Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk would help get his team out of a tight space salary-cap wise by signing a bridge deal this summer as a restricted free agent. However, he would also be helping himself out in the process.
Drafted third overall in 2012, Galchenyuk has immense potential that he has yet to completely reach. That much is obvious by how he has yet to crack 50 points per season in the league and by how he nevertheless still has the most amount of points of anyone drafted that year (by a fairly wide margin, having scored 16 more than the first overall selection, Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov, who has just one less game played).
While one can argue that Galchenyuk may have just been taken in a weak draft class (that comprised studs Hampus Lindholm, Filip Forsberg, Olli Maatta, apparently Teuvo Teravainen after a single two-point game, and, yes, all-star Zemgus Girgensons), the fact remains that he is still just 21 years old. He has a lot of room to grow.
Canadiens In a Bad Place
One other byproduct of his age is how he’s still years away from unrestricted free agency. As a result, barring an offer sheet from a rival club, Galchenyuk, whose entry-level deal is now over with, will remain a Montreal Canadien for the foreseeable future. It now realistically becomes a question of how much it will cost the Canadiens.
Following the $5.5-million-per-year Jeff Petry deal, the Canadiens are in a bad place. They have under $5 million in cap space left relative to this year’s current $69 million cap, with next year’s projected $71.5 million cap figure in doubt. They also still have Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu, and several other players left to sign.
Needless to say, it would help general manager Marc Bergevin a great deal, at least short term, were Galchenyuk to accept a deal similar to the two-year, $5.75-million deal P.K. Subban signed as a restricted free agent at the start of the 2013 season. Long term, it remains to be seen.
Alex Galchenyuk vs. P.K. Subban
Obviously, with Subban winning the Norris Memorial Trophy that season and eventually signing his current eight-year, $72-million deal, one can argue that deal came back to bite Montreal. However, Subban is the exception and not the rule and in a way Bergevin still won that day back in early 2013.
Even though Subban obviously will end up earning a lot more as a result of that two-year deal (instead of signing a longer-term one over five years for much less than his current $9 million cap hit), Bergevin set a critical precedent then.
No one is above a bridge deal. Not a superstar defenseman after two consecutive, impressive 35-point-plus seasons, and certainly not a forward drafted as a center Bergevin publically stated at his post-season press conference may never have the acumen to switch over to his natural position.
Whereas that precedent admittedly didn’t apply to a player like Brendan Gallagher, for example, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Following his entry-level deal, Gallagher signed on for six years at $3.75 million per. That’s more than Subban got in his second deal, but Gallagher won’t be making as much in years three-to-six as Subban is making now.
Instead he got term, which works out for Montreal just fine, because what you see right now is likely what you’ll get with Gallagher: a valuable member of the team who plays a critical role, going to the places many others won’t. He takes his share of shots in the process, making one wonder if he’ll withstand the rigors of time by the age of 29 when his deal ends.
In sharp contrast, Galchenyuk is not yet the superstar he might very well end up, finding himself in much the same situation Subban did in 2013. Subban’s second Norris nomination this year since then offers hope in regard to just how fast it all can change for the better.
Alex Galchenyuk vs. Marc Bergevin
It is inherently odd that Bergevin would call out Galchenyuk like he did… were the two sides not preparing for a war of attrition negotiating a new deal. Bergevin arguably sees his job right now as having to devalue Galchenyuk as much as possible, while still making it clear that the Habs want to keep him in the fold. It’s a thin line, and one he doesn’t necessarily need to walk, even under the current circumstances.
All that is required of Bergevin is for him to point to Subban during the negotiation process and let Galchenyuk know that he can make out just as well if he performs up to his capabilities over the course of this next contract.
If he unfortunately doesn’t and continues along as a good second-line winger who isn’t quite elite, no harm no foul. Montreal won’t have overpaid for his services. He’ll still get a raise next time around, just not as big as if he were to take that next step in his development and prove Bergevin wrong.
It’s not like Bergevin would mind being made to look like a fool. He’ll gladly eventually pay up like he did with Subban… but in a few years from now, when the cap is presumably higher.
Everyone wins in that scenario. Possibly even the Canadiens as far as a championship is concerned with a legitimate No. 1 center finally. But right now it’s all up to Galchenyuk. First to show he’s a team player. Second to show he’s a franchise one.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.