While the Montreal Canadiens made an incredible run to the Eastern Conference Final in his second season as general manager, Marc Bergevin isn't ready to label his team as contenders just yet.
Bergevin held court with the media in his end-of-season news conference on Monday, saying there's still plenty to do to make the Habs a championship-calibre club.
"I thought our young players learned a lot," he said. "What they learned over the last 17 playoff games is something you can't buy. We're a good team with a young core, but we're not a mature team yet. I'm happy with our season, but there's still work to do.
"Next year, we go back to the same starting line with everybody else. Our first goal will be to make the playoffs and, once you're in, anything's possible. Maybe one day down the road we'll be a mature team but we're not there yet."
The No. 1 question posed to Bergevin was the contract status of star defenceman P.K. Subban, who becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on July 1. Subban, who signed a two-year bridge contract after the 2012-13 lockout, captured the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top blueliner last year, was named to the Canadian men's Olympic team that won gold in Sochi in February and was among their top players in the postseason.
While many speculate that Subban could pull in an eight-year contract worth $8 million to $9 million a season, Bergevin wasn't showing his hand on anything regarding negotiations. "Contract talks are strategic," he explained, reminding reporters that his policy is to never divulge contract updates in public. "I can't give you a timeline on when it'll get done."
Bergevin, did however, mention he would like to retain pending UFA Brian Gionta, who's been captain for the last four seasons. "We'll see what we can do to bring him back," he said, adding that others have stepped up as leaders as well.
"(Josh) Gorges is a really good leader. Carey, P.K., and 'Patch' are taking that role. We have a lot of young leaders who will help moving forward. A guy like Plekanec might not be a player who talks a lot, but by his play and the way he competes, he's a leader."
Bergevin also said that head coach Michel Therrien, who has a year left on his contract, will be back - likely with an extension.
Therrien raised plenty of eyebrows using third-string goalie Dustin Tokarski over backup Peter Budaj in the conference final after starting netminder Carey Price was injured. There will be plenty of speculation about what the team may do with both goaltenders this summer.
"I know him personally," Bergevin said of Budaj. "He's a great man, loved by his teammates. And through this whole thing he was very positive. Michel had a hunch to put (Tokarski) in for the second game and he gave us a chance to win. Internally we'll discuss it, but it's a nice problem to have."
The Canadiens GM was also satisfied this season with the development of young blueliners Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn, the first two playing short stints with the NHL club.
"I think the day they become everyday players with the Canadiens will be sooner rather than later," he said. "Do I want them to play in NHL next season - yes. "I want some internal competition at camp (next season)."
Bergevin also defended the much-criticized handling of the concussion suffered by forward Dale Weise in Game 5 of the conference final. Weise was wobbly and went to the dressing room after a blindside hit by New York's John Moore, but returned later in the game. Weise did not play in Game 6 due to what Therrien would only call a "body injury." It appeared the team let Weise back out on the ice even if it looked obvious he had his brain rattled by the hit.
Bergevin said the team didn't find out until the next day that Weise had a concussion and was satisfied that he was properly examined according to the league rules before being allowed to return.
"The NHL has a protocol that needs to be followed," he said. "If the player says he's OK and the test says he's OK, then he's OK. Players have a list of things they need to do before they can return to play and he passed with flying colours.
"It's flawed, but I'm not a doctor. We all worry about our players, but we can only go by what we're given."
- with CP files