Montreal Canadiens Need to Find a Centre For Brendan Gallagher

Jan 23, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 23, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

The Montreal Canadiens made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final last season and then crashed to the bottom of the NHL standings this season.

From so close to the top of the mountain to falling on their face in a puddle at the base of the mountain. It takes a lot of things going wrong for that type of turnaround.

A couple of those things were out of their control. Like Shea Weber being too injured to put hockey gear on this season. Carey Price missing all but four games. An incredible run of injuries that saw them use 46 players this season. Jake Allen also going down for so long that Samuel Montembault, claimed off waivers, has to play 37 games.

But, the Canadiens also shot themselves in the foot with a few decisions. Letting Jesperi Kotkaniemi walk was controversial, but it’s not like he set the world on fire offensively this season. The decision that has backfired the most was letting Phillip Danault was as a free agent and sign with the Los Angeles Kings.

Danault signed a six year contract with a $5.5 million cap hit. That seems a bit high for someone who had a career high of 13 goals in Montreal, but he was as good defensively as anyone in the game.

His departure also had a huge negative impact of Brendan Gallagher’s game.

The duo combined with Tomas Tatar to form possibly the best two-way line in hockey for three seasons. Danault might not have lit up the scoresheet during his time with the Canadiens, but Gallagher sure did.

In their first year playing together, in 2017-18, Gallagher hit 30 goals for the first time in his career. The following season Tatar joined them and Gallagher scored 33. In 2019-20, the gritty winger chipped in 22 goals in 59 games which had him on pace for 31. Last season he had 14 in 35 which was on pace for 33.

This season, with Danault in Los Angeles, Gallagher has scored six goals in 54 games. He is scoring like a nine goal guy over the course of a full season.

While Gallagher played almost all of his minutes with Danault over the past three seasons, he has pretty much split time evenly with Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans, Christian Dvorak and Laurent Dauphin this season. He just hasn’t found chemistry with any of them really. He put up good underlying numbers with Suzuki, but Cole Caufield will be the right winger on that line.

The veteran winger also has good analytics with Dauphin and Evans, but neither of them have the offensive side to their game to make Gallagher a 30 goal guy again. For some reason, Dvorak and Gallagher just haven’t clicked and found that chemistry together.

Gallagher is in the first year of a six year contract with a cap hit of $6.5 million. His offence has completely disappeared after he was one of the better bargains in the NHL for the past few seasons.

One thing the Canadiens need to do this offseason is prioritize finding a centre to play with Gallagher. They need a two-way threat like Danault who can handle tough defensive matchups, but also grind away in the offensive zone on the forecheck and get the puck to the front of the net where Gallagher can tap it over the finish line.

This player could fall into their laps if they get the first overall pick and draft Shane Wright. Having a veteran like Gallagher on his line would be ideal for a young player, and Wright’s terrific two-way game would allow him to handle the defensive assignments with Gallagher while helping the veteran get back to his 25-30 goal seasons.

If Wright doesn’t end up in Montreal, the Canadiens need to find a centre in free agency. Patrice Bergeron would be an excellent fit, but may not want to join the worst team in the league at his age. The same could be said for Paul Stastny.

Andrew Copp would be an interesting option as a free agent. He has 53 points in 71 games this season while taking on tough defensive assignments and playing a gritty two-way style. At 27, he has a number of good years in front of him.

Vincent Trocheck is a year older than Copp, and has 48 points in 79 games for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. They have already committed a lot of money to Kotkaniemi to take over his role next season so he is likely hitting the open market.

It might take a large financial commitment to get Copp or Trocheck signed. However, especially if the Habs can get rid of an overpaid winger like Mike Hoffman or Joel Armia, the money would be well worth the investment. Not only would they be adding a player at a more impactful position, they would be getting good Gallagher back in the meantime.

Next season might not be a contending one for the Canadiens. However, if they can get Copp or Trocheck signed for a few seasons to kickstart Gallagher, they would have the makings of a great young line in Suzuki and Caufield followed by a terrific veteran, defensive line that could take a lot of pressure off Suzuki and Caufield.

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