The Canadiens sent underperforming center Scott Gomez home for the rest of the year before they opened training camp on Sunday, ensuring their ability to buy out the his contract next summer to remove his team-high $7.3 million salary cap hit from the books.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement signed Saturday, the cap is to plunge by about $10 million next season, but teams will be allowed two "amnesty" buyouts to help reach the cap. However, if a player is injured, he cannot be bought out.
Bergevin said it was safest for the team that Gomez not play this season.
"With where the cap is going to be next year, we had to buy out Scott's contract and the safest way to do that without risking him being injured was to send him home," Bergevin said. "It's the rules we have to play by."
Gomez has been a disappointment on the ice the last two seasons. Last season, the 33-year-old was limited to 38 games by injuries and had two goals and nine assists.
Canadiens fans have been urging the team to dump the 12-year NHL veteran from Alaska who is popular with his teammates but whose production has dropped alarmingly from his best seasons with the New Jersey Devils in the early to mid-2000s.
Under the new rules, the Canadiens will have to pay Gomez his $10 million total salary for the next two seasons, but will save $900,000 in cap space this season and remove the cap hit entirely in 2013-14.
Bergevin called the 33-year-old Gomez into his office to tell him of the decision early Sunday morning and he was gone when camp officially opened with 23 players taking the ice more than three hours later.
"Unfortunately, the personal side of the game is really hard when the business side takes over," captain Brian Gionta said of his linemate in both New Jersey and later in Montreal. "We'll do whatever we can to support him.
"He's a great guy. He'll bounce back from it. But the first few days I'm sure will be a shock for him."
Gomez wasn't the only missing player when the Canadiens returned to the ice on Sunday.
Emerging defenseman P.K. Subban, a restricted free agent, was not in camp, while centers Tomas Plekanec (day to day with a rib injury) and Petteri Nokelainen (back) did not skate. Defenseman Mike Commodore was having his pre-camp medical and sat out.
Bergevin was in Toronto on Saturday to meet with Subban and agent Don Meehan. He hopes to have a contract done soon.
"Our goal is to sign P.K. and I believe his goal is to play in Montreal," he said. "We just haven't agreed yet."
A packed house at the Canadiens' practice facility took in the team's first skate under Michel Therrien. The new coach kept last season's best line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole in place. Lars Eller moved into Plekanec's spot on the next line between Gionta and third overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk, who showed some nifty hands and a fine wrist shot.
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