Rabid Habs

Alex Galchenyuk’s Future With Habs

Much was made of Marc Bergevin’s post season press conference in Brossard last Friday as it pertains to Alex Galchenyuk and his future. Bergevin seemed to be reluctant to comment on it a lot but the media kept circling back to it in terms of his future as well as his future role and position in the long run. Bergevin indicated that there was no guarantee that he would be a center with the team long term, which raised a few eyebrows among the fans and media. Is Bergevin saying Galchenyuk is not the #1 center of the future? What does that mean for the team long term? That led to some questions in regards to the Habs possibly trading for that “big number 1 center” plus the cost and availability of such players. Here is my take on the situation and those comments.

First of all, people have to realize that Alex Galchenyuk is a restricted free agent on July 1st, so Bergevin, like the PK Subban negotiations in 2012 and 2014, is playing the PR game trying not to shoot himself in the foot by making declarations about Galchenyuk’s future and role and forcing himself to pay more in his upcoming contract. He is likely to try and sign the young forward to a bridge contract, much like he did with Pacioretty, Subban and Eller. Expect something in the 2 year and 3 million annual average value as the starting point, possibly ending around a 2 year 8 million dollar deal. There have been rumors that Galchenyuk’s agent is sniffing in Russia’s KHL and getting offers from those teams. I don’t believe that’s a realistic option. At 21 and only a few years from making big NHL money, it’s doubtful the youngster and his family would want him in that league given recent reports that due to the Ruble dropping as a result of the oil prices, many KHL teams are struggling to pay their players. The drop in the Ruble on the international market means a foreign player takes a much bigger hit when transferring them to Canadian or US dollars.  The negotiations could drag on much like Subban but I expect things to get done. Which brings me to my second point.

I believe they see Galchenyuk as a big player, both literally and figuratively, in the future of the team. However there are many reasons they would hold back the reigns a bit and weigh their comments to the media. Most well run NHL teams will make young players work for their ice time by making improvements in their game as well as adjustments allowing them to reach new heights, insulating them with good veteran players. A young player being given everything (money, large role and ice time) too quickly can backfire both in terms of on ice performance and off ice behavior. The Oilers’ recent struggles and problems in growing as a team are an example of that by having to rely on young players too soon. Players like Tyler Myers, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and others are examples of it backfiring on a team. Galchenyuk came into the NHL with a good work ethic, so that should not be an issue, however we can’t forget that he is only 21, so it’s normal that he still has some growing up to do. The main thing the Habs need from him is to take the next step offensively. He had a strong first half and looked to be headed for over 50 points but struggled late in the season and playoffs. Part of that is more consistency night in and night out. Another part is to use his teammates more rather than trying to beat defenders 1 on 1. Right now this is the main flaw in his game offensively, plus as well he needs to take more pucks to the net. Given his size and skills this will result in more goals and points. This means playing a more north-south games and less east-west in hockey jargon, he has all the tools but needs to make it easier on himself by keeping it a bit more simple. You need to be careful with this because you don’t want him to over adjust and become a grinder either.

In terms of his future position, I believe that is secondary. If he develops into an impact offensive player, it won’t matter if he is a center or winger. Much like the Patrick Kane’s, Corey Perry’s, Rick Nash’s and Martin St.Louis’s of the world. I think if he takes that next step, that will ease the transition to the center position by being a player that should be on the ice in key spots. Let’s not forget that playing center at the NHL level adds more responsibility, faceoffs are a concern and helping out defensively down low in your own end is very important. Delaying those extra responsibilities frees him up to develop faster on offense, not the other way around. At the pro level, offensively, a winger has all the freedom to make plays or carry the puck as a center does, which is what allows the aforementioned wingers the ability to put up the numbers they do. No doubt the Habs need the 24 or 25 year old version of Galchenyuk with the polished game at both ends playing center for them. But rushing him into that role and those responsibilities could derail his development and that appears to be something Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin are not willing to risk for short term benefit. I think the plan still has Galchenyuk in that role (top line center) down the road, but they are in no rush to put excess pressure on his shoulders.