BROSSARD, Que. – The upbeat mood was evident as Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien got back into hockey mode on Monday after the nearly four-month NHL lockout.
Both will finally get moving on the jobs they were hired for when the Canadiens cleaned house after their dismal 28th overall finish in 2011-12.
“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Bergevin told a packed news conference at the team’s suburban practice rink. “I’m ready to go back to work.”
He spent most of the lockout scouting junior games, and noted that “I haven’t seen this much junior hockey since I played for Chicoutimi in 1984.”
Team president and owner Geoff Molson also sat in, apologizing to the team’s fans for being off so long and promising an as-yet undecided gesture to make it up to them.
“Our plans aren’t completed,” said Molson. “Here in Montreal, the fans are the most important thing and we recognize that.
“We want to do something that will be very much appreciated.”
Both men were sketchy on details about their plans, saying they won’t know what can be done until the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players is ratified later this week.
The start of training camps is still unclear and depends on the ratification process of both sides. A compressed 48-game schedule likely begin on Jan. 19.
Bergevin got some work done before the lockout began Sept. 15, hiring Therrien, some new front office staff and adding some grit to the roster with the acquisition of defenceman Francis Bouillon and forwards Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong.
He hopes to have restricted free agent P.K. Subban signed before camp.
The third-year defenceman is one of the club’s most popular players and has been a leader in average ice time per game. He is expected to ask for a long term deal that will have to be weighed against an anticipated drop in the salary cap from US$70.2 million to $64.3 million next season.
Bergevin spoke to agent Don Meehan on Monday and “we will start the process of getting him signed as soon as possible.
“My goal from Day One was to sign P.K.”
The agreement is not expected to include provision for amnesty buy-outs until 2013-14, so fans hoping to see underperforming centre Scott Gomez and his $7.3 million per year cap hit gone will be disappointed.
Bergevin was not ready to join the chorus without ever having worked with Gomez.
“Right now we have 23 players. Gomez is part of the team,” said Bergevin. “He will be in training camp.
“The team was 28th. I’m not blaming any one player. A lot of players have a lot to prove.”
He confirmed that third overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk will be in camp, but isn’t guaranteeing him a spot on the team. Galchenyuk returned Monday to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League after helping the United States win gold at the world hockey championship.
He may be the big, skilled centre the team the team has lacked for years, but it will be difficult for young players to crack NHL lineups during what is expected to be a short training camp, possibly with no pre-season games.
It will be up to Therrien to get the club ready for a season where teams that get off to a bad start may not have time to rally for a playoff spot. Eight Canadiens, including five defencemen, played in Europe during the lockout, but the rest have tried to stay in shape on their own.
Between 25 and 30 players will be in camp. Therrien said the team will work on timing, conditioning and implementing a new system.
He didn’t elaborate on what his system would be, but said it would involve being strong on the puck and being “tough to play against.
“The team has speed and skill and we’ve added some character players. I love the players we got, Bouillon, Prust and Armstrong. We’ll get a system together and the players will have fun playing that system.”
He will at least have a mostly healthy team, with only fourth-line centre Petteri Nokelainen still out with a back injury. Captain Brian Gionta and top defenceman Andrei Markov, who missed most of last season, are ready to go.
An advantage Montreal may have is eight healthy defencemen, if Subban signs. They also have Bouillon, Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin, Rafael Diaz, Yannick Weber and Tomas Kaberle.
It was the first time the team’s brain trust faced the media since an agreement in principle was reached early Sunday morning to end the lockout.
Many questions were directed at Molson and his role in the negotiations. He wasn’t among the owners sitting in regularly at meetings, but said he was kept informed daily of developments.
He also defended commissioner Gary Bettman, even if the it appears the deal will not be advantageous to richer clubs like Montreal.
“Commissioner Bettman represents 30 teams and I feel he did the best job he could,” said Molson. “Some teams are small markets. Everyone has different positions. It’s not easy to satisfy everybody.”
Then he added: “I’m satisfied because we’re playing hockey.”