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Josh Gorges not regretting decision to veto trade to Maple Leafs

Josh Gorges had a chance to go to the Leafs, but his heart wasn't in it. Think he wants a do-over? Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO -- As Josh Gorges gets set to hear the boos from Toronto Maple Leafs fans Tuesday night, we are here to argue that people should be commending him for his raw honesty rather than questioning his decision.

In an era when we wish modern athletes would pretend to care about the uniform they're wearing like the players of yesteryear did, Gorges was saying just that when he turned down a proposed trade from the Montreal Canadiens to rival Toronto in the summer.

After giving his heart to the Canadiens for years, he simply could not envision emptying the emotional tank for the rival Leafs, whom he grew to hate because of the team he played for. He felt he would be cheating Toronto, frankly, by accepting that trade.

"I really, honestly believe that," Gorges said Tuesday after the morning skate at the Air Canada Centre before his Buffalo Sabres took on Toronto. "The only reason I ever got to this league is because I had to be a heart-and-soul guy, give-it-everything-I-got type of player. That's what gave me a good opportunity in Montreal all those years.

"Could I have given that to Toronto? Maybe over time, but I don't think I could have done it right away. And it wouldn't have been fair to them."

It's what Gorges told Brendan Shanahan when the Leafs president tried to sway the veteran defenseman to accept the deal.

"I told him when we spoke on the phone that, for me to be any type of good player for any team, 'I got to play with emotion, I got to play with heart, and I don’t know if I'd be doing you guys any favors by [accepting the deal]. And I don't know if I could live with myself as a person,'" said Gorges. "I believe that every day you come to work, you give it everything you got and you can feel good about yourself. If I come to a team where I don't feel like I'm giving everything I got, how do I feel at the end of the day? It's not a good feeling to come home and think, 'I kind of half-assed it tonight.' And so that played the majority of the part in my decision."

What Gorges didn't know at the time but would later find out is that his pal Cody Franson was potentially going the other way as part of the Habs-Leafs deal.

Franson rented a place right next door to Gorges over the summer in Kelowna, British Columbia, where many NHL players spend their summers, and the irony wasn't lost on either player.

"We talked a little bit ... but I don't want to say too much after that," Franson said, smiling, on Tuesday morning when asked how that conversation would have gone about the trade that nearly was.

At the time, Gorges was still in Montreal when all this was going down while Franson was in Kelowna.

"It was an interesting day," said Franson. "Those are tough rumors not to hear. Those are ones that show up right on your front door step, if you will. It comes down to what you can control. If they're going to make a move that they feel betters the team, they're going to do it. That's out of my hands. I just approached my day normally and kept my phone close."

Instead, Franson remained a Leaf and Gorges eventually accepted a deal to the Sabres, one of the teams that he added to his expanded "yes" list dictated by his limited no-trade clause.

The Sabres weren't the team that topped his list, perhaps, but he also didn't want the saga to drag on forever.

"After a few days of trying to get something to happen with teams that were on my list, at that point you're thinking, 'You can't keep doing this. You can't keep sitting in limbo,'" said Gorges. "At the time, my wife was five days away from giving birth. I didn't think we needed that kind of stress. So let's get it done."

One of the toughest parts was talking to all his friends on the Canadiens. Gorges was a very popular player in that room. It was hard to say goodbye.

"At the time, you're like, 'Why? What are the reasons? Why me?'" said Gorges of how his conversations went with Habs players after the trade. "But then you get to a point where it doesn't matter why. I don't need to know why. It doesn't do anything for me moving forward. You turn the page."

Fact is, for all the hype about Gorges’ game in Toronto on Tuesday night, the reality is his first game back in Montreal on Nov. 29 will be when the butterflies really get going.

"Coming back to Montreal for the first time will be more of an emotional game," said Gorges.

Besides, as far as the game here in Toronto, maybe Leafs fans have already forgotten.

"I doubt it," said Gorges, chuckling. "This is always an energetic building to play in. There's always lots of noise, lots of emotion. I expect nothing less tonight."

Gorges accepted his deal to the Sabres with eyes wide open. He knows they are rebuilding. But he also feels they are better than what they have shown to start the season.

"It's tough to lose anytime. You look at the start that we've had, it's not the one that we wanted at all," said Gorges. "So that's been tough to deal with because you want to win. But at the same time, I think we all understand that there's room for improvement and that's a good thing.

"If we thought this was the best we could play and we lose, then you're in trouble. But I think this team has a lot more to give and a lot more to show. And I think that's promising. We can turn this around and start moving in the right direction."