Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher vows to play smarter in bid to avoid injuries – Montreal Gazette

Brendan Gallagher is never going to change the way he plays — on the edge. It’s what got the 5-foot-9 ball of fire to the NHL.

“I can’t change the way I’m kind of wired,” Gallagher said Monday during the team’s annual golf tournament at Laval-sur-le-Lac. “I have to play in those certain areas. But there’s certain times I can be a little smarter. That’s part of gaining experience, getting a bit older.

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“I always want to be one of those guys that’s going to put my body on the line … but there are certain injuries that are preventable. You also hope for a little bit of luck.”

Gallagher, who only weighs 184 pounds, broke his ankle twice last season, limiting him to 37 games. He produced eight goals and 14 points. Gallagher has broken his hand — twice — when hit by shots and also broke his jaw during the 2020 playoffs while playing with a tear in his hip. He also played through a groin injury during the ’21 playoffs, helping Montreal advance to the Stanley Cup final against Tampa Bay.

But Gallagher, selected in the fifth round (147th overall) in 2010, also produced 31- and 33-goal seasons in 2017-18 and again the following year when he didn’t miss a game. He said he’s confident he can reach those totals again, provided he remains healthy.

“I haven’t lost confidence in myself as a player,” said the Edmonton native, who hopes to avoid injuries by conserving energy.

“There are certain times the team might need a spark and I’ll go out of my way to create something,” he explained. “But you get tired out and use a lot of energy as well and you’re kind of in a battle with a 220-pound defenceman the rest of the night. There are certain times it might not be necessary. You might just be able to play the game, conserve your energy and use it a bit more effectively.”

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The Canadiens’ run to the final was clearly an aberration. The team has missed the playoffs the last two seasons and owner Geoff Molson admitted last season that his team is in a rebuilding mode. With a good chunk of the roster under the age of 25 and yet to reach its full potential, Gallagher is optimistic brighter days are ahead.

At his age, he can only hope he’s around to witness the transformation. He signed a six-year, US$39-million contract in October 2020 and will earn US$8 million this season with a cap hit of US$6.5 million. Gallagher is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2026-27, when he’ll be 35.

While Gallagher believes the Canadiens are capable of competing against every NHL team, he’s reluctant to make bold predictions. Executive vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton also refused to label Montreal as playoff contenders on Monday.

“Our expectations as a group will be to improve our systems, improve our team,” Gallagher said. “In terms of where we’re going to finish at the end of the year, it’s up to us as players to dictate. At some point we’re going to have to make a jump, make a push and start improving in the standings. If it’s going to be this year it has to happen early. It’s just a matter of consistency, having no dips, no lulls in our season, which will be a challenge, like it is for every team.

“We’ll see where we’re at. That’s the exciting thing about being a player. We have a lot of control over where we end up.”

It was an eventful summer for Gallagher. In July, his francophone girlfriend Emma Fortin, a Ste-Julie native, announced news of the couple’s engagement on Instagram. No wedding date has been announced.

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