VANCOUVER – Journeyman centre Maxim Lapierre and depth defenceman Andrew Alberts finally have some job security after helping the Vancouver Canucks reach the Stanley Cup final.
Both Lapierre and Alberts signed new deals with the Canucks on Wednesday, taking them off the market before the NHL free-agency period begins Friday. Lapierre, who was slated to become a restricted free agent, signed a US$2-million, two-year deal while Alberts, who would have been an unrestricted free agent, signed a $2.45-million, two-year contract.
Lapierre, a 26-year-old Saint Leonard, Que., native, received some job security after playing for three teams in 2010-11.
“I had a great experience with the Canucks, they gave me a second chance–a real second chance—and I’m really happy to be back in a great organization,” Lapierre said on a conference call.
He began last season with the Montreal Canadiens but was shipped to Anaheim in December before joining the Canucks at the trade deadline. The knock against Lapierre was that he engaged in too much trash-talking, and even his former teammates could not stand the constant yapping.
“When I came to Vancouver, I had a good meeting with the coaches and they told me what they wanted (me) to do,” Lapierre said. “I think I improved a lot that way.”
Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said Lapierre was originally acquired as a fourth-liner, but played an important third-line centre role after Manny Malhotra went down with a career-threatening eye injury in mid-March. The new deal was a reward for Lapierre’s on-ice performance “as well as his character.”
“We liked the feistiness that he brought on the ice,” Gilman said. “He brought a dimension to our team that, I think, was needed.”
He said Lapierre further strengthens the Canucks at centre, adding to depth provided by Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Malhotra.
Lapierre recorded six goals, six assists and 80 penalty minutes in 78 regular-season games and added five points and 66 penalty minutes in 25 playoff appearances. He scored the winning goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final before the Canucks lost the seventh game to Boston. He ranked second in NHL post-season hits with 83.
Gilman said Lapierre’s strong playoff showing helped him land a new contract after the club took a wait-and-see approach upon his arrival.
“One of the things that made Max attractive to us was that he was a player on an expiring contract,” Gilman said. “What also made him attractive was the fact that, if we wanted to, we could qualify him and retain his rights for another year. In looking at the totality of the circumstances, we determined that we wanted to have Max and have him for at least two more years.”
Alberts received a show of support from a team deep in defencemen.
“It’s a big relief,” Alberts said. “I get to go back to a city I love, a team that I like playing for, a great a coach and a great organization. We had a great run this year and next year we’d like to make it much better by taking the next step.”
Alberts, 29, had seven points (1-6) and 41 penalty minutes in 42 games in a season limited by injuries. The six-foot-five, 209-pound Minneapolis native led all Vancouver blue-liners with 113 hits. He bypassed a chance to shop his services on the open NHL market.
“I didn’t even think about going to July 1,” he said. “I’m glad the Canucks wanted to get a deal done and I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I’m excited to be back.”
Alberts had previously been the subject of ongoing trade rumours since the Canucks acquired him at the trade deadline in the 2009-10 season.
Gilman said Alberts survived a period of adjustment and the club never gave any thought to letting him go after he was one of 13 defencemen to suit up in 2010-11.
“I think that Andrew, after we got him at the prior trade deadline, played very well for us this year,” Gilman said.