Brendan Gallagher did not sign a bridge contract, breaking away from a tried and true method that the Montreal Canadiens have been following since the Bob Gainey days. In a lot of ways, bridge contracts are a great way to maximize a player's time with a team. In the case of Brendan Gallagher, it makes more sense to not sign him to a bridge deal than it does to sign him to a bridge deal, even though it breaks tradition.
Offensive primes for forwards
Brendan Gallagher will be 23 when his contract extension kicks in. If he was signed to a two year bridge deal, he would be 25 when he is due for a new contract. That would be the prime of his scoring years. By extending him six years with no bridge, the Montreal Canadiens are getting Gallagher signed through his peak years without having to pay for his production based on those peak years. In essence, the Montreal Canadiens are paying for Brendan Gallagher now when Brendan Gallagher in two years should be a superior offensive player.
Stability with the salary cap
The salary cap is a volatile number simply due to the current instability of the Canadian dollar. By locking down Gallagher to a cap friendly deal/team friendly deal, the Montreal Canadiens are able to stabilize their salary cap situation for the next few years. Signing Gallagher long-term also allows the Montreal Canadiens to have their two best wingers tied up for the next four seasons for under eight million dollars, or less then one aging Ryan Getzlaf. Both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher are signed through their prime years.
Repercussions on the team
Every other home grown player on the Montreal Canadiens has signed a bridge deal. The difference may seem insignificant to outsiders, but it shows a shift in organization philosophy. There is a difference with Gallagher versus a player like Max Pacioretty: track record. Gallagher has a longer track record of offensive success in the NHL than Pacioretty did at the same time. And, although it is rarely mentioned when criticizing Marc Bergevin for bridging P.K. Subban, Subban would have been taken to free agency with the reported five year deal that was being discussed in 2013, buying just a single year of free agency eligibility. By forcing Subban into a bridge, the Montreal Canadiens were able to buy out 6 years of free agency, and lock him up for ten years instead of five.
Pros and Cons of the Bridge
There are pros and cons to bridge contracts. If they are looked at case by case, they make more sense. In the case of Subban, it meant getting through a cap crunch and having him under team control for longer. In the case of Pacioretty, it created a larger sample size, and allowed the Montreal Canadiens to determine how he recovered from serious injury. In the case of Gallagher, not bridging him allows them to buy out his prime years at a low cost. He is a known quantity already, and the contract is low risk. Gallagher's price point does the same job as a bridge deal without actually being a bridge deal.
There are downsides too. If the player is a cornerstone, you risk alienating the player. This was pointed out as a problem with the Subban contracts, but Subban mentioned in his Sports Illustrated interview with Michael Farber that Geoff Molson promised him that he would remain a Hab for a long time. There was the potential for alienation, much like in any contract negotiation. Subban's second and third contracts were both contentious negotiations. They also became contracts that benefitted both club and player in the end. The bridge deal worked out.
Impact on Galchenyuk
Oddly enough, I do not think straying away from the bridge contract model with Gallagher will impact Alex Galchenyuk at all. It may be most prudent for Galchenyuk and his agent to pursue a bridge deal, as Galchenyuk is two years younger, and has a higher ceiling. The age factor is notable because teenage forwards rarely do well in the NHL. Galchenyuk has, and it would be wise for his agent to simply bet on Galchenyuk improving over the next two seasons, and to negotiate a two year bridge. Bergevin would be wise to do this if costs are kept down, as the salary cap may not rise as quickly as once thought. In short, the bridge contract can benefit both player and team in the case of Galchenyuk.
Gallagher's Status on the Team
Aside from no longer having to room with Alex Galchenyuk on the road, not much should change for Brendan Gallagher. He was seen by management as a key part of the team going forward. He is still seen in that role today. It may be more prominent now that Gallagher is the player that broke the bridge contract mould for the Canadiens, but he is an important part of the team period. With Brian Gionta's departure this offseason, Gallagher assumed the number one right wing role, and he has performed well after an uneven start. Hopefully, he keeps up his play.