Brendan Gallagher said money won’t be the only factor when it comes to his next contract. Playing for a winning team will be important as well.
And the Montreal Canadiens forward, who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, said he likes the direction his current team is going, especially the play of young centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
« Those are things when you’re thinking about long term and the strides that these players are going to be able to make, » Gallagher said Monday. « It definitely affects your decision-making and it’s a positive sign for sure. »
Gallagher was effusive in his praise of Suzuki, 21, and Kotkaniemi, 20, who were tied for the Canadiens lead with four goals during the 2020 postseason.
The Canadiens, who finished with the lowest points percentage (.500) of any team to qualify for the postseason, entered as the No. 12 seed and defeated the No. 5-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. As the No. 8 seed in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round, they lost in six games to the No. 1-seeded Philadelphia Flyers.
« I’ve always believed that this team can win. To have that experience in the playoffs. … We beat a very good team in Pittsburgh, then you play a team in Philly that was kind of built for that situation, » Gallagher said. « We came out on the losing side, but you understand how close we were. You just want to keep making those strides forward. Obviously, we have a long way to go, there’s improvements that need to be made, but management is doing their job. Hopefully, as players, we can come back and take those strides forward and continue to improve, be in that position again and hopefully get a different result. »
Gallagher said when it comes to his next contract, the money « will be enough regardless of what it is.
« I’ll be able to live a happy life post-hockey, that’s not going to be a worry. I want to enjoy my time and my experience. You want to have an opportunity to be a winner. That’s really what you want to be remembered for. Going into this next contract, however many years you sign for, you want to be in a position where you have that opportunity each and every season. »
There were casual talks this season between Gallagher’s agent, Gerry Johannson, and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, but those discussions were suspended when the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
On Monday, Johansson said that he expected talks would resume, but that nothing serious has yet taken place.
« If that means I have a contract, fantastic. If it means I don’t, my job doesn’t change, » Gallagher said. « My goal is to help this team next year to be a winner. I’m going to put in the work to do that regardless of contract situation. As an athlete, I’ve got to do my best to block that out. I pay my agent to take care of that stuff. I’ll let him do his job and the team will take care of whatever’s best for their future interests and they’ll make that decision. »
Gallagher has played 547 games for the Canadiens since being selected in the fifth round (No. 147) of the 2010 NHL Draft, scoring 334 points (173 goals, 161 assists). He scored 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 59 games this season and finished tied with Tomas Tatar for the Montreal lead in goals.
The 28-year-old had four points (one goal, three assists) in nine postseason games but didn’t play in Game 6 against the Flyers after breaking his jaw with 5:08 left in Game 5. He also sustained a hip tear in the series against the Penguins but said he is confident he will be 100 percent soon.
In fact, Gallagher said that had the Canadiens advanced past the Flyers into the second round, he would have returned to action despite the hip, provided doctors had given him the green light to play following jaw surgery.
As for next season, Gallagher said he will be ready to go, no matter what happens with his contract.
« Obviously, those conversations are going to happen, » he said. « I think both sides are very open to it. But for me, my job is to get ready for next season. »
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