Josh Gorges believes he’s played his last game for the Canadiens.
Grant Halverson, Getty Images
The bomb rocked Josh Gorges on Saturday, his agent calling with a request the veteran defenceman thought he’d never hear:
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin needed Gorges’s permission to trade him, ostensibly to shave salary off the team’s cap.
Now, it seems that Gorges, the player many thought was the Habs’ captain-in-waiting, has played his last game in Montreal, his future NHL home far from decided as of Monday afternoon.
As Gorges was considering his world having been turned upside down, the Canadiens traded Daniel Brière to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for fellow forward Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and a 2015 fifth-round draft choice.
This all a day before the free-agency window opens, with Bergevin looking to improve his team that came within two wins of advancing to this spring’s Stanley Cup final.
“You’re never ready for it,” Gorges said Monday of the Saturday call from his agent, Kevin Epp. “You’re never expecting it so yeah, you’re a little bit blown away.
“You try to figure out why it’s happening and what the reasons are. But ultimately, I guess it’s not necessarily for me to know. It’s not my job to know, so I sit and I wait. And I hope that things fall into place.”
Gorges has four seasons remaining on his six-year, $23.4-million contract. The 29-year-old native of Kelowna, B.C., has a modified no-trade clause which listed 15 teams – all in the U.S. – to which he would agree to be dealt.
Gorges said Monday that the list has grown by “a couple” of teams in Canada, clubs he would not specify.
One of them is not Toronto, which is where the story takes its sharpest turn.
TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie reported Monday that the Canadiens had a deal in place with the Maple Leafs that would see a roster player from Toronto come to Montreal in exchange for Gorges.
But Gorges reportedly refused to waive his no-trade clause to include the Maple Leafs, leaving him, for now, in a state of suspended animation.
The defenceman would neither confirm nor deny the Toronto angle of the story, but clearly were the Leafs one of his “couple” of Canadian cities he had added to his list, he’d be on his way.
Gorges was at home Saturday with his wife, Maggie, their first child due within a week, when he took agent Epp’s call.
“I found out about this like everyone else did,” he said.
Would it be safe to say he’s in a state of shock? I asked him.
“I leave the business side of things to my agent, to talk to the team and figure all that stuff out,” he said. “I was sitting at home and got the call that they needed my permission to move me.
“These are tough details for me to go into. I don’t want anyone looking bad, but to my understanding it’s a business decision that had to be made in order to free up some cap space.”
A huge portion of that cap space, without question, is to accommodate the monster contract that is coming to defenceman P.K. Subban.
Gorges’s cap hit is $3.9 million for each season of the four remaining on the contract.
He said he had no hint that a trade might be coming when he sat with Bergevin at season’s end, players normally meeting the GM for a debriefing before they break for summer.
“My meetings went, I feel, as well as they possibly could have gone,” Gorges said. “At the end of the season, the way it finished (with a six-game Eastern Conference loss to the New York Rangers), obviously there’s disappointment in not following through in what we set out to do.
“But besides that, there definitely was no indication on my part that I would no longer be here.”
Should the Canadiens not find a place to deal Gorges, they have the option of putting him on waivers. At that point, he could be claimed by any of the NHL’s 29 clubs, albeit without compensation paid to the Habs.
So Gorges knows it’s a calculated risk on his part not to accept a trade, even if it means waiving his no-trade to facilitate a deal to a team that’s not on his preferred list.
“It’s something that you definitely have to sit and discuss,” he said. “I have to discuss it with my wife – do we take that chance and roll the dice and then let the chips fall where they may and go wherever we end up?
“Or do we decide that (a trade destination) is a good fit for us and we can do well there? I have to make those decisions when they approach me.”
Gorges said it’s likely he’s played his last game for the Canadiens, the team that acquired him on Feb. 25, 2007 from the San Jose Sharks along with a 2007 first-round draft pick – that would be Max Pacioretty – for veteran defenceman Craig Rivet and a 2008 pick.
It’s almost impossible to imagine that Gorges would be back in Montreal given the hard, sour-taste business of the past couple of days. But if that somehow did come to pass, Gorges says he’d bring the same work ethic that has been a hallmark of his 560 regular-season NHL games, 464 of them played for the Canadiens.
That work ethic, his body-sacrificing, shot-blocking game and his accountability after a win or loss has been beyond reproach, as have his leadership skills that have been an important quality in the dressing room.
“From my understanding, it’s not very likely (I play again with the Canadiens),” he said. “But if that’s the case, no matter what jersey you put on, you put it on with pride. You go out there and do your job because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
“No matter what happens, I’m fortunate enough to be in the NHL. So wherever I end up, and if it is back in Montreal, you go out there and do what you’re supposed to do because that’s your job. Until that gets decided, and now we sit and wait, wherever I end up, you go and put everything you have into that team, just like you would have before.”
Gorges has no idea about the next move in this chess game, or when it will be made. Presumably, it won’t drag on if Subban’s contract hinges at least in part on Gorges’s status.
“I wish I had an idea,” he said. “To be honest, for me, it now becomes almost like a waiting game. I have almost no power in this. I sit and I wait and I try to not think about it as much as I possibly can.
“When things like this happen, it’s not in my control. I’ve never asked for this. I never asked to leave the team, I’ve never even thought about that before.
“So you do your best to go about your everyday life and focus on family as much as possible, especially right now. When you hear news, you react to it then. There’s not much more that I can do right now that will change anything.”
He’s not certain whether he’ll hear directly from Bergevin, coach Michel Therrien or anyone else in the team’s management.
“I think most of this is going to go through Kevin (agent Epp), but who knows?” Gorges said. “If they want to try to contact me, they’re more than welcome to.
“To be honest, I’m not sure. I’ve been traded once. I was young, it happened in a day so I don’t know what ‘normal’ is in this situation.”
Gorges said he’s spoken with a number of teammates about the situation, including Brendan Gallagher, who since he arrived with the Canadiens in 2012-13 has lived with Gorges and Maggie in their South Shore home.
“I guess it’s shocking to everybody. You never expect to hear that news,” Gorges said of teammates’ reaction, adding that he didn’t want to mention anyone by name. “You know this is possible every single day but you never expect to hear it.
“It was shocking to hear it but again, nobody is ever safe.”
For now, Gorges sits stunned at home, learning first-hand the cruelty of the business of hockey. For now, he says, he’ll focus on the child that he and Maggie will soon welcome.
And then the family will consider their next home, roots they’d planted in Montreal not nearly as deep as they believed they were.