What does the future hold for Brendan Gallagher?

His 200th career goal reminded us how much of a steal he was, and also of the risk associated with offering contracts based on past performance.

In a thrilling shootout win for the Montreal Canadiens over the Buffalo Sabres, there was a lot to like from the Tricolore. It wasn’t one of those wins where their goaltender needed to stand on his head, they legitimately took over the game in the third period, and ultimately prevailed thanks to a great Michael Pezzetta moment in the shootout.

With the Habs down a goal heading into that final frame, they turned up the heat in a big way. Brendan Gallagher was a big part of that effort, scoring his 200th career goal to tie the game, eventually permitting the team to get to bonus hockey and win it.

Seeing him hit such a milestone is a great reminder of the value the Habs have gotten out of him as a fifth-round pick. The odds of drafting NHL players in that round aren’t great, and the odds of getting 200-goal scorers are even worse. In an era where drafting and development were not exactly a strength for the club, he stands as one of their best success stories.

But he also stands as somewhat of a cautionary tale for handing out contracts based on past performance. After putting up 43 points through 59 games in the 2019-20 season, and significantly outperforming the terms of his previous contract, the club inked a six-year extension worth $6.5 million AAV very early in the 2020-21 campaign. He ended up missing significant time that very season, but would return for their cinderella run to the Stanley Cup final.

But the injury problems seem to have snowballed since then. In 2021-22, the first year of his new contract, he only suited up for 56 games. This season, he’s played less than half of the team’s games to date. There are legitimate concerns about whether his style of play — fearlessly putting himself in harm’s way to get to the front of the net — will only exacerbate his injury woes now that he’s on the north side of 30 years old.

He proved last night against the Sabres that he can still be highly effective, but in a perfect world, his contract is likely one that the team would prefer to move on from as part of their rebuild. I think if they can find a team willing to accept his level of injury risk this offseason, they’d pull the trigger.

Buying him out is simply a non-option, as the cap implications would persist through the 2030-31 season.

They know he can still be effective when healthy, so they’ll have to find ways to put him in a position to succeed, should a trade be out of the question. Perhaps a pitch count of sorts, limiting his minutes where necessary and executing some load management, would reduce the risk of injury and allow him to perform at his best. Towards the end of his deal, the team should be rebuilt enough to take a run, and his situation can be re-evaluated when that time comes.

For now, it was just great to see him hit a well-deserved milestone. The team and its fan base will have to hope that this is a sign of resurgence, and that he can put his injury issues behind him.

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