The smiles told the story.
Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson was clearly elated, as were general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien, who flanked him at a packed news conference.
“Today is a great day,” Molson said.
Hockey is the Habs’ business – “Montreal needs hockey, it’s part of our culture, it’s who we are,” Molson said – and at last the focus can shift to what happens on the ice.
The team allowed that plans are afoot to make a gesture of conciliation to the team’s fans and sponsors, although he added it is still in the embryonic stage.
Somewhat more work has been done on logistics involving the soon-to-be launched training camp. It’s what you’d expect of a hockey department that has spent the last four months waiting for something to happen.
Bergevin joked that “the last time I saw so many games in [the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] I was playing for Chicoutimi in ’84.”
The Habs’ scouting braintrust, including new hires Martin Lapointe, Scott Mellanby and Rick Dudley, who joined the team when Bergevin was hired last May, has had a chance to evaluate the organization’s depth chart, from top-line players to unsigned college draftees.
“I’ve probably spent three or four nights a week in various arenas,” Bergevin said.
Therrien has busily been planning a camp schedule.
“We’ve prepared different scenarios, five days, seven, eight, nine days, all we need to do is pull out the folder for the number of days once we know it,” Therrien said. “I can say one thing: there is absolutely no room for improvisation.”
The Habs’ coaches already have prospective training-camp lineups for the 25 to 30 players who will attend (a list that includes 2012 top draft pick Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting), and a detailed schedule of drills.
It’s a script that will unfold across the league this week, although teams like the Habs, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers, say, have the advantage of owning their own training facilities.
The Canadiens have seven players returning from Europe and several more arriving from the U.S. and Western Canada. It’s expected the full lineup will be in Montreal by Wednesday. Training camp will likely start with physicals and fitness testing on Friday or Saturday.
Though the collective agreement details aren’t yet finalized, five or six players were able to return to the Canadiens’ training facility in suburban Montreal on Monday.
Therrien said there were hearty embraces for the training staff and much joking around with the new coaches.
“I saw a few of them in the room [Monday] morning, they had huge smiles on their faces, they’re excited about coming back,” Therrien said.
A 48 or 50-game schedule might present an especially steep challenge to a team like Montreal, which in addition to trying to atone for a disappointing last-place finish in 2011-12, is breaking in a new front office and coaching staff.
Therrien, however, chooses to see the glass as half-full.
“Every team is facing the same challenges, every team has new players who have to learn the system, I don’t think anybody has an advantage,” Therrien said.
Like all teams, the Habs are banking on the fact the locked-out players have stayed in shape. In this they are setting themselves up for disappointment, human nature being what it is.
Playing in Europe isn’t the same thing as playing in the NHL, and those players who have been skating on their own will surely not all be in tip-top shape.
“There’s no way guys can go three months without doing anything,” Bergevin said. “And if guys have been doing nothing, we’ll know it in the first hour.”
At least the Habs aren’t dealing with any significant injuries on the eve of camp, that they know of.
Centre Tomas Plekanec is said to have picked up a slight injury in the Czech Republic, but Bergevin said to his knowledge the only player who won’t be ready to go is fourth-liner Petteri Nokelainen, who is recovering from a back injury.