MONTREAL – With the NHL lockout coming to an end, signing P.K. Subban will be the first task for the Montreal Canadiens’ new management team.
The 23-year-old defenceman, who earned US$875,000 in the final year of his entry-level contract last season and remains a restricted free agent, is thought to be seeking a long-term deal with the club.
General manager Marc Bergevin calls getting pen to paper with Subban a priority. He is one of the team’s most popular players with fans and one of the Habs’ leaders in average ice time.
Winning back embittered fans will likely be a must for all teams, even in hockey-mad Montreal and players and management celebrated the return of NHL hockey on Twitter.
“Let’s play hockey,” team president and owner Geoff Molson tweeted on Sunday.
“Man this is gonna be good,” wrote rugged winger Brandon Prust, who along with Colby Armstrong, was acquired after last season and has yet to skate for the Canadiens.
However, two players who may be left in the cold are Mathieu Darche and Chris Campoli, who were among the core players working with the NHL Players’ Association during the negotiations. Both are now unrestricted free agents.
The new collective bargaining agreement signed between owners and players does not allow for amnesty buyouts until 2013-14, so fans anticipating the removal of underperforming centre Scott Gomez and his $7.3-million salary cap hit will be disappointed. Some would like to have seen veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle’s $4.25-million hit gone as well.
Both will likely be back, as under the new CBA sending them to the minors is no longer an attractive option.
The Canadiens have 23 players under contract for a total cap hit of $63.9 million, so there is room to sign Subban under this season’s pro-rated $70.2 million cap, although the cap drops to $64.3 million in 2013-14.
Subban, Josh Gorges and the reacquired Francis Bouillon stayed home for the lockout, but their defence mates went overseas. Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin are to return from KHL clubs in Russia, Kaberle from the Czech Republic and Rafael Diaz and Yannick Weber from their teams in Switzerland.
Forwards Lars Eller (Finland), David Desharnais (Switzerland) and Tomas Plekanec (Czech Republic) also played in Europe. Plekanec and Kaberle were teammates with the Kladno club.
Weber told the Swiss media he would fly to Montreal on Tuesday.
“I’ve played 32 games, so I’ve got my timing,” he said. “It was a good experience coming here to play.”
Gorges will finally get started on his new six-year contract worth $3.9 million per season, while goalie Carey Price begins his new six-year, $39-million deal. Max Pacioretty, who played briefly in Europe, will play out the final year of his old contract before a six-year pact at $4.5 million per season begins in 2013-14.
“Today is a good day,” Gorges tweeted.
Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien, who were hired after the 2011-12 season, will finally be able to get some work done. Neither was made available to the media on Sunday.
Therrien, in his second stint behind the Montreal bench, will have a shortened training camp to install his system, decide line combinations and defence pairing, and determine who will be cut.
Alex Galchenyuk, a star forward with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting drafted third overall in June, is expected in camp after helping the U.S. to gold at the world junior hockey championship. Therrien and his staff must decide whether he’s ready to jump into the NHL right away.
The Canadiens are mostly healthy, with only centre Petteri Nokelainen a question mark. Plekanec injured his ribs last week but said the injury is minor.