Stu Cowan: Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher not defined by his contract

“I’m of the belief that I’ve earned every dollar I’ve made by trying to give everything I’ve had to this team every day I’m at the rink.”

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Just about everything in today’s NHL revolves around the salary cap.

Fans are likely to spend as much time looking at player salaries on the CapFriendly.com website as they do their actual stats.

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The Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher is a prime example.

Gallagher headed into Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) with 11-10-21 totals in 69 games. That’s not a lot of bang for the buck when you go to CapFriendly and see that Gallagher has a salary-cap hit of US$6.5 million this season and is actually earning US$8 million. Gallagher, who will turn 32 on May 6, has three more seasons left on his contract with that US$6.5 million annual cap hit while earning US$9 million in 2024-25, US$6.5 million the next season and US$4 million in the final year of his deal.

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When Gallagher had back-to-back seasons of 31 and 33 goals in 2017-18 and 2018-19, he was underpaid with a cap hit of US$3.75 million. Former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin rewarded Gallagher for what he had done in the past when he signed him to a six-year, US$39-million contract extension on Oct. 14, 2020. Now he is overpaid.

But I’ve always maintained Gallagher has earned every dollar he ever received from the Canadiens with his off-the-chart work ethic. His gritty style of play and the injuries that have come with that have taken a toll on him, but his work ethic has never changed. That work ethic seems to be rubbing off now on some of his younger teammates under head coach Martin St. Louis as this Canadiens rebuild moves forward.

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“Gally’s just a hockey player,” St. Louis said recently. “Big difference between somebody who plays hockey and a hockey player. He’s a hockey player. He loves the game, he’s passionate, he brings everyone to the fight.”

After Thursday’s morning skate I asked Gallagher what he would say to fans who only focus on his contract.

“Personally, I feel like I don’t really have to convince anyone,” he said. “They’re free to believe what they want. For me, I’m of the belief that I’ve earned every dollar I’ve made by trying to give everything I’ve had to this team every day I’m at the rink. That’s, I guess, how I would justify it. For me, I’ve never looked at teammates and salaries for what they make. I look at what they bring to our group in commitment and being a good teammate and I just try to be that for the guys. I try to be a guy that’s going to show up at the rink that they can count on every night.”

While it seems unlikely Gallagher will ever become a 30-goal scorer again, Arpon Basu of The Athletic pointed out to him after the morning skate that Dustin Brown scored 28 goals for the Los Angeles Kings in 2017-18 at age 33 after never scoring more than 15 in the previous four seasons.

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“For me, personally, I’ve never really looked at those types of numbers, as you guys know,” Gallagher said. “But contributing is something that you always take pride in. I still believe I can do more, certainly. The work isn’t going to stop, so I’ll continue to put in the work. A lot of that is conversations with the coaches, a lot of that is style of play and adjusting to the way that I’m asked to play and a lot of that is working on myself. Taking some of that on myself. So I’m happy to do the work. For me, personally, I wouldn’t say the belief isn’t there. It’s a matter of, I guess, going out and doing it now.

“Yeah, I’d love to produce more,” he added. “I think there’s opportunity there to do that and I still believe that’s the case.”

Gallagher’s role with the team has changed. He’s no longer on the top line or the first power-play unit like when he was a 30-goal scorer. St. Louis spoke earlier this week about how that adjustment can be difficult for some veteran players.

“To me, the best part about leadership is being able to pass it down and I think those guys that extend their career they probably adjust their role a little bit and they’re able to pass down that leadership because they’re around,” St. Louis said. “You don’t have enough of those guys.”

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Gallagher is one of those guys.

“Obviously, you have pride and you want to contribute as much as you can,” he said. “Sometimes the way that you contribute changes, but as long as you feel like as a player I have a purpose contributing to the success it’s always been part of my character. For me, you always want to push it individually and contribute as much as you can but fit into a team as well and I think for me I’m just trying to do what I’m asked to do and do it the best I can.”

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