The Canadiens will be looking for a new captain for the 2014-15 season.
After failing to reach a contract agreement with Brian Gionta before the Canada Day free-agent sweepstakes began at noon Tuesday, the former Habs captain signed a three-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres worth $4.25 million per season later in the afternoon. Gionta will be joined in Buffalo by Josh Gorges after the Canadiens traded the defenceman to the Sabres in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2016. Gorges has four years remaining on a six-year, $23.4-million contact with a $3.9-million cap hit each year.
Shortly after noon, the Canadiens signed free-agent Manny Malhotra to a one-year, $850,000 deal. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound centre posted 7-6-13 totals in 69 games last season with the Carolina Hurricanes. He averaged 11:35 of ice time per game and won 59.4 per cent of his faceoffs. In 933 careeer games, the 34-year-old has posted 115-176-291 totals.
“It’s an opportunity to win,” Malhotra said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “To say it’s a great hockey market is a gross understatement.”
Malhotra added: “This team is the best fit for me hockey-wise and family-wise.”
The Canadiens later re-signed free-agent defenceman Mike Weaver to a one-year, $1.75-million deal. Weaver played 17 games with the Canadiens last season after being acquired from the Florida Panthers at the NHL trade deadline, posting 1-6-7 totals and a plus-9.
After the signing was announced, Weaver tweeted: “Fier d’être de retour! We had the contract signed for a few weeks! Just wanted to keep everyone in suspense!”
Sekac, a 6-foot, 174-pounder, played 47 games last season with Lev Praha in the KHL, posting 11-17-28 totals. Gilbert, a 6-foot-3, 206-pounder, posted 3-25-28 totals with 18 penalty minutes last season with the Panthers.
“When you visit Montreal and you see the way the fans are excited game in and game out, it makes playing there exciting,” Gilbert said on a conference call.
“Manny touched on it with where he is in his career,” Gilbert added. “I’m looking for what everyone is looking for: a chance to win the Cup.”
The 35-year-old Gionta spent five seasons with the Canadiens after signing a five-year, $25-million free-agent contract during the summer of 2009. In 81 regular-season games last season, Gionta posted 18-22-40 totals. In 17 playoff games, Gionta scored one goal and added six assists.
“I was never looking to break the bank (with the Habs),” Gionta told The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs Tuesday morning after contract talks with the club broke down. “My time for that is past.
“It will be about the family now that Montreal window is closed,” Gionta added.
Gorges, who spent eight years with the Canadiens after being acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks, played in 66 regular-season games last season, posting 1-13-14 totals and a plus-6. He spoke with Sportsnet shortly after the trade to Buffalo was announced.
“It’s tough,” Gorges said. “I mean, you never really expect to get traded … you never think that this day is going to come. I mean, obviously, it comes for everybody and it’s happened to me once before. But when that phone call does come that day you’re not prepared for it. So it’s tough when you first hear the news, and especially because I’ve really loved every moment that I’ve had here in Montreal. It’s become my home over the last eight years and I’ve made a lot of good friends in this city and on this team and that’s the hardest part … knowing that you have to say bye to all that and move forward. But that’s the nature of the beast and part of the business that we’re involved in. So you deal with it and you move on. And like I said, I’m excited about the opportunity to go to Buffalo and help that team out.”
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin had tried to trade Gorges to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the defenceman nixed that as part of a limited no-trade clause in his contract. Gorges told Sportsnet that after playing with the Canadiens for such a long time it would have been hard to “switch over and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
“Nothing against that organization or that team,” Gorges said. “But when you build a rivalry it’s hard mentally, emotionally to think, ‘Wow, I’ve grown to hate this team, to play against them, how could I ever really go and put my heart and soul into it?’ And so I just wanted to take some time before I made a decision.”
In an interview with The Gazette’s Stubbs, Gorges was asked who his pick would be to be the next Habs captain.
“Everyone watches how (Andrei Markov) trains, prepares and plays,” Gorges said. “That’s what you want from your leader.”
When Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin met with the media Tuesday afternoon in Brossard he was asked about a future captain. Bergevin said if he did have someone in mind he wouldn’t say now and added that it was too early to make that decision. How that captain will be picked will remain “in house” Bergevin said.
When asked if he had a date by which he wanted to have restricted free-agent defenceman P.K. Subban signed, Bergevin said “no.” When The Gazette’s Pat Hickey suggested Oct. 1 as the date, Bergevin responded “that would be nice,” drawing chuckles from the media.
The Canadiens didn’t make a qualifying offer for forward Ryan White, meaning he now becomes an unrestricted free agent.
“Ryan was really good for us,” Bergevin told the media in Brossard. “I have a lot of respect for the way he played. But sometimes the teacher needs new students and the student needs a new teacher. So maybe a change of scenery will help him out. Again, I have a lot of respect for Ryan, but we made a decision to go with Manny Malhotra.”
Thomas Vanek, acquired by the Canadiens at last season’s NHL trade deadline, signed a three-year free-agent deal with the Minnesota Wild worth $19.5 million. Vanek turned down a seven-year, $50-million offer from the Islanders last season before he was traded to Montreal.
Bergevin also announced that the club has signed junior forward Jeremy Grégoire to a three-year, NHL entry-level contract. In 65 regular-season games with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL last season, the 6-foot, 187-pound forward posted 35-34-69 totals. The Canadiens selected him in the sixth round (176th overall) at the 2013 NHL draft.
Bergevin also signed free-agent goalie Joey MacDonald to a one-year, two-way contract on Tuesday. In 11 games with the Calgary Flames last season, MacDonald posted a 5-4-1 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage.
(Photo by John Mahoney/The Gazette)