MONTREAL - The Canadiens returned to the Bell Centre to say their goodbyes for the summer on Thursday afternoon. But unlike the last day of school, this bunch can't wait to be back in class next season with new teacher and head coach Guy Carbonneau.
Leading the charge of those already counting the days until they return to their stalls in the Canadiens' dressing room is unrestricted free-agent-to-be Cristobal Huet. Following his meteoric rise to stardom in 2005-06, the NHL's regular season save percentage leader can't wait to pick up where he left off.
"As an athlete, you want to be competitive and you want to play to win, that's the most important thing," admitted Huet. "I think the Canadiens organization has proven that they want to win. The team played well and showed great signs for the future."
While well aware that he will be a hot commodity once the bell tolls for all unrestricted free agents on July 1, Huet didn't look or sound like someone eyeing a new NHL address.
"I'd really like to be back in Montreal and do even better next year," said Huet. "Obviously the city and the hockey are great and it's amazing to be in a place like this. We came up short this year but I think we're going in the right direction and it's just a thrill to play here.
"I haven't spoken with my agent yet, but to be honest, [free agency] is not something I'm thinking about. All I can really say is that I'm interested in coming back here. As long as both sides are happy, I don't see a reason to go somewhere else."
The same can't be said for Jan Bulis. Following a season that saw the Czech centerman set a career-high with 20 goals, while also finding himself looking on from the pressbox as a healthy scratch at times this season, Bulis appears poised to test the free-agent for the first time.
"Coming off the big season I had in the Czech Republic last year, I had high hopes heading into this year," admitted Bulis, who finished third in Czech League scoring during the lockout.
Jan Bulis (top) expects to test the free agent waters come July 1, while Francis Bouillon hopes to stay where he is.
"I had some special years here and it's been a great experience to play for the Canadiens," added Bulis. "Playing in a hockey city like Montreal is something every player should get a chance to do at least once in their career. I'm 28 and not the youngest guy around so this is a good time for me to see what's out there."
Francis Bouillon is also staring down the barrels of unrestricted free agency come July 1, but unlike Bulis, the 30-year-old defenseman has no interest in dipping his toes in the free agent waters.
"Montreal is where I want to be," said Bouillon. "To be honest, I really haven't thought about it yet, but I do know that I'm comfortable here. This is where I grew up and all my family is here as well.
"After only signing one-year deals throughout my career, I would really like to get something done that's long term," added Bouillon. "We have a great group right now with a good mix of veterans and young guys. I just know that I want to be a part of where the team is headed."
The Canadiens' elimination from the postseason at the hands of the Hurricanes remains a tough pill to swallow, but rookie sensation Chris Higgins' playoff debut did nothing but whet his appetite.
"It was a shock the way everything ended so suddenly for us, but once you get a taste of the playoffs, you want more," said Higgins. "It's going to be a long summer for us to think about it but guys are excited. A lot of guys are young, they want to do well in the league, they want to establish themselves and I'm one of those players. We're going to be even hungrier next year."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com