MONTREAL - That's three down and only Bob Gainey knows how many more to go. With a trio of signings on Monday, Gainey was able to cross three more names off his list, as the 2006-07 edition of the Canadiens begins to take shape.
By inking Steve Begin, Garth Murray, and Aaron Downey to three, two and one-year-deals respectively, Gainey secured three hard-nosed players who will go a long way in meeting one of his objectives for next season.
"Signing the style of players we did here today will certainly make us a tougher team to play against," said Gainey. "These are the type of guys who are solid, hardworking players who bring it every night.
"With a player like Steve Begin, it's easy to see how much he brings to our team both in performance and in spirit," added the Canadiens' GM. "I think he's an important player and to have our team and our fans know that he'll be with us for at least the next three years is encouraging for me and I think encouraging for everyone involved."
Gainey didn't have to be reminded which Canadiens free-agent-to-be is on everyone's mind with July 1 fast approaching-Cristobal Huet.
"We're talking and we have been for about a week to 10 days but there is nothing to announce for the time being," admitted Gainey of Huet, who is among the more coveted players that could soon be on the open market. "We're in a stage of trying to get an idea of what each party feels about the other. There's term, there's dollars, and there's Cristobal's possibility of becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month.
"We're just starting to close in, but we're talking and I think there's a strong feeling of we'd like to be able to come to an arrangement, for both parties."
Francis Bouillon's name is also on Gainey's to-do list, with the 30-year-old blue-liner poised to become an unrestricted free agent. The two sides have had discussions, and Bouillon has made it clear that he would like nothing more than to remain with the Canadiens.
Gainey revealed that won't be the case for neither Niklas Sundstrom, who has already signed on to continue his career in Europe in 2006-07, nor impending unrestricted free agent Jan Bulis, who made it clear in early May that he is eager to test the market.
One thing is certain, Gainey's work has just begun and he is well aware what kind of chaos awaits once the bell tolls to kick-off the annual free-agent bonanza.
"It's always been a hectic, rough and tumble couple of days once free agency is officially underway," said Gainey. "Now that every team has the chance to sign these players, I don't see it changing this year."
While he didn't tip his hand by identifying anyone on his radar screen, Gainey made no secret of what type of player he's gunning for.
"A forward, a scorer who can provide us with an offensive boost would be what we would like to find, only right now there seems to be more defensemen available than that type of player," admitted Gainey. "With every team in the league looking to do what we did today by signing players to new deals before they become available, it's tough to tell and predict who will in fact be available by the time July 1 rolls around."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com