Now that the NHL and the NHLPA finally managed to conclude a deal and agree to a new collective bargaining agreement yesterday morning, NHL training camps are slated to open between Wednesday and Saturday all around the league after the Board of Governors meets on Tuesday to officially ratify the new agreement.
The exact specifics of the season are still unknown, but Habs fans should expect a 48-game season that will begin on January 19th, 2013 at Air Canada Centre against their division arch-rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. New general manager Marc Bergevin will be hard pressed to put a competitive roster on the ice after the Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference last season.
Bergevin will have to start negotiating with restricted free agent PK Subban in order to sign the über-talented and charismatic defender to a long-term contract in time for the beginning of the shortened season. Another important decision that Bergevin and his new head coach Michel Therrien will have to make is whether or not to keep the Habs’ third-overall selection of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal or send him back to his junior team, the Sarnia Sting.
Overall, 2012 has been a successful year for the 18 year-old American. Galchenyuk played a key role in the United States’ gold medal victory over Sweden at the 2013 IIHF U-20 Championship, recording 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points in 7 contests, to go along with a +2 plus/minus differential during the tournament.
Prior to his participation to the World Juniors, Galchenyuk had recorded 61 points in 33 games (27 goals, 34 assists) while posting a solid +16 plus/minus differential with the Sarnia Sting. Now back with the Sting, the native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could finish the season with more than 100 points should he remain in the OHL.
Impressed by his performance at the World Junior Championship and in the OHL, many Canadiens fans are asking for the organization to keep Galchenyuk in Montreal for the whole shortened season. While that sounds interesting and tempting to bring the youngster up to play with the big boys like Nail Yakupov with the Edmonton Oilers or Jonathan Huberdeau with the Florida Panthers, the Canadiens would be wise to leave Gally in the OHL for the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign.
Still, look for the Canadiens to invite him to their one-week training camp to see what the young man can do against professional hockey players. The team currently has 13 forwards on a one-way contract, not including Louis Leblanc who played 42 games in the NHL last year and who is currently playing in the AHL for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Keeping Galchenyuk creates two problems for Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin. First, the lack of playing time on the first two forward lines will be hard to come by. With the first-line of Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty set in stone to begin the season, and a probable second line of Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque, Galchenyuk, who can play center or right wing, would find himself playing with Lars Eller and Travis Moen on the team’s checking line. Not exactly the best way to develop a top draft pick!
The other hurdle is his entry-level contract. Should he make the NHL after the brief training camp, Gally would earn a prorated $3,225,000 over the remainder the season and burn one year of his entry-level contract. With PK Subban still unsigned (and most likely commanding a salary around $5 million per year) and the organization already tight against the salary cap at $63,897,976 (of $70,200,000), it is safe to assume that the organization would be best suited if they return Galchenyuk to Sarnia to polish his skills and continue to dominate among his group age.
Finally, with the Canadiens most likely battling for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference and not being serious Stanley Cup contenders, Galchenyuk would greatly benefit from a full junior season after missing most of last campaign due to a major knee surgery, and graduate with the Canadiens next September instead.
***UPDATE***: With Scott Gomez being sent home, it looks like Galchenyuk will at least play a few games with the Habs this season while Tomas Plekanec recovers from his minor injury.