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Bergevin: Banking on the youth movement

Habs general manager signs five free agents, including Tomas Plekanec, but stays away from hefty contracts on opening day of free agency

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

BROSSARD - Marc Bergevin is adamant that he is not putting his club through a rebuild, and it would be a mistake to assume so just because he didn't make a big splash on the opening day of free agency.

The Canadiens general manager was busy nonetheless, bringing four new players into the fold, announcing the return of longtime Hab Tomas Plekanec, and inking his first-round selection from the 2018 Draft in Dallas, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, to a three-year, entry-level contract.

But Bergevin did not land any big-name players on the open market. In his view, most of his roster from last year underperformed - with Brendan Gallagher being a notable exception - and if and when they get their game back up to par, his team would already be much improved without the need for major acquisitions.

"I'm expecting those players to bounce back and perform much better. And just from that, we're in better position," he explained. "I want to have a team that's going to compete, a young team, and a fast team. That's the makeup, and that's what we're going with."

A rebuild, then, would entail tearing his team's nucleus apart, and Bergevin is not willing to go that route given how strong he believes it to be as-is.

"I'm not ready to say we're rebuilding. We're bringing in NHL-caliber players without giving up young assets and picks," outlined Bergevin, who signed free-agent forwards Matthew Peca, Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput, and Plekanec along with defenseman Xavier Ouellet on Sunday. "We had a lot of picks - 11 - and I think we have nine right now. So I'm really confident that the future of the Montreal Canadiens is promising.

"If you look at our lineup, Max Domi is a new player who is young and also experienced. Gallagher is young. [Jonathan] Drouin is young. [Artturi] Lehkonen is young. [Charles] Hudon is young. But they all have NHL experience. It's not only about the Draft; we already have some good, young players. [...] We have a core of young players who are growing together. That's why I'm not ready to use the word 'rebuild'."

Video: Bergevin on Plekanec's return and other acquisitions

In addition to the young veterans already in the lineup, Bergevin had the chance to take a peek at the slightly more distant future of the club at the team's recently-completed development camp and, with the likes of Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Jacob Olofsson, Jesse Ylönen, and Samuel Houde on the way, he was completely convinced that staying the course was the right way to go - and could even bear fruit sooner than expected.

"With these kids coming, it happens faster than you think," he added. "I really like the direction we're going with our young players. [...] It's early, but I'm excited about it, and I want our fans to get excited about it, too."

Bergevin admits he was disappointed to not get a crack at a player of John Tavares' caliber after the Toronto native signed with his hometown Maple Leafs, but pointed out that beyond that, the pool of free-agent centers to choose from was relatively thin.

"If you look at the open market for free agency," he demurred, "do we want to get guys long-term who we're not crazy about?"

That said, Bergevin noted that Sunday was but the start of the free-agency period and he'd be open to additions - he admitted to having some interest in defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Anthony Duclair, for example - but only with a caveat.

"If I could upgrade, I will," he concluded. "But it has to be an upgrade, and it has to make sense."

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