Only a handful of members of the Canadian will see their contract come to an end and will be able to take advantage of full autonomy this summer, including a few players who missed a good part, if not all of the last season due to injuries.
If Paul Byron had difficulty hiding that he will probably have to hang up his skates, Jonathan Drouin and Sean Monahan have expressed their desire to return to the Montreal hockey club next fall.
Other players could also jump ship if they don’t receive an offer from the Habs, such as forwards Denis Gurianov and Chris Tierney.
Byron was the first to appear before media representatives on Friday, during the Canadiens’ end-of-season review. If he did not want to officially announce his retirement, he nevertheless admitted that the chances of him playing again in the NHL are practically nil.
The Ottawa native hasn’t played a single game this season due to hip issues.
“In my head, I still want to play, but every day that passes makes that reality more difficult,” said Byron. I will take the time necessary to make a decision. I am not ready to make an announcement at this time.
“I haven’t talked about it with my family, my parents and my agent,” he added. I wanted to speak first with the management and then with the doctors to check all the options before making a decision. »
Byron pointed out that he feels pain not only when he skates on the ice, but also when he walks for “30 to 45 minutes”. Despite everything, he has no regrets about his career.
“I was so lucky to play, to have such a career. If I had the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Byron, who will celebrate his 34th birthday on April 27, has not played since April 19, 2022 against the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre.
He remained in the Canadiens’ entourage throughout the winter and spent time with the team’s management. Byron admitted that he would like to extend the adventure with the Habs, even if it has to happen off the ice.
“I love hockey, being here, watching games. That’s why when Jeff (Gorton, vice-president of hockey operations) and Kent (Hughes, general manager) suggested that I watch the games with them, I decided to take this opportunity to allow them to get to know me better, Byron explained. I expressed to them my desire to be part of the team if I have to make the transition to another role. »
In 12 full seasons in the NHL, including the last seven with the Canadiens, Byron has participated in 521 games and amassed 208 points, including 98 goals.
Drouin is thoughtful
For his part, Drouin said he savored Thursday’s game a little more, a 5-4 loss against the Boston Bruins, knowing that it was perhaps his last in the Sainte-Flanelle uniform.
Drouin admitted never living up to expectations after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15, 2017 and immediately signing a six-year, $33 million deal with the Canadiens.
He added, however, that his personal expectations were probably even higher than those of supporters or journalists.
“I was placed in the center in my first season (with the Canadiens) when I had never played in this position in the NHL, told Drouin. I had to face top centers like (Anze) Kopitar and (Jonathan) Toews. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it and I didn’t expect to find myself in this role.
“I loved the highs and even the lows. I grew up on the lows, but I still dream of being able to produce a point per game in the NHL. »
Drouin finally tallied 48 goals and 138 assists in 321 games with the Habs. He admitted he still wondered how different his career would have taken if he hadn’t injured his wrist on November 15, 2019, when he was hit by Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
“I had a few nightmares that year, and that was the year injuries started hitting me like never before,” Drouin said. There are still days when I get up and think about that day in Washington. We were in position to make the playoffs and it was going well on a personal level.
“There are things you can’t control in hockey and injuries are one of them. »
Drouin is more serene now. He took a break for his mental health in the spring of 2021. He and his wife also expanded their family by having a first child.
He said he was confident he could get a new job in the NHL, in Montreal or elsewhere, and play for a long time.
Monahan admits pushing too hard
For his part, Monahan was limited to 25 games in his first campaign with the Canadiens due to a broken foot, then a groin injury.
In retrospect, Monahan said he regretted pushing the bill a little too high in hopes of facing his former team, the Calgary Flames, on Dec. 1.
“It had an impact on my injuries and I regret it, yes, but it was my choice. I wanted to play against the Flames,” admitted Monahan, who played his first nine NHL campaigns with that team.
“At least we won,” he added with a smirk.
Monahan, 28, has appeared in just two more games since. He eventually had six goals and 11 assists with the Habs.
The Flames traded Monahan to the Canadiens along with a first-round pick last summer to make space under the salary cap.
It was already a good move for the Habs. Monahan said he was seduced by his experience in Montreal, but if he extends his union with the Habs, the author of seven seasons of at least 20 NHL goals should expect to receive a salary much less important than that of a little over six million US dollars that he received last winter.