By RANDY PHILLIPS (Photo by Mike Cassese/Reuters)
On a day of reflection on a season that was and what might have been, no one looked harder in the mirror than Scott Gomez.
The veteran centre admitted he “had a terrible year” and publicly apologized as the Canadiens met for the last time this season less than 24 hours after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal Wednesday night in Boston.
“I’m the first to admit, the first one to say it, I was awful and I let the guys down,” Gomez said Thursday at the team’s training centre in Brossard.
“There’s no one more embarrassed than me,” added Gomez, who had only seven goals and 31 assists for a career-low 38 points in 80 regular-season games and was minus-15. “I had a terrible year … and I’m sorry … I let the guys down.”
Gomez had four assists in the seven playoff games and was minus-6.
The Canadiens acquired Gomez in a trade with the New York Rangers on June 20, 2009, along with Tom Pyatt and Michael Buston, in exchange for Christopher Higgins, Doug Janik, Ryan McDonagh and Paval Valentenko. Two years earlier, the Rangers signed Gomez as a free agent to a seven-year, $51.1-million U.S. contract, the majority of which the Canadiens are paying
Gomez had 12 goals and 47 assists in 78 games in 2009-10, his first season with the Canadiens.
Maligned as he was for his poor performance this season and given his own level of frustration, Gomez more than anything wants to stay with the Canadiens. The 31-year-old earned $8 million this season and is due to earn $7.5 million next season, $5.5 million in 2012-13 and $4.5 million in 2013-2014. Those numbers make it difficult to trade him.
But Gomez sees staying in Montreal as an opportunity to make amends.
“Of course,” the Alaska native said when asked if wanted to stay here. “I don’t want to leave. It’s a special place for hockey. Playing in Montreal is a unique experience. I love the organization and especially the guys in the room. I believe this team can win, and that’s the most important thing.
“It’s not me. I don’t get up and just run away from things,” he added. “I take full responsibility (for how I played), but I’m not going to say I want to leave.
“The most positive thought I have about this team is what a great group, and if I had pulled my weight, who knows? I didn’t. I’ll be the first to look my teammates in the eye and say it. If I’m pulling my weight, it’s a different story.
“It won’t happen again. It can’t,” he continued. “I don’t want to give you (stats), but it just won’t. It’s over.”
Left-winger Michael Cammalleri ended up leading the National Hockey League in scoring after the first round of the playoffs, with three goals and seven assists for 10 points. He was second in team scoring during the regular season with 19-28-47 totals in 67 games. Tomas Plekanec was the leading scorer with 22-35-57 totals in 77 games.
Cammalleri said that as disappointing as the first-round playoff loss was, Thursday was a day to turn the page and look to next season.
“It is what it is,” Cammalleri said. “The season’s over … you just kinda start to reflect. The weird thing about coming in today, the teammates part of it, you kinda look at each other and realize you shared a lot of good times and earned a lot of respect for one another, going through some hard games.
“You’re going to miss that camaraderie and you wish you could put the pads back on and go at it.”
Canadiens management – in particular executive vice-president and GM Pierre Gauthier – has some tough decisions to make during the offseason, faced with nine unrestricted free agents. Among them are six defencemen, including Andrei Markov, Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik. There are also nine restricted free agents, led by forward Andrei Kostitsyn and defenceman Josh Gorges. Despite so many question marks, Cammalleri believes the organization’s best days are ahead.
“It’s really bright,” he said of the team’s future. “We’re excited about the people we have involved and the way we’re going as a group. It’s only the second year here for a lot of us with the coaching staff, and there’s become a real familiarity and a trust factor that way. So I’m really excited about our future, for sure.”
Cammalleri declined an invitation to continue playing this season with Team Canada at the World Hockey Championship, which starts Friday in Slovakia with Canada playing Belarus (2 p.m., TSN, RDS). Instead, the 28-year-old Richmond Hill, Ont., native plans to spend the next couple of months getting his body and mind “relaxed and resolved” after a tough year and hopefully avoid missing games because of injury next season.
Plekanec is headed to Slovakia to join the Czech national team “because I have nothing better to do right now.” But Hamrlik won’t be tagging along with his teammate for fear of getting injured.
“If I go get hurt, who’s going to sign me here?” said Hamrlik, who turned 37 on April 12. “Probably they would say: ‘Okay, stay there.’ But I’ve felt healthy all season, I felt good and I just hope they’re going to sign me here.”
Captain Brian Gionta said the team showed a lot of positives in the series against Boston and throughout the regular season. He also noted the team had to deal with injuries to key players, yet never used that as an excuse. He singled out several of the young players who seized their opportunity, in particular Subban, goalie Carey Price and Lars Eller.
“You see the maturity that happened this year. That’s definitively a positive,” Gionta said. “The way Price played and P.K. grew a lot and played extremely well for us. You’ve got Whitey (Ryan White) and (David) Desharnais … a lot of young guys who played extremely well for us. I think the next step for this organization is to make sure that we foster that.”
Players attended exit meetings with the staff throughout the day, getting postseason medicals and offseason training programs, before meeting reporters and then going their separate ways.
Defenceman James Wisniewski did not take part because of a death in his family. Neither did White, who was assigned to the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs, who are still in the playoffs. Forward Benoit Pouliot, a healthy scratch for four of the playoff games, decided he didn’t want to face the media.
Most of those who did speak to the media heaped praise on Price, who played 72 regular-season games, and the transformation the 23-year-old made from a year ago when he was relegated to backup duty behind Jaroslav Halak.
“What Carey Price did this season was fall in love with this team again and with this group of guys, and he had a great time doing it,” Cammalleri said. “We had a tremendous amount of confidence in him, and it’s a great situation to be in to have a goalie fully engaged and in love with his team the way he is and play the way he has.”
Subban was singled out for carrying an even bigger load than expected, but he said the reason for any success he enjoyed was the confidence his teammates instilled in him.
“I had a lot of help from my teammates,” Subban said. “I had a great defensive partner all year, Hal Gill. A great mentor, he taught me a lot of things on and off the ice, and if I can take the majority of the knowledge that he passed down to me into next year, than I’ll be a much better hockey player.”
Subban was asked to join Team Canada for the world championship, but reluctantly was forced to decline because of what he said were “some bumps and bruises,” without elaborating. It’s believed he aggravated a shoulder injury in Game 7 and further medical examination is expected.
Subban, who turns 22 on May 13, was asked about comments made by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas earlier Thursday in Boston, saying Subban was “a travesty to the game” by diving to attempt to draw a penalty on Gregory Campbell in Game 7.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” Subban said. “I’m just happy today that we can talk about the Montreal Canadiens and what we’re going to be doing in the future.
“We had a great year and I’d just rather reflect on how our season has gone and the great amount of hockey we played the last seven games.”