MONTREAL – Enforcer Georges Laraque says he has a no-trade clause and he’s not going anywhere on deadline day.
The Canadiens tough guy said this week he was not happy to have been made a healthy scratch for Montreal’s last two games and that he wouldn’t have signed a three-year contract worth US$1.5 per season as a free agent last summer if it meant watching games from the press box.
He also wondered about his future with the team with the March 4 trade deadline approaching. But a day later, he was adamant about staying in Montreal.
“I never asked for a trade or anything,” Laraque said Thursday. “I’m happy here.
“I want to play my three years here. I have a no-trade clause and I’m not waiving anything. I love it here. I love the fans and my teammates. I get along with everybody and all the media except two persons (who he didn’t name). But other than that, I love it here.”
The Canadiens shipped out another left-winger who was unhappy to be a healthy scratch of late on Thursday, sending the popular Steve Begin to the Dallas Stars for defenceman Doug Janik, who will be assigned to AHL Hamilton if he clears waivers by noon on Saturday.
Laraque will be in the lineup when the Canadiens visit the rough-and-tumble Flyers in Philadelphia on Friday night, despite making exactly the kind of headlines the struggling team has been looking to avoid of late.
The Canadiens had put together consecutive wins (without Laraque in the lineup) for the first time since mid-January, after winning only three of their previous 15 games.
A measure of calm had been setting in after last week’s run of controversy over star winger Alex Kovalev’s two-game banishment from the team and a report that three players had hung around with a suspected drug dealer and gang member.
Then Laraque popped off, saying among other things that coach Guy Carbonneau doesn’t like enforcers.
“You guys (reporters) asked me if I was disappointed and I wasn’t going to lie,” Laraque said Thursday. “I could have said no, I’m not disappointed.
“I could have lied, but I’m a straight shooter. I want to say how I feel. I said I was disappointed that I don’t play every game and I believed when I came here that my role would be bigger. I’m just confused about my role on this team and that’s all.”
Still, all that he said this week didn’t sit well with Carbonneau, particularly the timing of it.
“I don’t like it,” he said flat out. “It’s not good for the team or his teammates.
“I don’t want anybody to be happy when they’re not playing, but that should stay internal. I’ve always said my door is always open. When we had a discussion in the summer, I never, ever, ever made promises to anybody.
“We’re trying to get out of the hole we’ve been in for a few weeks. The atmosphere was better, so it’s not the best timing.”
A back injury kept Laraque out of 27 games this season and he has been a healthy scratch for another nine. In 25 games played, he has no goals, two assists and 47 penalty minutes. He has averaged 7:53 per game in ice time.
“I think (nearly) eight minutes is good for a fourth-liner,” said Carbonneau, who said he met with Laraque earlier in the week to tell him which games he would play. “We want to use him in situations where he can help us.”
And he took issue with Laraque’s contention that he doesn’t like fighters, among whom Laraque is considered by many to be the best in the NHL.
“I never said that,” added Carbonneau. “I never told Georges Laraque that I don’t like tough players, but I believe in team toughness.”
Carbonneau has also been accused in the past of not liking Russian players, although defenceman Andrei Markov plays a team-high 24:26 per game.
Even the ever-diplomatic captain Saku Koivu felt Laraque could have picked a better moment to vent his feelings.
“Whatever controversy you have, on or off the ice, winning solves a lot of problems,” he said. “If there’s a conflict or something going on, I’d rather that it’s done behind closed doors and try to solve it that way.
“In Georges’ case, I understand his frustration. He wants to play. He wants to help the team. But instead of going to the media, maybe he should have sat down one-on-one with the coach.”
The two wins put Montreal into fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but they are only four points out of ninth place. The Flyers are in fourth spot, four points ahead of the Canadiens with two games in hand.
It was after the Flyers manhandled Montreal in five games in the second round of the playoffs last spring that the Canadiens reached out for Laraque, whom they hoped would make life easier for their smaller, quick-skating team.
But even with him in the lineup, defenceman Josh Gorges said they will have to show some grit against in Philadelphia.
“Definitely it’s a plus for the physical side of things, but when you play Philly, it’s not just one or two guys,” said Gorges “Their whole team plays physically.
“As a group, we have to match that. We can’t rely on one or two guys to be physical for everybody because you have to expect to get hit. That’s the way they play. We all have to match their intensity, even if we have a guy like Georges in the lineup.”
The Flyers will decide on Friday whether centre Daniel Briere and defenceman Kimmo Timonen will play. Briere has missed 34 games with a groin injury, while Timonen has missed two wit the flu.
They also put forward Glen Metropolit and defenceman Ossi Vaananen on waivers Friday to give them “roster options” heading into the trade deadline.