Marc Bergevin must tread carefully during trade negotiations

The Canadiens are in a jam, and the options are limited.

“He’s a big centre, and they don’t come by ... when they do, you draft them. You can’t really trade for them. Because for one, they’re not available. Down the middle for me has to be a strength, and he fits the bill. I met him a few times, and we did our due diligence on him. The character and the skill, for me, it was no question he was the guy we wanted.”

That was Marc Bergevin’s reaction following Alex Galchenyuk’s selection as Montreal’s first-round pick at 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

It brought not only optimism, but a breath of fresh air for a fan base that had been lamenting a lack of developed talent in recent years, as well as a decade-long absence of a true number one centre.

Two months earlier, Bergevin had been given control of a franchise that was in reasonably good shape. He inherited the third-overall draft pick used to select Galchenyuk, which was a major boon at the time considering the 2012-13 season was an obvious outlier in terms of team performance. With Max Pacioretty, who would become one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL, Carey Price, who went on to become the best goalie in the world, and P.K. Subban, who won the Norris Trophy as the best defenceman in the NHL at the end of Bergevin’s first year, he truly had three pillars of strength; a rare scenario for an incoming general manager.

Fast forward five years — the vast majority of which saw Alex Galchenyuk developed as a winger — and we are hearing that the Canadiens are listening to offers on their talented centreman. Montreal still lacks talent down the middle.

Not only is Galchenyuk on the market: the Habs are also shopping their 2011 first-round pick, Nathan Beaulieu. If both leave this summer, it means the Canadiens will have dealt their 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 first-round picks, a counterproductive experiment when attempting to build through the draft.

As a 22-year-old, Galchenyuk managed to score 30 goals with third-line minutes, and despite being shifted all around the lineup last year and attempting to recover from a major knee injury, he produced a 59-point prorated season and finished second on the team for points per game. That put him ahead Alexander Radulov, who happens to be one of the most sought after forwards in the upcoming free agency crop.

Bergevin explained that his player actually took a step back this season, the last thing you want to say before you attempt to trade a young player that should hold high value in the NHL. In any trade negotiation involving Galchenyuk, Bergevin is immediately negotiating from a position of weakness: a position he placed himself in.

Truth be told, Galchenyuk has done quite well considering his inconsistent usage over the last couple years, and his absolute lack of development opportunities as a centre before that.

Through 2015 to 2017, Galchenyuk ranks 27th among all centres in terms of points per game. What’s more, with the exception of Logan Couture (tied for 27th) and the amazing Evgeni Malkin (3rd), Galchenyuk has logged a lot less ice time than his colleagues, not to mention he established this pace without a steady top-line deployment.

Throughout the last two years, Galchenyuk’s greatest linemate stability was a 10-game stretch alongside Lars Eller and Alex Semin. He experienced 20 different combinations in that time, and yet still managed to put up excellent numbers.

While the issue remains that his defensive play is not quite up to snuff, it’s hard to ignore his first-line production and impact throughout the inconsistent usage. To lose all value, Galchenyuk would have to be one of the worst forwards in the NHL in terms of defensive prowess. Players peak at 26 years old in the NHL, and on average that lasts three to four years, which means that the best is yet to come, including improvements in Galchenyuk’s defensive game.

The evolution of the NHL is as clear as it is simple: talent & youthful impact is the key. Measurable value is what you need to focus on when acquiring a player.

If the Canadiens are intent on trading Galchenyuk, they would be wise to aim for a player that’s roughly the same age, who is an established centre, and who brings all the talent, creativity, and goal-scoring prowess to the table as Galchenyuk does.

There’s no room for error. The Canadiens cannot afford mortgage the future, and Bergevin needs to have the foresight to leave some assets for his successor to work with once he rides off into the sunset.

His team does need a centre, there’s no doubt about it, and if they’re not willing to trust Galchenyuk in that position, they very well could be justified in dealing him. But they absolutely need to improve their team in doing so.

If the general manager can’t find fair value — in a centreman — the Habs would be wise to remain patient with their 23-year-old forward.

As Marc Bergevin previously stated, those types of players rarely come around, and when they do, they aren’t traded.

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