Brandon Prust learned a universal truth about the business of professional sports.
It is a business.
“It was a sad, crazy, mixed-emotion day,” Prust said in a conference call Sunday to announce his signing of a four-year, $10 million unrestricted free agent contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens signed Colby Armstrong (one year, $1 million) and Francis Bouillon (one year, $1 million) to add “more team toughness,” according to Prust, who noted that the Habs had elements of toughness already in place in the persons of Travis Moen and Ryan White. Montreal announced Friday that Moen had agreed to a four-year deal worth $7.4 million.
“They have been,” Prust acknowledged about the perception the Canadiens were easy to push around. “Definitely took a step in the right direction.
“[They were] lacking something like me.”
Prust had played the past 2-1/2 seasons with the New York Rangers and became a fan favorite for his rambunctious style.
In 190 regular-season games with the Rangers, Prust recorded 22 goals and 33 assists for 55 points. He was a plus-4 with 381 penalty minutes, 347 hits and blocked 95 shots while playing a key role in the Rangers’ penalty kill unit along with being universally adored by his teammates and coaches.
“I love the guy,” coach John Tortorella said when asked about the left wing on the 2011-12 Rangers’ breakup day.
So why did what seemed to be a no-brainer reunion turn into a public divorce?
Money and a feeling of devaluation.
Various media speculation had Prust asking for anywhere from $2.2 million to $3 million per year, while the Rangers’ counteroffer was in the $1.8 million range.
The chasm prompted Rangers general manager Glen Sather to tell the New York Post at the NHL Draft that he didn’t think they “would get [a deal] done” with Prust, who responded by tweeting he “wished management wanted me back as much as the fans.”
When he talked with reporters Sunday night, Prust explained that he “thought there was a high chance” he and the Rangers “could get something done” following the season-ending loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference final, but “Montreal showed a lot more interest.” He added that the Canadiens “really showed it today.”
Prust said he became excited about the prospect of being a Canadien after talks with Montreal’s newly hired brain trust of GM Marc Bergevin, director of player personnel Scott Mellanby and head coach Michel Therrien.
“The team is moving in the right direction. I felt like I wanted to be part of the change,” Prust said. He said that he and Therrien are “on the same page. Add a little more physical presence. It was a big factor in my decision.”
Montreal is not a city in which Prust is unfamiliar as he noted that his girlfriend “lives and works” in Montreal before adding, “Montreal is the best hockey city in the world. Montreal Canadiens — great hockey town, great hockey history.”