MONTREAL - Despite swinging for the fences but not hitting one out of the park during this weekend's free agent frenzy, GM Bob Gainey knows where the strength of his organization lies.
Daniel Briere is a Flyer, Ryan Smyth is now in Colorado and Sheldon Souray is shopping for a new address, but the Canadiens' game plan remains unchanged.
"We must continue to first and foremost build our team from within," vowed Gainey. "We have several young players who made huge strides this year. If they don't develop with us, they will just end up doing it somewhere else."
Names like Carey Price, Kyle Chipchura, Mikhail Grabovski, and Ryan O'Byrne rolled off Gainey's tongue as he made sure to remind the local media what the future of the Habs accomplished this year in Hamilton by winning the Calder Cup.
"Those prospects and our young players already with the team like Tomas Plekanec and Guillaume Latendresse will also have to play well and will play well," said Gainey. "They will be even better this year. But we as a group will have to work hard at it."
Despite players like Briere and Smyth having slipped through his fingers, Gainey had no regrets about his efforts over the past 48 hours.
"It's not frustrating, we knew our competition and what we were up against. We knew the market would be very active and that many teams would be involved," said Gainey. "We have to set our table to attract people to sit down in front of it. And there are things that are very positive about our team and our city and other areas where we have to be better."
With the dust now settled on a busy Canada Day weekend that saw many unrestricted free agents find new addresses, Gainey is aware how many variables come into play when trying to lure a UFA into the fold.
"If we were a playoff team and our engines are churning instead of sputtering at the end of the year, that's a nicer situation for a player to step into," explained Gainey. "Had that been the case, it would have been a stronger selling tool for me. That is an area that I can have a direct effect on."
The Canadiens did address a pair of needs this weekend by signing veterans Bryan Smolinski and Roman Hamrlik.
"Finding some defensive help was one of our top priorities and we've brought in a pair of players who are excited and proud to now be with our organization," said Gainey. "In Hamrlik, we believe to have landed a player we feel can carry the load on the blue line and help our younger defensemen like Mike Komisarek along."
To say that Gainey had a willing dance partner in Hamrlik would be an understatement.
"Continuing to play in Canada was a priority for me," said Hamrlik upon inking his four-year deal with the Canadiens on Monday. "To me it's like getting the chance to play soccer in England where that's all that really matters. Being a part of the kind of environment I experienced in Calgary and Edmonton was really important."
Refusing to crawl into the heads of those who clearly had their own impression of what continuing their careers in Montreal would be like, Gainey did manage to fire off a zinger before the press conference drew to a close.
"Players have many different conditions to consider from family and teammates to geography," added Gainey. "I guess some players want to be close to family and some may not."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com