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Gallagher contract suggests change in philosophy

by Arpon Basu

MONTREALBrendan Gallagher is breaking new ground with the Montreal Canadiens.

By signing a six-year contract extension Saturday, worth an average of $3.75 million a season, Gallagher became the only significant player on the team who went straight from his entry-level contract to a long-term extension.

Goaltender Carey Price, defenseman P.K. Subban, and forwards Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec, just to name a few, each signed for two years on their second contract, and there was a widely held belief this was the Canadiens policy.

That appears to no longer be the case.

"There's always a risk when you go long term with any player," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. "But we felt that this time the risk was worth it."

The last time Bergevin faced this situation was with Subban in 2013 in one of his first moves as GM. In that instance, he held firm on the so-called bridge contract, even after Subban missed the start of the 2012-13 season.

Gallagher, on the other hand, didn't even have to wait for his rookie contract to expire before getting some long-term security.

Now the question becomes whether Bergevin will do the same with forward Alex Galchenyuk, and just how much that will cost.

The friendly salary-cap charge on Gallagher's contract probably made it easier for Bergevin to give him the term the player was seeking. It might not be that simple with Galchenyuk.

Gallagher and Galchenyuk entered the NHL at the same time in 2012-13, Bergevin's first season as GM, and though Gallagher has been slightly more productive, the one with the higher ceiling is most definitely Galchenyuk.

If the Canadiens want to sign him long term, it will surely be more expensive than it was to sign Gallagher.

But Bergevin has made the moves necessary to allow himself to even consider skipping the bridge contracts in these cases.

When he was negotiating with Subban in 2013, the NHL was coming out of the lockout and the salary cap was going to drop the following season for the only time since it was implemented in 2005. In that case, Bergevin insisting on a bridge contract was a direct result of that unique situation.

Now, however, the entire impact of Gallagher's contract extension for next season was absorbed by Bergevin's prior moves of trading Travis Moen for Sergei Gonchar and Rene Bourque for Bryan Allen. Moen and Bourque each had a year remaining on their contract, while Gonchar and Allen are defensemen on expiring contracts.

All told, Bergevin shaved nearly $5.2 million off next year's salary-cap payroll in those two trades, and he still has $1.45 million remaining after Gallagher's contract extension is taken into account.

That won't be enough to sign Galchenyuk to a long-term contract, not even close, but having extra wiggle room certainly helps.

And now, by signing Gallagher to the deal he did, Bergevin has let it be known that a long-term extension for Galchenyuk is at least a possibility, and probably a likelihood, at this point.

For this team, that is a big change.

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