Daniel Briere feels he is finally ready to play for the team he worshiped as a kid in Gatineau, Que.
The best-known of the Montreal Canadiens’ off-season acquisitions, along with tough guy George Parros and defenceman Douglas Murray, was mobbed by media as he joined his new teammates for the first time at the club’s annual charity golf tournament on Tuesday.
Briere, 35, signed a two-year contract worth $4-million per season after he was bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers, who were in salary-cap trouble and couldn’t keep the 5-foot-10 centre.
“I take it a step at a time, with today being the first step,” said Briere. “The biggest step will be wearing that jersey out onto the ice.
“That will be a big thrill. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.”
Briere had a chance to do it in 2007, when he turned down the Canadiens to sign an eight-year, $52-million deal with the Flyers. This time, he said he didn’t want to miss what may be his last chance to play for Montreal.
“I think I’m ready at this stage of my career,” he said.
It hasn’t been determined whether he will play his usual position at centre, where the Canadiens have lots of bodies, or on the wing. Either way, he will add skill and experience to one of the top attacking lines, even if he won’t make a smaller-than-average team any bigger.
General manager Marc Bergevin, entering his second season, hopes to have addressed that with the 6-foot-5 Parros and 6-foot-3 Murray.
“Two of the guys bring size and toughness, which was a need we had to fill,” said Bergevin. “And Danny brings leadership.
“He’s a player who had options and he chose to come to Montreal. For a French-Canadian, I think that’s huge. He’s happy to be here, and to us that means a lot.”
Briere has been a solid points producer throughout his career, but he is mostly known for playing his best in big games, especially the playoffs, where he has 109 points in 108 games.
And he feels the Canadiens have become a hard team to play against with their speed and a balanced attack.
“More and more, the pieces are coming together for this team to be successful,” he said. “They took a major step in the right direction last year with key additions (Brandon Prust), and also with some good young players taking a step.
“With guys like myself, Parros and Murray coming here, hopefully we’ll move even more in that direction. I’m not coming here to be a passenger. I want to be here, but I also want to make a difference. I want to be a guy they can rely on for offence and who can help at any time.”
The 33-year-old Murray, who signed for one year at $1.5-million, was acquired by Pittsburgh in March from the San Jose Sharks and was part of the Penguins stunning playoff collapse.
Some feel the hard-hitting Swede has lost a step, but Bergevin had his eye on Murray since last season.
Without giving details, Bergevin said Murray can be a valuable defenceman on the right team and with the right defence partner. He sees him as a top-six rearguard.
That suits Murray, who said he signed with Montreal “because of the way they viewed me as a player and how they were planning to using me.
“You don’t get handed anything. You still have to earn it, but I liked the way they viewed how I should play. Also, there’s an unbelievable hockey tradition here. I think there are more cameras here than I had in seven years in San Jose.”
Bergevin said Murray is more than a temporary replacement for Alexei Emelin. They had hoped Emelin would return by late November, but Bergevin said he will be out at least into December and that they want the tough Russian to be fully healed before he returns to action.
Parros gives the team a heavyweight enforcer who will take pressure off Prust, a willing fighter who is more of a middleweight, in a division where many teams have been adding muscle in recent years.
The 33-year-old had off-season surgery to repair a rotator cuff in a shoulder but hopes to be ready to play when the regular season opens on Oct. 1.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing here,” said Parros, who spent six years in Anaheim before moving to the Florida Panthers last season.
He said his Twitter following exploded after joining Montreal and he is already being spotted by fans on the street.
The main attractions of the day were goalie Carey Price and Norris Trophy winning defenceman P.K. Subban, who both attended last week’s Canadian Olympic team orientation camp.
Bergevin is confident that Price will bounce back from a weak end to last season, especially with the hiring of goaltender coach Stephane Waite from Chicago.
Price will need to be sharp to secure a spot on the Olympic squad.
“You can look at it that way, but the bottom line is, I want to play well no matter what,” he said. “Whether I’m trying to make the Olympic team or playing here, it shouldn’t make a difference.”
He also admitted he has yet to try on the new league-mandated smaller goalie pads he will use this season.
“I’ve been practising in my old ones, so I’m probably going to be in for a bit of a shock here,” he said.
Subban will be a restricted free agent after this season and the Canadiens are expected to try to sign him to a long-term deal some time during the season. Subban didn’t want to talk about it.
“I still have a year left on my contract so right now my focus isn’t about that,” he said. “It isn’t fair to focus on me before the season’s even started.
“We have new players on our team. It’s a new season. The focus should be on that, not on contract talks.”
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