The Montreal Canadiens face a series of key decisions in the next two seasons, including contract extensions for Max Pacioretty and Carey Price. This series starts this off-season, as their top young player, Alex Galchenyuk, approaches restricted free agency.
Questions have swirled around Galchenyuk — his offensive potential, his defensive prowess, his deployment and usage, and even his injury history — ever since he entered the league. Now, both Galchenyuk and the Canadiens stand at a crossroads. What should be done with a polarizing player who some view as a franchise centre and others view as a one-dimensional liability?
When we look at a potential new contract for Galchenyuk, there are many potential comparables for the first-line-level goal-scorer and point producer. They generally fall into four categories:
- Players who were signed to a long-term deal immediately following their entry-level contract (ELC)
- Players who were signed to a short-term bridge contract, followed by a long-term deal
- Players who were signed to multiple short-term bridge contracts, followed by a long-term deal
- Players who are coming off a post-ELC bridge contract and are current RFAs
Players who were not bridged coming off their entry-level contracts
When we look at players who received long-term deals immediately following the end of their initial entry-level deals, we’re talking about some of the best players in the NHL, including Tyler Seguin, Filip Forsberg, and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Statistically, Galchenyuk is not on par with most of the names on this list, but he’s not that far off either. His numbers accrued during his ELC are at the bottom of the list, relatively close to Vincent Trocheck and Evander Kane.
Given this, while Marc Bergevin was certainly justified in not doling out big money for six-plus years during the 2015 off-season, he also missed an opportunity to lock up Galchenyuk for under $5 million dollars long-term as Trocheck was, or, to bring things closer to home, Brendan Gallagher (who signed in that very off-season for six years at an average of 3.75 million.
But we don’t have a time machine. After the completion of his bridge contract, Galchenyuk’s current numbers still don’t put him in the upper echelon with the Forsbergs and Tarasenkos, but his career points-per-game production is reasonably close to the likes of post-ELC Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Saad, indicating a market value around $5.5 to 6.0 million.
Here, one can use Galchenyuk’s age and tenure in the NHL both for and against him. His extra experience can both drive down his AAV by inflating his statistics relative to ELC-only comparables, or drive up his AAV by costing him precious UFA years in any long-term deal.
Players who were bridged coming off their entry-level contracts
A more direct comparison is possible by looking at players who experienced the same contract history as Galchenyuk, although their numbers are relatively fewer. Here, we look at three possible comparables: Jonathan Huberdeau, Logan Couture, and a name that has swirled around Galchenyuk trade rumours for a while, Matt Duchene.
When looking at Couture and Duchene’s numbers, one should remember that those two played in a slightly different era offensively than Huberdeau and Galchenyuk. Nonetheless, we still see the same pattern emerging where Galchenyuk is not up to par with the likes of Couture and Duchene, but he’s again not too far off. His closest comparable in this cohort is definitely Huberdeau, which again puts Galchenyuk into the $5.5 to 6.0 million range, especially if he opts against non-movement clauses in his contract.
Players who were bridged twice coming off their entry-level contracts
The elusive double-bridge is not something that comes up often, but, given Bergevin’s track record, is something that needs to be discussed. Looking through player contract histories, only two appropriate names popped up for this cohort: Nazem Kadri and Ryan O’Reilly.
O’Reilly’s management-related drama is well noted, and likely was a leading factor in the double-bridge. For Kadri, it may have simply been a matter of the new management team wanting to properly evaluate the centre for a full season before committing long-term. In both cases, the second bridge represented a significant raise; Kadri’s salary increased by ~40% while O’Reilly’s rose by 20%. Averaging those out, a 30% raise for Alex Galchenyuk would mean an AAV of roughly $3.6 million.
However, Galchenyuk’s points production (above Kadri and close to O’Reilly) would likely mean a pay-day above $4.0 million, especially if arbitration was employed. The average cap hit for the 42 non-ELC players who hit 25 goals this NHL season was $5,097,962, and all of Galchenyuk’s comparables in any of the cohorts we’ve looked at so far have cap hits above $4.0 million.
Players who are in Galchenyuk’s situations this off-season
We’ve looked at historical contracts in assessing what potential possibilities exist for an Galchenyuk extension, but we also can’t neglect what effect his immediate peers might have in negotiations. There is a very talented crop of players this off-season in exactly the same situation as Galchenyuk, including Ryan Johansen, Ondrej Palat, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
What ultimately happens with Galchenyuk may be decided by what these five other individuals do. Not only will these players set the bar for this year’s RFA market value, but will also likely have a heavier impact on any decision made by an independent arbitrator than a historical contract. If Bergevin wants to maintain control over the situation, he would be best served by settling the Galchenyuk affair quickly.
Galchenyuk’s market value is higher than what Marc Bergevin likely wants to pay
With the majority of his extended comparables in the $5.0 to 7.0 million range, Alex Galchenyuk will likely be seeking at least $5.0 million per year in any contract, whether short-term or long-term. At the barest of minimums, Galchenyuk has the leverage and the pedigree to obtain a short-term contract with a significantly greater AAV than that of Brendan Gallagher ($3.75 million) and David Desharnais ($3.5 million).
For Bergevin, playing hardball with Galchenyuk only works to the American’s advantage. The young forward holds most of the cards in arbitration, and any contract that takes Galchenyuk one year closer to UFA status without giving up any UFA years is one that will ultimately net him more money. In a nuclear situation, walking away from an arbitrator’s ruling simply puts a 30-goal-scoring young centre on the UFA market, and turns the Canadiens’ hole down the middle into a gaping maw.