BROSSARD, Que. – A busy opening to NHL free agency on Tuesday saw the Montreal Canadiens acquire defenceman Tom Gilbert and centre Manny Malhotra and deal veteran rearguard Josh Gorges to the Buffalo Sabres.
General manager Marc Bergevin also signed coveted Czech prospect Jiri Sekac and re-signed free agent defenceman Mike Weaver.
The Canadiens also saw captain Brian Gionta leave as an unrestricted free agent for Buffalo on a three-year contract.
The moves come a day after the Habs acquired forward P.A. Parenteau from Colorado in exchange for veteran Danny Briere.
The shock move involved Gorges, a stalwart on the Montreal defence since 2006 who used his limited no-trade clause over the weekend to reject a move to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
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He added Buffalo to the list of teams he would play for and was sent to the Sabres for what seemed a paltry return, a second-round draft pick in 2016.
The Canadiens were looking to shed Gorges’ contract, which pays US$3.9 million per year over the next four seasons.
Gorges spoke out on Twitter, thanking the Habs for the time he spent in Montreal.
I will never forget my time here and will always hold a special place in my heart!!—
josh gorges (@jgorges26) July 01, 2014
The Kelowna, B.C. native, who never scored more than four goals in a season, had one goal and 13 assists last season.
Gorges’ place on the right side of the defence will likely be taken by Gilbert, an unrestricted free agent who signed a two-year deal worth US$2.8 million.
The 31-year-old defensive rearguard, who was bought out of the final two years of a contract with Minnesota in 2012, played for Florida on a one-year deal last season.
The six-foot-three 206-pound native of Bloomington, Minn., had three goals and 25 assists in 73 games for the Panthers.
The Canadiens also opted to bring back 36-year-old Weaver, who did well on right defence in the playoffs after he was acquired from Florida on March 4. He inked a one-year deal worth $1.75 million.
The moves on defence should allow coach Michel Therrien to move Alexei Emelin to the left side where he will be more comfortable.
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Malhotra signed a one-year deal worth $850,000.
The 34-year-old centre, who has come back from a career-threatening eye injury suffered in 2011, recorded seven goals and six assists in 69 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.
While he still has reduced vision in his left eye, Malhotra was praised for his leadership and his ability to win faceoffs.
The six-foot-two 220-pounder started last season on a try-out with AHL Charlotte and signed with the Hurricanes on Oct. 31.
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Sekac was reportedly courted by 15 NHL teams and ended up choosing a two-year contract with Montreal.
The left-shooting right winger had 11 goals and 17 assists in 47 games for Lev Prague in the KHL last season and added a goal and seven assists in 21 playoff games.
The six-foot 175 former Peterborough Pete is reported to be ready to play in the NHL.
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Thomas Vanek signed a US$19.5-million, three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild.
Vanek, the best player available on the free-agent market, appeared to turn a longer term and larger salary to sign with Minnesota.
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The 30-year-old winger had 15 goals in 18 games since being traded to the Montreal Canadiens at the deadline, then five goals and five assists in the playoffs.
In his NHL career, Vanek has 277 goals and 279 assists in 663 games with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Canadiens.
Vanek’s wife is from Minnesota and the Austrian makes his off-season home there, making the Wild a preferred destination for him.
© The Canadian Press, 2014