With the Montreal Canadiens stumbling out of the gate to the start the 2017-18 NHL season, the team — and the fans — are looking for answers.
The Habs are struggling to score goals despite controlling the shots and possession numbers on a regular basis. With the team record sitting at just 1-3-1, the common response is to pin the blame on a player or the coach. Given the strength of performances, and the sheer awfulness of the Canadiens’ luck, it isn’t fair to attribute blame to any one person.
However, the current lineup configuration points toward one player who is currently underperforming the most, and that player is Alex Galchenyuk. The former third overall pick has been the target of extreme criticism at almost every turn this year. Some criticism might be warranted; the Habs’ offence has sputtered to an anemic start this season, and as a major focal point of the team in previous seasons, Galchenyuk does shoulder some of the fault. However, the Canadiens as a whole have been doing all the right things offensively through five game.
The issue is that right now they couldn’t buy a goal if it were on a Black Friday special.
It’s not entirely on Galchenyuk. No one on the team is having any luck so far this year (though he is one of the seven players who have scored a goal). With the lowest PDO in the league currently, the Habs offence hasn’t been intimidating anyone this year.
Galchenyuk has been in the spotlight for the better part of the off-season after Jonathan Drouin was named as the Habs’ top-line centre. It was presumed beforehand that the young American would reclaim his spot on the top line after a successful 2016-17 campaign that saw him score 30 goals was followed up with one on pace for similar numbers before a knee injury derailed his season.
Now he’s been shifted back to the wing, despite it being noted several times in the past that he is better suited to playing in the middle of the ice. With a power play struggling to get shots on net, and Galchenyuk out of his natural position, it’s no wonder he has been struggling to start the year. It’s been enough that Claude Julien in practice this week has dropped Galchenyuk down to the fourth line; on Torrey Mitchell’s wing.
This presents the lingering question: would trading Alex Galcheyuk benefit the Canadiens?
It’s not an easy one to answer, as Marc Bergevin would not be dealing from a position of strength, and more than likely isn’t going to come out on top in a player swap. The flipside of this is that Galchenyuk’s perceived value among the other GMs in the NHL is higher than his performance since coming back from his injury has been.
The case for
The simplest reasoning for trading Galchenyuk is that, out of all the tradeable assets Montreal has, he can bring back the most in return. What that return is, no one truly knows at this point in time. Based off the rumours that floated around in this off-season, we can assume a top-four defenceman is the ask.
Montreal currently has their numbers three and four defenders locked down long term, with Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner anchoring the second pairing, while Shea Weber plays with Victor Mete on the top pair. In a small sample, Mete has done more than hold his own in the Canadiens’ lineup, but going after a more established player might be something Bergevin would consider, even with David Schlemko in the mix.
With Marco Scandella in Buffalo now, Bergevin’s presumed summer target is likely off the table, but there are options elsewhere.
The New York Islanders were said to have had interest in Galchenyuk, and the name that immediately comes to mind in a trade is Nick Leddy. The American defender boasts solid puck-moving and offensive skills to complement Weber, and is more than proven at the NHL level. By adding a player like Leddy to Weber’s pairing, the Habs can likely get back to what made the Andrei Markov-Weber pairing so effective at the end of last year: Leddy allows Weber to get into the offensive zone by transitioning the puck, and Weber sets up to receive passes for his booming slapshot.
With Mark Streit no longer in the picture, the off-season addition to the defence who was supposed to add some offence is now gone. The rest of the core has not played up to what they’re capable of, and adding a piece of Leddy’s calibre might be the best deal Bergevin can pull off right now.
The case against
The most obvious argument against trading Galchenyuk is that he’s one of, if not the most skilled forwards Montreal has, and trading him creates an immediate talent void in the roster. There are young prospects, like Nikita Scherbak, who possess top-end skill, but aren’t ready to step into the role Galchenyuk has played.
The bigger issue facing the Canadiens in this potential trade is that they are not dealing from a position of strength. Galchenyuk has gone from being a breakout star, playing at centre on the top line and scoring 30 goals, to being demoted to the wing, then to the fourth line in the playoffs, to taking a regular shift there now during the season. His slow start hasn’t helped bolster his value, so trading him for a big name likely forces Montreal to surrender more than what should be required.
There may be interest in swapping him for Matt Duchene, and Joe Sakic has had a high price tag on his player from day one.
If Bergevin is insistent on landing Duchene, he’s already going to be surrendering Galchenyuk, and the asking price may include a first-round pick going to Colorado along with him. With the two players not that far apart in their abilities, that just hurts Montreal further down the road.
The prospect pool, while slowly being replenished, lacks a ton of high-end talents. Scherbak and the newly drafted Joni Ikonen would be appealing options to a rebuilding team like the Avalanche, as would a steady defender like Noah Juulsen. Given the Canadiens situation, losing any of their marquee prospects hurts if the rest of their off-season additions don’t work out.
It’s not smart to trade from the Habs current situation. They won’t get nearly the return that Galchenyuk is worth, few teams are looking to part with top players now that season has started, and the Canadiens would likely have to give up far more to get less in return. Not to mention they’d be trading an asset that isn’t actively hurting the team, and has proven to be invaluable previously, especially on offence, which is the the most pressing concern of the team in recent history.
Galchenyuk, like almost everyone else on the Montreal roster, is suffering through a brutal run of bad luck. Panicking and trading him to try to find a magic fix isn’t the move a forward-thinking GM makes.
There’s a strong case to be made for keeping, and also trading, Alex Galchenyuk, and it’s a major decision that Marc Bergevin will have to manage properly.
Personally, I believe keeping Galchenyuk would benefit the Canadiens best in the long run, unless they can land a true top-two defender to help bolster the blue-line corps. It’s not easy to land that player, however, and as mentioned above, the Canadiens aren’t exactly in a position of power in a trade negotiation.
It’s a saga that will likely crop up multiple times this year, but hopefully with a turnaround in luck and some wins, these trade rumours will soon be a distant memory.