‘It was tough’: Brendan Gallagher breathing easier after signing contract extension with Canadiens

In this Feb. 2020 file photo, Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals. Gallagher signed a six-year contract extension with the Habs on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Nick Wass/AP Photo

A thought crossed Brendan Gallagher’s mind for the first time this week.

The gritty, diminutive Montreal Canadiens winger has made a career out of going to the dirty areas of the ice where hockey can be nasty, mean and unforgiving.

But as word leaked that negotiations on a new contract had stalled, Gallagher, who’s been known to take a stick or a punch to the mouth and continue smiling, was facing an unexpected and potentially jarring new reality.

He might be forced to move on from the only NHL team he’s ever known.

“It was hard, if I’m being honest,” Gallagher said Thursday in a video conference call with reporters. “It was tough”

The difficult stretch didn’t last long — roughly 24 hours by most estimates — before the Canadiens announced Wednesday that Gallagher had signed a six-year, US$39-million extension that will keep him in Montreal through the 2026-27 season.

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Read more: Montreal Canadiens sign forward Brendan Gallagher to six-year contract extension

There were, however, some nervy moments.

“You really fall in love with everything about it,” the 28-year-old said of the franchise that drafted him in the fifth round a decade ago. “I don’t do well with change, so it wasn’t something I was all that happy about and all that excited about.”

“It might have might have felt like a pretty short turnaround for everyone else. But for me, it felt like an eternity. It was obviously nice to wake up the next day and have a little bit more positive news.”

As word spread there was chance Gallagher, whose new contract carries an annual average value of $6.5 million, might be on his way out the door, rumours started swirling about potential interest across the league in the five-foot-nine, 184-pound heart-and-soul forward.

“It doesn’t matter if every team’s interested,” he said. “I got the one team I wanted to show the interest.”

Born in Edmonton before moving to Tsawwassen, B.C., just south of Vancouver with his family as a kid, Gallagher had 22 goals and 43 points in 59 games with Montreal in 2019-20 before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the league in March.

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He added a goal and three assists in nine post-season outings during the NHL’s summer restart where the Canadiens were written off as the 24th of 24 teams included, but stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round before falling to the Philadelphia Flyers in a six-game series.

Gallagher was forced out of that matchup late in Game 5 after taking a cross-check to the face _ something Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, who fought back tears on at least two occasions when describing what the player means to both him and his team, pointed to during a separate media availability.

“He got cross-checked in the face and he didn’t want to miss a shift, he didn’t want to leave,” Bergevin said. “You have guys in the past, I’ve seen they get slashed and they get a fingernail missing and they’re finding a way not to play. This guy’s just … he’s everything you want about a hockey player.”

“That’s what I love about him.”

Read more: Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher to undergo surgery for broken jaw

In eight NHL campaigns with the Canadiens, Gallagher has 173 goals and 334 points in 547 games to go along with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 49 career post-season contests.

Not bad for a player drafted 147th overall back in 2010.

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“I don’t prove people wrong, I always try to prove people right,” said Gallagher, who has one year left on his previous contract with an AAV of $3.75 million. “I like to give credit to the many people that believed in me along the way.”

“I had to work hard for this, just like every single guy in that locker room had to work hard. My story is no different than anyone else. Everyone faces challenges, everyone faces adversity.”

He added the respect Bergevin has shown him goes both ways.

“I can’t talk about Berg without talking about passion,” Gallagher said. “His first year here was my first year here. He was a part of the group that were able to give me a shot in this league and give me that opportunity.”

“I’ll forever be grateful.”

Read more: Canadiens winger Tyler Toffoli ready for life under Montreal’s hockey microscope

Bergevin’s busy off-season has also included trading for backup goalie Josh Allen from St. Louis as cover for Carey Price, snagging defenceman Joel Edmundson from Carolina, and securing winger Josh Anderson from Columbus.

Edmundson signed a four-year, US$14-million extension to forgo unrestricted free agency, Allen re-upped on a two-year, $5.75-million pact that begins in 2021-22, and Anderson, who was acquired for Max Domi, inked a seven-year, $38.5-million agreement that kicks in at the same time.

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Bergevin, who locked up defenceman Jeff Petry on a four-year, $25-million extension through 2024-25 in September, also added former 30-goal man Tyler Toffoli in free agency, signing the winger to a four-year, $17-million deal.

All the moves push the Canadiens to within just over $380,000 dollars of the NHL’s stagnant $81.5 salary cap _ which could stay at that level for some time because of the financial realities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic _ according to

Montreal could be facing some more tough decisions with Tomas Tatar ($4.8 million AAV), centre Phillip Danault ($3.083 million AAV) and winger Joel Armia ($2.6 million AAV) all entering the final years of their contracts and poised to become UFAs after next season.

But that’s not the Canadiens’ or Gallagher’s focus on right now.

“It’s unbelievable to see the additions we’ve able to make,” Gallagher said. “Sitting there and you’re thinking about where you want to be, and you add those pieces on top of what we had as a group and what we were building … it’s pretty exciting right now for anyone around the Montreal Canadiens.”

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