it was an important element to add to our lineup,” said Bergevin. “We’re bringing in a guy with a lot of character.
“We know what he brings and it’s an aspect that at this time we feel is important.”
Parros doesn’t score much and often sees only a few minutes of ice time per game. But the 33-year-old is one of the NHL’s top tough guys, who willingly takes on all comers.
Montreal’s closest rivals in Toronto, Ottawa and Boston are loaded with big, physical players, and Bergevin saw a need for a veteran enforcer to protect his skilled, but smaller-than-average squad.
He also hopes to ease the workload of physical winger Brandon Prust, a feisty middleweight who did most of the fighting last season.
Prust summed up his approval of the trade with the tweet: “@GeorgeParros ohhhh yaaaaaa.”
“Brandon’s got the heart of a lion,” said Bergevin. “He’s a warrior.
“He stands up for his teammates. You tell him not to do it and he can’t help himself. So adding George will help him.”
The Canadiens sent prospect Philippe Lefebvre and a seventh round draft pick to the Panthers.
The move came a day after Montreal added yet another small forward by signing veteran centre Danny Briere, who had been bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Parros said he hoped to help the team by playing hockey as well as fighting, but acknowledged that dropping the gloves is his meal ticket.
“I play my game,” Parros said on a conference call. “I stick up for my teammates no matter how small or tall they are.
“I bring a level of protection and I hope they feel comfortable with me in the lineup.”
Parros was drafted 22nd overall by Los Angeles in 1999, but is mostly known for his six seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2007. One of his first calls of congratulation came from Canadiens winger Travis Moen, a former Ducks teammate.
Parros is also know for his flamboyant moustaches, of course.
“I know (Montreal) is a huge hockey market and I’m looking forward to it,” the Washington, Pa., native said. “I’ve been playing in the Sunbelt a long time.”
Parros had one goal, one assist and 57 penalty minutes last season. In 452 career NHL games, he has 18 goals, 17 assists and 1,007 penalty minutes. In his best season in 2008-09, he scored five goals.
Bergevin does not expect to sign any free agents or swing any other trades, although anything can happen.
He had a busy week, however.
While he struck out in a bid to land former Tampa Bay Lighting captain Vincent Lecavalier, he was able to sign Briere.
It wasn’t a popular move with fans, who are used to booing the 35-year-old Gatineau, Que., native for turning down a free agent offer from the Canadiens in 2007.
The Canadiens GM said Briere was not a consolation prize.
“When I spoke to Vinny, we were also talking to Danny,” said Bergevin. “It’s not like we lost on Vinny, so let’s go with Daniel. That wasn’t the case and I want to go on record with that.
“I know the player’s not 27 any more, but I believe there’s something left in the tank.”
Fans were clamouring for the team to add skilled players who are big, but Bergevin said they’re the hardest to land.
“It’s really hard to get size,” he said. “Teams that have skilled guys with size don’t just give them away.
“If we had one, I’m sure I wouldn’t be shopping him around. If you think you can go in the market and get one, you may have to trade half your team and we’re not willing to do that. You have to draft well, be patient and bring those guys along.”
The Canadiens also signed a new goalie coach in Stephane Waite, formerly with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, in hopes he can help starter Carey Price reach his full potential.
The undrafted Lefebvre, a left-winger, signed as a free agent with Montreal in 2009. He split last season between Wheeling of the ECHL and Hamilton of the AHL.
The Canadiens traded back the pick they had acquired from Florida at the draft last week.