There is a lot of hope among the Montreal Canadiens’ fan base that Brendan Gallagher will return to form and be key contributor in a resurgent Habs team. Is that a realistic expectation or wishful thinking?
Gallagher is a somewhat undersized player who plays a rugged man’s game. He’s not going to fool you with superior stick handling or passing abilities. He guts it out and goes to hard areas of the ice and that has taken its toll – particularly because he is constantly jousting with players much bigger than himself.
Gallagher will also be 30 years old next month and that is right around the age when a lot of players hit their peak in production. Again, skill players might have longer productive years but that might not be the case those who rely on physical play and have to deal with the wear and tear on their bodies.
When you examine Gallagher’s skill set objectively you will see someone who is an average skater at best with a less than average shot. And he is not particularly creative with the puck, preferring a straight line game – dumping, chasing and endless cycling of the puck until he can get into his preferred position six inches in front of the goaltender. With that skill set he is literally never used on the penalty kill and recently his defensive coverage at 5v5 has been wanting.
Among right wingers, he ranks 17th in power play time on ice since he game into the league and 37th in power play points. That puts him at 84th spot in power play points per 60 minutes played among right wingers who played more 100 games over that period.
The Stats Line
Throughout all the ups and downs of his career, Gallagher has averaged a very respectable 25 goals per 82 games played. Is it reasonable to expect those kinds of numbers going forward or should we temper our expectations?
For a long time now the Canadiens power play has been mediocre or worse. With an apparent effort to make the power play a more dynamic unit, relying on constant motion and quick puck movement, Gallagher could see his ice time on the PP reduced or disappear entirely. Without PP production his average production would drop down to about 20 goals per season.
Gallagher has also been the team’s de facto first line right winger for many years, logging the most ice time per game and playing with some of the best linemates the team has to offer. It is clear that he will be relinquishing that role. It is hard to see Marty St. Louis playing him on a line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. It ain’t going to happen. That means a 2nd or 3rd line role with reduced ice time.
With the potential of losing spot on the PP and relinquishing his 1st line role it is not hard to see Gallagher’s playing time dropping to something closer to 13 minutes per game from his career average of 16 minutes per game. In that scenario it is hard to envision him maintaining or exceding a 25 goal pace. If you combine that with the toll of physical abuse he has endured over the years and the fact that he is in the back half of his career, seasons of around 20 goals seem more realistic.
A New Role
It seems likely that Gallagher slot in at second line winger or maybe even third line, unless Kent Hughes has other plans for his future. His work ethic and leadership can make him a valuable contributor to the team but it also seems unlikely that he will be one of the offensive leaders going forward.
No coach in the world will make Gallagher a faster skater, a better shooter or a player with greater vision at this stage of his career. His work ethic, however, can still be put to good use. He might have to use that in a more defensive role than he has in the past because good defensive can be accomplished with hard work and good positioning with minimal skill requirements.
As Gallagher approaches his 30th birthday a realistic expectation for him might be a season where he puts up 20 goals or 25 in an exceptional year but even that will likely decline by the end of his contract. Those who are expecting a return to the 30 goal plateau could be sorely disappointed.
The ball will be in Kent Hughes court when the season ends. With all factors considered will he think Gallagher is an asset he wants to keep on the team or will he want to give that opportunity to a new face?
For me, all bet are off!