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Montreal Canadiens re-sign Kovalev and Dandenault


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MONTREAL (CP) - The Montreal Canadiens have finished their free agent shopping and wound up with star winger Alex Kovalev and versatile defenceman Mathieu Dandenault

Kovalev, a motor for Montreal in the 2004 playoffs, signed an $18-million US, four-year contract while former Detroit Red Wings defenceman Dandenault inked a $6.9-million, four-year deal on Wednesday. Both were unrestricted free agents.

"For now, we have no other offers on the table," said general manager Bob Gainey. "Our goal was to fill holes in certain places and now we have those players.

"We don't rule out other changes, but right now, we have done the job we had to do."

Gainey said he would keep an eye open for other deals or signings, but feels he has what he wanted - a big, skilled winger for the first line and a mobile, experienced defenceman.

"We want an exciting team, a quick team, a fast team, a puck-moving, skating, attacking team, and to do that, you need to put players in place who have those skills," added Gainey.

Kovalev, one of the top forwards available on the unrestricted free-agent market, had other offers - including one from Pittsburgh - but decided to return to the Canadiens, where he had 10 points (6-4) in 11 playoff games in 2003-04 after being traded from the New York Rangers.

"Everybody knows how the fans in Montreal reacted every time I stepped on the ice," Kovalev, 32, said by phone from Moscow during a news conference at the Bell Centre.

"Everyone wanted to see me back and I loved the organization and how people treated me there. All the time I was waiting I was hoping I'd be back in Montreal."

The six-foot-two, 220-pound winger was the centre of debate during the playoffs, when he was slashed on the hand in double overtime and ignored the puck to skate away shaking his hand while Glen Murray scored to give Boston a 3-1 series lead.

Kovalev bounced back with big plays to help Montreal win the series before bowing out to Tampa Bay in the second round.

"A lot of things went on in that series," he said. "Everyone saw I got slashed on the hand and everyone said this team quits.

"I'm wasn't trying to prove anything. I wanted to prove to myself that we could win the next game and win the round. I haven't lost in the first round of the playoffs in my NHL career and I wanted to keep that streak going. The most important thing is the guys supported me. We all knew we could still beat this team."

Kovalev will earn $4.5 million a season while Dandenault will make $1.7 million in 2005-06, $1.7 million in 2006-07, $1.75 million in 2007-08 and $1.75 million in 2008-09.

Dandenault, a native of Sherbrooke, Que., who won three Stanley Cups during his 10 years with Detroit, fills the hole left when Montreal elected not to pick up the option year on the contract of veteran blue-liner Patrice Brisebois last week. Like Brisebois, Dandenault is a right-hand shot.

The six-foot, 200-pound Dandenault looked ecstatic to put on a Canadiens jersey.

"As a kid from Sherbrooke, I always dreamed of playing for the Montreal Canadiens," the 29-year-old said. "I adored my stay in Detroit - three Stanley Cups and all the great players there.

"But there was always something inside me that wanted to play for the Canadiens. I'm very happy it came true. Now, I'll try to help them win a Stanley Cup."

He had other offers, but said Montreal was "the right fit for me and my family."

Gainey likes Dandenault's speed and decision-making on the ice.

"We have to recognize and appreciate the experience he's had with a very good team in Detroit over a long period of time, playing with great players in some of the best playoff competition," said Gainey. "We have three young defencemen in Montreal (Mike Komisarek, Ron Hainsey and Andrei Markov) and his experience and knowledge will be an asset."

Gainey said he is still looking at picking up a back-up goaltender. Cristobal Huet, obtained before the lockout started last summer, is injured and will not be ready before November.

The Canadiens will look at their top prospect Yan Danis, but if Huet needs more recovery time, they will need an experienced back-up.

Gainey said his next job will be to sign restricted free agents like goalie Jose Theodore, captain Saku Koivu and winger Jan Bulis.

The Canadiens did not have to make major payroll cuts to meet the new salary cap of $39 million US and elected not to make drastic changes even though the market is flooded with star free agents.

Quashing some rumours, Gainey said he made no offers to Buffalo winger Miroslav Satan or former Ottawa goalie Martin Prusek.

"It's an exciting time," Gainey said of this week's league-wide signing frenzy. "You never know if you'll be able to come to an agreement with a player.

"But all teams and al the players are in the same position, It's unknown territory, but it's part of our job."

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