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Trade to Sabres ends Gorges' run in Montreal

by Arpon Basu

Josh Gorges stood in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room just over a month earlier, and it was almost as if he knew what was coming.

Standing there in Madison Square Garden following his team's elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, Gorges was emotional, his words were heavy. He was unable to complete sentences at times.

He knew that what might have been his best opportunity to do what he has always said was his ultimate goal, to win a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, had slipped through his fingers.

"You've got to think that my career is more than half over and you still haven't reached that next level," Gorges said that night. "It's tough because we're so close and we're right there. I'm a little bit lost for words because I'm still trying to process this. I'm still stunned."

Little did Gorges know at the time that the loss, as painful as it was, would be nowhere near the most stunning thing that would happen to him this year.

Not even close.

That came Saturday, when Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin called his alternate captain to inform him that he had reached an agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs to trade Gorges to Montreal's archrival.

That phone call triggered a whirlwind 72 hours for Gorges, whose contract included a clause that allowed him to refuse a trade to 15 teams in the NHL, and the Maple Leafs were on that list. Rumors of Toronto's attempts to convince Gorges to accept the trade flew wildly on social media, but Gorges would not budge.

The unpleasant episode came to an end Tuesday when Gorges accepted a trade to the Buffalo Sabres, a team that had also been on his no-trade list, for a second-round pick at the 2016 NHL Draft.

Just like that, Gorges' seven-year career with the Canadiens came to an end. Three days earlier he had no idea it was even a possibility.

"You know that trades are part of this game and that it's part of the business," Gorges said Tuesday. "You learn to deal with it, but when that phone call comes and you're told it's you, it's always a shock because you never expect to get that phone call. Then to learn more about the situation and you realize that it wasn't just that one trade, but the fact that my time in Montreal was done, whether it was Toronto or not, it's been a tough couple of days until today."

Bergevin praised Gorges on Tuesday and described the decision to trade him as both a business one, for the money saved on the salary cap, and also a hockey one because it allowed him to bring in right-handed defenseman Tom Gilbert to balance the defense.

But he was not happy that Gorges was forced to undergo this process in public.

"It was difficult. He's a very good person," Bergevin said. "The fact the information got out was disappointing for us and for him. No player should have to go through that, it was stressful for him and his family. That's why I don't talk about trades in public; you see what happened.

"The information never came out from the Montreal Canadiens. Every day, 30 teams talk about players and names fly in every direction; that should never get out. The fact it came out, I have no idea where it came out from, but I can guarantee it did not come from the Montreal Canadiens organization."

Gorges arrived in Montreal at the 2007 NHL Trade Deadline in one of the better transactions in recent Canadiens history. Then-general manager Bob Gainey sent impending free-agent defenseman Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks for Gorges and a first-round draft pick that turned into Max Pacioretty.

The big prize initially was the first-round pick, but Gorges quickly became an important member of the Canadiens, coming of age and becoming a respected presence not only in the Montreal dressing room but around the League.

It was there that the loyalty to the organization was born, a loyalty that led Gorges to place the Maple Leafs on his no-trade list because it would be too difficult for him to face the Canadiens in a Toronto uniform, he told TSN on Tuesday.

But that loyalty was not reciprocated from the Canadiens, and now Gorges will be facing his former team on a regular basis playing in the Atlantic Division with the Sabres.

"It's going to be an emotional game, there's no question," Gorges said. "Coming back to Montreal and playing in the Bell Centre but coming in a different entrance, it's going to be different. It's tough, but I think it's one of those games where I'm going to be looking forward to it. I have to make sure I keep my emotions in check and the best way to come back is to come back and try and get a win."

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