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Habs have new vibe

Storied franchise hoping to rise from cellar-dwelling season

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MONTREAL -- A new life has sprung out of the ashes of a depressing, 78-point basement-dwelling season authored by the Montreal Canadiens of 2011-12.

Somewhere between despondent and embarrassing, Habs ownership decided on new people -- again -- and GM Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien now have their hands firmly on the steering wheel.

So far, the cards are coming up aces.

Bergevin's good fortune included being in a position to accelerate the buyout of overpaid Scott Gomez, thanks to a push from players trying to take advantage of amnesty buyouts that are part of the league's new CBA.

The Habs have also benefited from some new, fresh faces in the lineup in the form of draft picks Brendan Gallagher, a fifth-round pick from 2010, and Alex Galchenyuk, the third-overall pick from last June. Both were told this week they're sticking around, that the five-game rule about contracts and going back to junior is no longer their concern.

And each already has his first NHL goal.

Now the Habs have gotten their latest crisis out of the way with the signing of restricted free agent defenceman P.K. Subban. After missing the opportunity before the lockout began, Subban finally got his deal late Monday, two years for $5.75 million total.

The Habs are getting all kinds of praise for holding the line, for mostly sticking to their guns that a shorter-term bridge contract was the better way to go for Subban before they might dole out large sums of money and a long contract term to the dynamic defenceman.

Further to the return of the gregarious Subban, there were no balloons or party favours present in the Habs' room at the Complex Sportif Bell, the Habs' practice facility, on Tuesday.

It seemed there was as much happiness he'll be back as relief the contract matter is behind them.

"To be honest, I'm glad that we don't have to talk about it anymore," defenceman Josh Gorges said, not smiling.

Still, the enthusiasm with and about the Canadiens is real.

"It's definitely been a good vibe," Brandon native Ryan White, the Canadiens centre, said Tuesday. "I mean, everything's fresh, even from the paint to the carpet.

"I think we've all kind of run with it so far. We've been working at it and we want to be a better team. We want to push ourselves to be the best we can be and we want to win.

"This is a fresh mindset, yeah, we're all doing the right things for the team and that's the way you have to do it."

White wasn't afraid to talk about last season and it's possible lessons.

"It was tough," he said. "We weren't helping ourselves by any means. We weren't playing that great. I think already we've started to play better and smarter hockey and we're playing a lot better together, using each other.

"And the guys we've brought in, they're good teammates and they've brought a good feel to the rink. That's what we're looking for around here."

We'd tell you how great it feels for Galchenyuk but he said Tuesday he wasn't doing any interviews.

The one thing about Montreal and its Canadiens is that the past is never far away.

In recent times, that includes pain, a reminder delivered quite possibly accidentally by Perry Pearn, the veteran assistant coach unceremoniously fired early last season and who now works for the Jets.

"It's a good start," Pearn was saying Tuesday. "One of the things as a coach in the league I've seen, though, is that it seems like there is some success in Montreal but usually things don't stay the same for very long.

"Usually about three years and then there are some new people working. That's just part of the cycle in the NHL."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2013 C3

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