Brendan Gallagher’s career ends 1 of 5 ways
The Montreal Canadiens celebrated the return from injury of Brendan Gallagher and Kirby Dach. 3-2 upset over the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 21. Only one of the two really contributed to the victory, Dache opening the scoring in the first period. Unfortunately, it’s a familiar story from Gallagher’s perspective, something Habs fans will have to get used to moving on.
Plagued by injuries throughout his career, Gallagher’s production has fallen off a cliff from where it once was. Now 31, Gallagher has just four goals and nine points in 26 games. So what can be expected from the forward who has been rough over the past four seasons of his six-year, $39 million contract? Here are the five most likely scenarios, ranked in order:
5. Gallagher rediscovers his scoring touch
A few seasons ago, Gallagher was coming off two consecutive 30-goal, 50-point seasons. Heck, even in 2019-20, in just 59 games, he scored an impressive 22 goals and 43 points. However, those 59 games were a sign of a trend, as he played just 35 of 56 games in 2020-21, when the Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup Final.
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In those 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, he began to show a lack of production, scoring just six points in 22 games. However, seeing as the Canadiens were winning and playing with the team’s primary shutdown center in Phillip Danault, no one read too much into it.
Of course, then the Habs let Danault and Tomas Tatar, Gallagher’s other linemate on one of the NHL’s traditionally best units, walk as free agents during the offseason. The outings didn’t help, as his offensive struggles continued to a low of seven goals (and 24 points) through 56 games in 2021-22. In the offseason, Gallagher expressed his belief that a long season without the playoffs (after the Habs finished last) would help with his training and get him back to where he needed to be.
After all, Gallagher has been proven wrong. Defensively, he’s averaging just 14:11 per game, less than bottom-six forward Jake Evans (14:22). However, in 2017-18, when he scored a career-high 54 points, he clocked a relatively modest 16:09. So, without a doubt, it was always a strategic expansion.
Now that the Canadiens have more offensive weapons at their disposal (when healthy), players in the prime of their careers, it’s very difficult to get the opportunities Gallagher once had. with that Christian Dvorak playing as their first centerThe Canadiens seem resigned to offering him third-line minutes from now on, in hopes that he can at least remain effective in other ways…at least as long as he remains a Hab.
4. Gallagher trades
Ideally, you’d better believe the Canadiens would trade Gallagher. After all, CEO Kent Hughes inherited the contract. Predecessor Marc Bergevin signed Gallagher in late 2020, giving him a no-change clause (a six-team no-trade list) to boot, making it difficult to negotiate in the first place.
Related: Canadiens with most non-negotiable contracts at the end of 2022-23
With Gallagher’s age and the amount of time left on his deal, the Canadiens are naturally unlikely to find a taker for his services, at least in the near future. That could change when Gallagher’s contract expires, as his salary drops from a high of $9 million in 2024-25 to a low of $4 million in 2026-27. So, as he awaits unrestricted free agency, maybe, but first Gallagher has to stay reasonably healthy until then.
3. Gallagher retires early
An early retirement for Gallagher is hardly on the wish list of Canadiens fans. However, with goaltender Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber both “retired” (for all intents and purposes) in recent seasons without their deals actually happening, it’s at least an option everyone should consider.
After all, Gallagher has played just 176 (280) games since the start of 2019-20. Even before that point, he was regularly taking punishments every night. That’s not including a back-to-back 2015-17 season in which he was plagued by numerous hand injuries, from which he was more effective than ever in scoring and driving the game.
However, the injuries add up and Gallagher, now in the midst of an undeniable career, may still have the mindset of a warrior, if not the body of one. It’s hard to imagine Gallagher staying healthy for the remainder of his deal, after which he’ll be 35, at which point the Canadiens will re-sign him ( Over 35 contract) is doubtful. Even if he doesn’t retire, there’s no guarantee the Canadiens will keep him in the cap.
2. Canadiens Buy Out Gallagher
Canadians won’t buy Gallagher ASAP or anything. After all, the acquisition of Karl Alzner remains on the books until next season. Also, given that Gallagher is over 26 years old, any buyout would be worth two-thirds of his remaining contract value. So the longer Canadians wait the less it hurts.
Since the Canadiens don’t want to realistically compete in the next couple of seasons, they don’t need to be in a rush to free up cap space. However, it becomes more of a possibility the closer the Canadiens get to a playoff spot, especially as the cap ceiling increases.
Notably, it won’t be Gallagher’s $6.5 million hit that becomes a hindrance. If his play continues to decline, his roster spot will go to someone else as well. A buyout frees up the latter, and gives Canadians at least some relief with regard to the former.
1. Gallagher remains with Canadiens in reduced role
In part, this piece is about addressing the elephant in the room. No one should be cheering for Gallagher’s tenure with the Canadiens to end, even if it does eventually happen one way or another.
Granted, based on Gallagher’s devotion to the team and his injury-riddled stint with the Canadiens, he’s 100% every round (by all appearances), he’s earned the right to go out on his own terms. , if he wants it as a Hab. However, what he won and what will happen are two different things because the NHL is a business at the end of the day.
The Canadiens cannot continue to give ice time to a forward who is not producing. The fact that Gallagher is playing in a reduced role than in his prime proves that they recognize that. So, look for the situation to come true in the future, reducing his ice time further.
It’s an unfortunate reality, but Gallagher is staying put, barring a trade in the final year of his contract, at which point the Canadiens will likely have to hold on to salary (maybe even add a sweetener). Any point before 2026-27, and the Canadiens will have to retain his salary for each season remaining on his contract, making a deal sooner than that likely.
Gallagher’s reduced role with the Canadiens is sad in some ways, as it marks the end of an era. However, it also represents a natural changing of the guard and a way for the Canadiens to become more competitive in the coming seasons. As Hughes’ rebuild continues to take shape, it makes sense to reduce Gallagher’s play-by-play presence, as his decline has coincided with the hiring of the new GM.
This is Hughes’ team. Until he was hired, Gallagher’s career with the Canadiens spanned Bergevin’s tenure (although he was officially drafted by Pierre Gauthier). So Hughes’ loyalty to Gallagher is primarily professional in nature, even if it is local and he must recognize what the striker means to the team and his fans.
Hughes should be expected to do what’s right for the Habs as an organization, which is why a buyout is finally on the table. However, this isn’t Alzner 2.0, because while Gallagher’s last contract wasn’t a great idea, it wasn’t a mistake either. Gallagher was underpaid for what he brought to the table for most of his career. So it makes sense to have a seat in it for as long as humanly possible as he continues to contribute as the consummate professional and leader he has always been. No one should expect at least that part to change.