BROSSARD - The toughest moments of training camp don’t always necessarily come on the ice.
Case in point, following two grueling weeks of tests, travel, practices, and exhibition games – seven of the latter over the span of 12 days – the Canadiens were reminded early on Sunday and again on Monday that hockey is in fact a business.
Vying for a spot on the blue line as a free agent without a contract, veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon was the most recent camp casualty for the Habs, despite sticking on the roster until its final days.
“I was expecting the decision to be made at the very end,” admitted Bouillon, who played his 750th career NHL game a season ago. “I’m at ease with the decision. I was ready for either outcome. I arrived at camp in shape and with a good attitude. Management wanted to go younger, but I still had the passion to play and I wanted to finish my career here.
“I wanted to give it a final shot and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished here,” added the 38-year-old, who spent 11 seasons in Montreal. “Obviously I’m a bit disappointed and emotional right now, but it’s normal. I have no regrets. If I didn’t report to camp, I could have been doubting myself two years from now. Instead, I’ll wake up tomorrow and be proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
After originally contemplating a career in Europe after coming out of the Junior ranks undrafted, Bouillon went on to carve out a 14-year NHL career with both the Habs and the Nashville Predators, registering 32 goals and 149 points in 776 games played.
“I’d like to thank everyone. I have nothing but good memories from my time here. I’ll be a Canadien forever, no matter what comes next. I’d like to thank all of the fans I’ve met over the years, whether at the grocery store or at a gas station, who have always supported me,” underlined an emotional Bouillon after meeting with head coach Michel Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin in person on Monday morning.
“This organization has treated me with class right until the end. Right until now.”
The feeling is mutual.
“[Francis] is an extraordinary person, we all know that,” shared the Canadiens GM, who still has one final move to make to whittle his roster down to the NHL’s permitted 23 men. “But we have two young defensemen [in Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu] and it’s time to turn the page with those guys. I had a meeting with both of them this morning and I told them that while it’s hard to get into the NHL, it’s even harder to stay. They need to get better and better. We’re confident that they will get the job done.”
As strong a vote of confidence as they’ll get in their young NHL careers, the burgeoning blue-liners insist they’re up to the challenge.
“I’m excited. I found out about the news just before we stepped on the ice,” revealed Beaulieu, who made his NHL debut two seasons ago, playing six games with the Habs in 2012-13 before getting 17 more under his belt a year later. “It was an honor. It was nice to talk to the coach and GM. It’s an exciting time but the work has just begun. They really liked my camp. They liked how things went. The biggest thing for us young guys is just to keep going and to stay consistent.”
Aware that the opportunity that lies ahead is a bittersweet one given that it comes with the departure of one of the most respected players in the dressing room, the young defensemen are thankful for the tutelage they were shown by their veteran teammate over the course of their apprenticeships.
“He was awesome. I remember when I first came here he was my D partner for a long time,” recalled Tinordi, who played 22 regular season games with Montreal in 2014-15, plus five in the playoffs. “Frankie’s a good, veteran guy who helps out all the kids – he helped me, he helped Nate, and I’m sure he helped Greg [Pateryn], too. Now we’re going to be asked to fill a larger role on this team than we have in the past, so it’s on us to step up.”
Ironically, one player who will be seeing less ice time following his promotion is former Hamilton Bulldogs starting goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who officially earned the backup role behind Carey Price this season after Peter Budaj was traded to Winnipeg on Sunday.
“I’m good with that,” laughed the 25-year-old netminder on the prospect of not starting the lion’s share of the games for the first time in his career. “I’m a part of the Montreal Canadiens franchise now and I’m happy about that. To learn from one of the best in the world – if not the best – right now in Carey Price is pretty awesome.
“It’s all about hard work now,” he added. “Not taking anything for granted and working hard. Peter was a great guy and a great goalie so it must have been a tough decision, but I’m just happy to still be here.”
In line with his team’s ongoing youth movement, Bergevin hinted that the move may have been a long time coming.
“Obviously, the way [Dustin] performed last year in the playoffs, I think he stepped up to the plate,” explained the Habs GM. “If you look at his past record, he’s won at every level. We made a decision, but regarding Peter, he’s been nothing but a class act. He was a great backup and a great friend. We wish him the best.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
From the room
Canadiens release Francis Bouillon
Canadiens trade Peter Budaj