BROSSARD – The Canadiens officially kicked off training camp Sunday morning in Brossard – minus the familiar face of one particular veteran.
As players took to the ice Sunday morning to run drills for the first time under new head coach Michel Therrien, GM Marc Bergevin was attending to some business of his own. While many assumed that Bergevin’s press conference would bring news of a new contract for defenseman P.K. Subban, the focus was instead squarely on the club’s decision to not include veteran forward Scott Gomez in the team’s upcoming campaign.
“With everything happening with the CBA being signed and the new rules, looking at all the options, it was clear to us that in dealing with the cap next season, we had to buyout Scott [Gomez’s] contract,” explained Bergevin to the Montreal media gathered at Brossard. “The best and safest way for us to do that without him getting injured is to send him home, pay him his salary, and then buyout his contract in the summertime.”
With the NHL’s salary cap dropping from $70.2 million this season, to $64.3 million in the next, the league has allowed teams two compliance buyouts next summer to help them squeeze under the cap. Buying out Gomez would remove $7.36 million from the Canadiens payroll.
“It has nothing to do with his game. This was a decision made for the best of the organization. We have to plan not just for one year, but for years to come. With the scenario the way it is now, it was the only choice we had. We’re doing this because we need the cap space moving forward,” continued Bergevin on the club’s decision. “He reacted very professionally. It was a tough conversation for me to have, but he was understanding of the situation and I have a lot of respect for Scott Gomez.”
Based not only on his role within the team, but also on personal history, Canadiens captain Brian Gionta was the first to be told the news upon arriving at practice Sunday morning. He in turn, broke it to the rest of the team. The sentiment around the room was unanimously one of surprise and well wishes for their departed teammate and friend – especially among those who counted the Alaskan native as a mentor.
“When I first got called up and was trying to find my way in this league, Gomer was right there,” explained Max Pacioretty, who cut his teeth in the league under Gomez’s guidance. “I was playing on a line with him and Gio and had so much success with him because of his personality on and off the ice – he really helped me out a lot.
“I know everyone in this room is going to speak very highly of Gomez,” he added. “I think he’s still a very good hockey player. He’s been a mentor for me and a lot of the young guys that came up under him so it’s really sad to see him go.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com
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