"We as an organization had a number of needs looking ahead to the start of the season and we've been working extremely hard to meet those needs. Alex Kovalev and Mathieu Dandenault are the result of that effort and we could not be happier with today's announcement," said Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey. "The length of both of Alex and Mathieu's contracts is a testimony to how committed both sides are to making this team competitive for years to come."
While Dandenault was in attendance wearing both his new Canadiens jersey and a grin from ear-to-ear, Kovalev was on hand via telephone to share his excitement about his new deal despite the time difference making it 1:00 am local time in Moscow.
"There were a couple of offers out there including the Penguins, but Montreal was the place I wanted to be," said a groggy yet noticeably elated Kovalev. "What I experienced from the fans and the city was enough for me to know that this is where I belong. Hearing the fans cheer my name whenever I stepped on the ice was something that really stayed with me.
"Knowing that I will be here with the Canadiens for four years is fine with me," added Kovalev. "I want to be here as long as possible and even though I know they have won a lot of Stanley Cups here, I plan to bring another one to Montreal."
The 32-year-old right winger is no stranger to Montreal having been acquired on March 2, 2004 just prior to the trading deadline from the New York Rangers in exchange for winger Jozef Balej and the Canadiens second pick in the 2004 draft. Kovalev played a key role in the playoffs recording 10 points in 11 games, including a team-leading six goals on a line with team captain Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik.
Following the 2004 World Cup of Hockey where Kovalev had three points in four games for Team Russia, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder signed on with Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian super League during the NHL lockout, where he would go on to register 10 goals and 12 assists in 35 games. Kovalev then once again answered the call of home country for the World Hockey Championships in Austria where he put up six points in nine games and was named the tournament's top forward.
Selected 15th overall by the Rangers in 1991, the native of Togliatti, Russia won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994. Kovalev is a two-time NHL all-star (2001 and 2003) and represented Russia at both the 1992 and 2002 Olympics. Over his 12-year NHL career with Pittsburgh, New York and the Canadiens, Kovalev has 680 points including 292 goals and 388 assists in 849 regular season games. In 94 career playoff contests, Kovalev has 77 points with 33 goals and 44 assists.
Dandenault, a 29-year-old defenseman/right winger, had spent his entire 10-year NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings where he won three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998 and 2002). Drafted 49th overall by the Red Wings in 1994, the Sherbrooke, Que., native had 12 points in 65 games with Detroit in 2003-04. Dandenault also helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2003 World Hockey Championships. In 616 career regular season games, Dandenault has 149 points, including 48 goals as well as eight points in 64 career postseason contests.
"I'm just a kid from Sherbrooke who only dreamed of playing for one team when I was growing up and that was right here in Montreal," said a beaming Dandenault who will fill the spot on the Habs' blueline following the departure of Patrice Brisebois. "This is a special moment for me and my family. I remember watching Bob Gainey play here and there are just so many memories tied to this franchise that I always knew deep down that I would play here one day. I just thrilled to be here, finally.
"I had great times in Detroit and I learned a lot from playing with guys like Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan. That experience is I hope to bring here to the Canadiens," said Dandenault. "I've spent my whole career playing with winners and champions and from what I know and what I've heard, there is no better place to win than right here in Montreal."
As for the Canadiens having any more fishing lines floating in the free-agent waters, Gainey expressed satisfaction with what the Canadiens have managed to accomplish so far.
"Our roster is filling out quite nicely and besides our restricted free agents still pending like Jose Theodore and Saku Koivu, the only other need we still have to address is our No. 2 spot in goal," said Gainey in reference to the knee injury to Cristobal Huet which will keep the potential back-up netminder on the shelf for the start of the 2005-06 season. "That being said, we will as always keep our ear to the ground regarding what is still available at every position."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com