By Bob Trask – Since he first burst onto the scene in the 2012-13 season, Brendan Gallagher has been a heart and soul player. He has always given everything he can and set a high standard for his teammates to follow. But every athlete has a shelf life; some are long and some are short. With the decline in his production, the question about Gallagher’s shelf life has been asked more frequently lately. The future of Brendan Gallagher and the Canadiens is the elephant in the room that few want to talk about. It is an emotional issue for many.
Style and Injuries
Athletes, both big and small, can have long and successful careers in a physically demanding sport like NHL hockey. The challenge for smaller players is to rely on high end skill rather than subjecting themselves to physical punishment from those who are bigger and stronger.
But that has never been Gallagher’s style. His speed, stick-handling and shot have never been considered above average so he has succeeded by playing a big man’s game despite his size disadvantage. And it seems to be taking its toll.
Along with the general wear and tear on his body , Gallagher has suffered two horrific hand injuries that had to have an impact on his shot and maybe even his puck handling. He has always been willing to put himself in dangerous situations and he has paid the price.
The line he formed with Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault enjoyed its fair share of success in Montreal. Danault was the solid forechecker/backchecker who did a lot of the dirty work in the corners of the rink. Tatar was the skilled puckhandler who could control the play for extended periods of time while his linemates positioned themselves for offensive opportunities. And Gallagher planted himself in his “office” in front of the net, complementing the work of the other two.
No one can be sure what the exact impact the departures of these two had on Gallagher but it’s fair to say that it hasn’t been positive.
Coaching and Management
Almost everyone on the teams struggled offensively under Ducharme and none more so than Gallagher. The arrival of Martin St-Louis has awakened the offense for a handful of players but unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for Gallagher. His struggles continue under the new coach too.
In the longer term, management has made it clear that they want to build a team based on speed and skill. Those are not Gallagher’s strengths; he is a mucker and a grinder.
Statistics bear out Gallagher’s struggles. He has scored six goals in his last 58 NHL games (including playoffs). That equates to about nine goals over the course of a full season. Looking at the longer term picture Gallagher has scored at a pace of about 24 goals over 82 games (again, including playoff production). Going forward it is not unreasonable to think that his 20 goal seasons could be behind him..
Another stat might give us some indication of his frustrations. Gallagher is on pace for over 100 minutes in penalties over an 82 game schedule. In the previous seven seasons he never reached 50 penalty minutes in a season.
The lack of scoring combined with the undisciplined play has reduced his contribution to the team effort.
Every team can use grinders who are heart and soul players. In the case of Gallagher, he is more than a grinder and could definitely fill a role on more than one NHL team. But he is neither an offensive superstar nor a defensive one.
The problem for the Canadiens is that most players in that role earn less than the league average salary. It allows those teams to devote more cap assets to high end players. Gallagher earns $6.5 per yea for 5 more years after this one. There are two problems with Gallagher’s contract. It eats up too much cap space and the term is too long. This one rests squarely on the shoulders of Marc Bergevin.
The combination of Gallagher’s age, contract and production make him virtually untradeable. A buyout would impact the Canadiens cap space for the next 10 years. His future is likely with the Habs.
The good news is that Gallagher is not a bad player but his role with the team will probably need to be redefined. There are young, skilled players in the organization who need to be given an opportunity soon and there are probably more on the way before next season.
That probably means lining up on the 4th line with no power play time and no penalty kill time. Of course, a return to his previous level of play could earn a promotion and more playing time, but as cold as it may seem to say it, it has to be earned.
Two questions remain. Would management be willing to make the hard decision? Would Gallagher be willing to accept such a role?