The Gallagher Situation

By Bob Trask – Brendan Gallagher is currently out of the Canadiens’ lineup for what is expected to be a 6-week stint on the injury list. It has been an unfortunate turn of events for the feisty winger. Between shortened seasons and injuries, Gallagher has managed to average only 50 games per year over the past 3 1/2 seasons and it looks like he won’t reach that benchmark this year.

We can take a look at a few aspects of his game over that time.

Power Play

In that same period of time he has logged the 2nd most power play minutes among forwards on the team, trailing only Nick Suzuki but ranked 7th among forwards on the team in power play points per 60 minutes played among those who had played more than 80 games for the Habs. If you include those players who played more than 40 games for the Habs over the past 3 1/2 years, Gallagher drops to 12th in points per 60 minutes played.

Despite all of this every coaching staff has continued to give Gally significant PP time. Is it because of his reputation as a fearless net front presence? It can hardly be anything else. Gallagher is not an elite passer or an elite shooter. His creativity is limited and his zone entries usually consist of banging the puck in off the boards and then working to retrieve – a stark contrast from some like Kirby Dach. He gets an A+ for effort but if that effort doesn’t create results, it’s time to move on.

Danault and Tatar

Gallagher enjoyed a lot of success with Phil Danault and Tomas Tatar as linemates, with Tatar being the underrated cog on that line. Gallagher or Danault would dig the puck out and somehow get it to Tatar who would control the puck for extended periods of time in the offensive zone. As he attracted defenders, it allowed Gallagher more space and often took full advantage. No one currently on the Canadiens complements Gallagher’s play in the way that those two did and it can be seen as one of the factors in his declining production.

Where does that leave Gallagher at 5v5?

  • It’s certainly not with Suzuki and Caufield whose dynamic style of play would be suffocated with Gally’s grinding style.
  • He’s not going to replace Josh Anderson either. Anderson is bigger, faster and younger than Gallagher. He brings a physical element to the team that few other forwards do and his recent play on the penalty kill may have opened a new role for him – a role that Gallagher has literally never played.
  • If Jesse Ylönen can prove that he belongs in the NHL, his skill set much more closely matches the Gorton/Hughes vision of a team than Gallagher’s does. It is not hard to envision Ylönen playing a middle-6 role.
  • That would bump Gallagher down to the fourth line where Joel Armia currently resides. Both are paid well above the league average for fourth line wingers and it seems unlikely that both would be kept around to play in that position. If all other pieces fall into place, the winner in the fourth line sweepstakes could be the player that is the most difficult to trade – and that would likely be Gallagher.

How do you feel about Gallagher as a fourth line player who sees about 10 minutes or less of ice time per game? It could happen as early as next year.

In the System

Owen Beck

Another question that arises is who within the system may challenge Gallagher for a spot? As strange as it may seem, potential challengers may hinge what happens with the center ice position. Will the Habs re-sign Sean Monahan, keep Christian Dvorak and make the move of Kirby Dach to right wing a more permanent one? Will Owen Beck make the jump from junior next year to challenge for a fourth line role?

If the answer to both of those questions is yes, the Habs could keep the Suzuki – Caufield – Dach trio together and Beck could share fourth line center ice duties with Jake Evans. When not playing center, both Beck and Evans could play right wing on the fourth line making for stiff competition between those two along with Armia and Gallagher for a spot on the roster.

Digging into the prospects, Filip Mesar seems to be the closest to NHL ready among right wingers, if that is what the Canadiens have in mind for him – they may project him as a center. Regardless of that, he probably needs at least one year in Laval before making the jump to the NHL so I don’t see him as a possible competitor on the wing for the 2023-24 season.

Draft Picks

The Canadiens have two first round picks and eleven total picks already lined up for the summer’s entry draft but there is no one on the list who seems to be ready to contribute as an NHL regular at right wing. These picks will be for down the road and don’t present any immediate challenge to Gallagher.

The Unknowns

Two wildcards in the construction of the Habs roster are potential free agent signings and potential trades, either at the deadline or over the summer. The free agent list looks pretty meager, especially for a team that is building for the future and there are no obvious solutions there. The trade situation is more complicated.

If Montreal were to trade Monahan or Dvorak (or both) it would likely mean that Dach is moving back to center, reducing the competition for a spot at right wing – unless one of the players acquired was a center destined to replace the traded center or was a right winger. A player like Joel Edmundson could also be traded and one of the players/prospects acquired in return could be a center or right winger, once again increasing the competition for Gallagher.

Another unknown is Emil Heineman. While he shoots left, Heineman played some right wing in the pre-season and after a slow start on his return to Europe, he is beginning to heat up. Heineman is a good skater with good size and has a big shot that he likes to use. Those three factors are, without a doubt, things that management like about the player. At the moment, he is flying under the radar but don’t sleep on him – he could challenge for a spot next season.

The Final Result

It is highly likely that Gallagher will be with the Canadiens on opening night next season but his role on the team could change. As an owner, general manager or coach it has to be difficult to make a decision on a loyal warrior who has struggled with injuries and production in recent years. It also has to be difficult to have $6.5 million in cap space tied up for the next four years, and thereby limiting what can be done to bolster the roster. However those four remaining years at that price level make a buyout a non-palatable option and a trade virtually impossible.

Gallagher is a Hab and everything points to him remaining with the team. He is both a warrior and a role model for the younger players on the team. We can only hope that he fully recovers from his injuries, is able to play a full season and thrives in whatever role he earns with the team.

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