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Pacioretty got deal thanks to new Canadiens GM

Tuesday, 08.14.2012 / 6:10 PM / NHL Free Agency 2012

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

BROSSARD, Quebec -- When Max Pacioretty completed his breakout season with the Montreal Canadiens in April, he had no idea what the future had in store for him.

The team was without a general manager at the time, Pierre Gauthier having been fired a couple of weeks earlier, and Pacioretty was about to enter the final year of his two-year, $3.25 million contract.

But when Marc Bergevin was hired as GM at the beginning of May, Pacioretty's future became a lot clearer.

Shortly after Bergevin was hired he began talks with Pacioretty to get his name on a long-term deal, a process that came to fruition Monday when he was signed to a six-year, $27 million contract extension that could keep the budding power forward in Montreal until the end of the 2018-19 season.

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"I wanted to do it at all times, but it's something that wasn't available with the old management situation," Pacioretty said Tuesday in a conference call, referring to Gauthier's reluctance to negotiate contract extensions with players who are not free agents. "I didn't really know what to expect for the future, I didn't know if the new GM was willing to negotiate mid-contract. As soon as they said they wanted to get a deal done, I love playing in Montreal and I wanted to get it done as soon as possible."

Pacioretty, 23, was the Canadiens' leading scorer last season with 65 points, and he was second on the team in goals to linemate and mentor Erik Cole with 33.

Pacioretty began the season with a great deal of uncertainty regarding his health as he recovered from a fractured vertebra and concussion resulting from a hit the previous season by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, but Pacioretty erased any doubts quickly. He played in 79 games, and the three he missed were because of a suspension he served for a hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.

Though Bergevin was not with the Canadiens last season, it became clear to him that getting Pacioretty locked up long-term was a priority, largely because of the character he displayed in coming back from such a devastating injury.

"We felt he's part of our core moving forward. He showed character with what happened when he got hurt, he came back strong. The guy cares about the team and his teammates. We wanted to tie him up and we felt this was a good deal, and he felt the same way," Bergevin said. "From the get-go we wanted a long-term deal and they did too. So it was a perfect scenario."

Pacioretty said he was concerned about playing out his contract and the impact it might have on his focus this season.

"Anyone would be lying if they said they don't stress [over] points or goals when they're playing for their contract," Pacioretty said. "I have the contract side of things settled now, so I can focus on helping this team achieve its ultimate goal, and that's winning a Stanley Cup. That's not just me saying that, that's the truth."

Pacioretty also said the support he felt from the Montreal community when he suffered his injury played a big role in his desire to play in the city for a long time.

"You want to play where you feel welcomed," he said. "As bad as my situation was a couple of years ago, there's so much positive that came out of it. I'm so thankful the fans have been in my corner since day one. I've found a couple of ways to give back, but it's really comforting knowing they're on my side and that was a huge factor in me wanting to be in Montreal for so long."

With Pacioretty signed through 2018-19, the Canadiens now have a large portion of their core group of young players under contract long-term. Defenseman Josh Gorges and goaltender Carey Price will be entering the first year of six-year contracts in the fall.

"These guys are good, young players -- among the best at their position [for their age] -- and it shows that they want to be in Montreal for a long period of time," Bergevin said. "It shows the fans and the city of Montreal that this is a place they want to play and where they want to be successful. I think that's huge moving forward."

The one member of that group who remains unsigned is defenseman P.K. Subban, one of four prominent, young NHL defensemen coming off an entry-level deal who still don't have contracts with their clubs -- the New York Rangers' Michael Del Zotto, the Washington Capitals' John Carlson and the Florida Panthers' Dmitry Kulikov being the others.

Subban told NHL.com on Monday that he hopes to sign a long-term contract with the Canadiens, but Bergevin was not being forthcoming with details on how those talks are going, saying he prefers not to negotiate in public.

Asked if Subban was a part of the team's young core, Bergevin was somewhat evasive.

"He's a good, young player, but there are many things that come into play," Bergevin said. "But there's potential there, for sure."

"We felt he's part of our core moving forward. He showed character with what happened when he got hurt, he came back strong. The guy cares about the team and his teammates. We wanted to tie him up and we felt this was a good deal, and he felt the same way."
-- Canadiens' GM Marc Bergevin

Bergevin repeatedly referred to the negotiation with Subban as a "process" that simply hasn't run its course.

"I hope it gets resolved," Bergevin said, "just like he hopes it gets resolved."

Though Bergevin said he is largely done shaping his team for this season, he did confirm his interest in unrestricted free agent forward Shane Doan.

Bergevin denied the reports that Doan came to Montreal for a visit, however, saying, "He might have come, but he didn't tell me."

Bergevin's interest comes partly from his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, losing to Doan's Phoenix Coyotes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.

"I've personally seen him play a lot, like in the playoffs last season against Chicago, he played very well against us," Bergevin said. "He's an asset. To not look at bringing him to Montreal would not have been a good thing. So we're looking at it, but he'll make his decision when he's ready and we respect that."

Even if Doan decides to remain in Phoenix or signs elsewhere, Bergevin remains confident in the group he's assembled heading into this season. He said a big reason for that was the health of defenseman Andrei Markov, who has missed nearly all of the past two seasons rehabilitating consecutive torn anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee.

Bergevin said Markov's been at the team's suburban training facility every day this summer and looks strong.

"He's a big part of this team, let's not forget," Bergevin said. "He wasn't here for the last two years, so with Andrei healthy it's a different hockey club."

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery