For The Associated Press
MONTREAL (AP) -Spurned in his efforts to get Daniel Briere and Sheldon Souray to sign with Montreal, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey quickly settled on free agents Bryan Smolinski and Roman Hamrlik.
Smolinski agreed to a one-year deal worth $2 million with Montreal on Monday night, hours after Hamrlik signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Canadiens.
``To really fill the holes that we needed, those were two players that represent the positions and the caliber of player and the experience of player to go on to our team to replace guys who have left, and to complement the younger, growing developing players that we have on our team,'' Gainey said Tuesday.
Montreal missed the playoffs last season, finishing fourth in the five-team Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference.
Unable to come to terms with the Canadiens, Souray decided to test free agency and remains unsigned. Gainey said he spoke to Souray's agent Monday and it was clear that no deal could be made to keep the hard-shooting defenseman who scored 26 goals, including 19 on the power play, an NHL record for the position.
``He knew we were interested in him,'' Gainey said. ``We stayed in touch with him. We'd have liked to have him back on our team. He had every right to take his time and look at it and walk out into free agency and look around.''
While Smolinski's signing is hardly going to make a significant impact with Canadiens fans, Gainey likes what the veteran center adds to Montreal's lineup.
The 35-year-old Smolinski had 18 goals and 44 points in 82 games last season with Chicago and Vancouver.
``Having a right-handed centerman was important to us. Also faceoffs, experience,'' Gainey said. ``And he's adaptable, he can play on the wing.''
A member of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup, Smolinski debuted with Boston in 1992-93 and has also played with Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders, Los Angeles and Ottawa. He has 266 goals, 360 assists and 626 points in 992 regular season games.
Gainey was turned down by unrestricted free agents Briere and Ryan Smith, who considered offers from Montreal before signing with Philadelphia and Colorado, respectively.
``We haven't separated ourselves from the group of teams by a dramatic change in player personnel,'' Gainey said. ``We put good players on our team. We have to help them play well, we've got to make them play well, and the most important thing, we've got to be a team.''
As a result of Briere's decision to pass up the opportunity to play in his hometown, Gainey was asked about comments made by Philadelphia's Simon Gagne, who said this week it would hard for a French-speaking star on his own to handle the media pressure in Montreal.
``It's a factor for Simon Gagne, but he's not here,'' Gainey said. ``To have a number of Francophone players of that level on our team, we'd have to start with one. We need one to say yes.''

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