Montreal Canadiens: It’s Finally Time to Split Up Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher

MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 02: Montreal Canadiens Phillip Danault (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 02: Montreal Canadiens Phillip Danault (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens teams have lacked depth down the middle for many, many years. Not since the years that a young Saku Koivu was learning the ropes from Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse did the Habs have a long term plan at centre ice.

Of course, Rejean Houle traded away two-thirds of that plan for veteran spare parts to make room for Scott Thornton and Sergei Zholtok down the middle.

Centre ice has been a black hole every since.

That appears to be changing. With Phillip Danault serving as the veteran at the position, Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans look to have bright futures at centre for the Habs. Finally, there is a chance for some long term success at centre ice for the Canadiens.

The next move that needs to be made is to move Danault down the depth chart.

The 28 year old is in the last year of his contract, but he is not doing himself any favours in contract negotiations with his current play. The Victoriaville native has not scored a goal yet this season and has just eight assists in 21 games.

He is a terrific defensive player, but he isn’t offering anything offensively this season. He scored an empty net goal in the postseason, but that is his only goal since February 29th 2020. It’s been more than a year since he beat a goaltender.

That’s why it is finally time to separate Danault from Brendan Gallagher.

Gallagher has been the team’s best goal scorer for the past three seasons. He has some serious competition for that position this year thanks to newcomers Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, but also because he is playing with a centre who can’t create offence.

Danault has played 274 minutes at 5 on 5 so far this season. 232 of those minutes have been with Gallagher on the ice. They can shut down opponents, but the combination is also holding Gallagher back.

Danault is still a valuable player, but he needs to be moved down the lineup. He played 18:02 in the Habs win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night which was the third most ice time among Habs forwards. Only Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli played more.

This has been a constant all season. Danault playing tons of minutes and also not scoring any goals, of course.

Meanwhile, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been showing flashes of tremendous skill but he rarely gets more than 15 minutes of ice time in a game. Kotkaniemi hasn’t been lighting it up offensively, with two goals and ten points in 21 games, but with better linemates perhaps he could find the net more. And, perhaps Gallagher could find the net more with a creative centre like Kotkaniemi.

It’s time the Habs give up on trying to find offence from Danault. Even in his best seasons when he played with Alex Radulov and Max Pacioretty or Tomas Tatar and Gallagher, he couldn’t score more than 13 goals. He might not score any this season.

That’s why the Habs need to move him down to a defensive minded third line with Tatar and Joel Armia or Paul Byron or Artturi Lehkonen.

This would allow Kotkaniemi to move up to a more offensive line with Gallagher and Toffoli. Kotkaniemi’s speed, vision and creativity make him a much better fit with goal scoring wingers like Gallagher and Toffoli than Danault.

This little swap would give the Habs another good scoring line behind the Drouin, Suzuki, Anderson trio and also a terrific shutdown line of Tatar, Danault and Armia that does have some potential to produce offence. Also, all three are pending UFAs and would be helping each other out in negotiations by playing well.

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Danault was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 for pending UFAs Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. He has proven to be a steal, but he has also proven he isn’t a scoring centre. It’s time the Canadiens put him in the primarily defensive role that he is perfectly suited to fill and allow Gallagher to play with a more creative centre.