Canadiens Face Difficult Choice with Gallagher

The Montreal Canadiens are about to restart their 2021-22 season after a longer-than-expected COVID-19 protocol pause. As the Habs get set to face off against their historic rivals, the Boston Bruins, on Jan 12 in Boston after an 11-day break, rumours are swirling around almost every player, and Brendan Gallagher is no exception.

Gallagher is a heart and soul player, who gives his best effort on every shift. That and his ability to consistently go to the net to score goals are traits that all 32 NHL franchises would love to have on their roster.

Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher
PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 20: Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) gains control of the puck as Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning (23) chases him. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Canadiens have two options when it comes to the 29-year-old right-winger’s future, who is at the heart of the organization: do they keep him, or do they trade him?

Trade Gallagher

New executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton has not stated if the Canadiens will enter a rebuild or if they will retool the lineup. However, owner Geoff Molson has stated he isn’t afraid of a full rebuild:

“I’m not afraid of that word,” Molson said on Monday when discussing the team’s future. “I think our fans wouldn’t be afraid of that word either.”

– Geoff Molson

Gallagher is in the first year of a six-year contract worth an average value of $6.5 million. It also includes a six-team no-trade list that he will provide before each season. That being said, Gorton’s biggest hurdle to moving him will be Gallagher’s cap hit, his age, and the wear on his body from his style of play. If they can leap over those issues, they might find a trade partner.

Related: Canadiens Need to Start Rebuild with Fire Sale

Teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Gallagher’s hometown, need a player like him. However, they, like most teams, are up against the cap, and they’ll have to match any money coming in with an equal amount going out, which will limit the trade value for the Canadiens. However, perhaps the Habs would be interested in a first-round pick or a high-end prospect in addition to the contract they must take on in return, although the term would have to be shorter than Gallagher’s. In that case, Tyson Barrie, who has two years remaining on his deal at $4.5 million, could be a good fit and would open up space on the Oilers’ blue line for one of their prospects.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Would Gallagher want to remain in Montreal if they rebuild? Gorton will have to discuss that with the team’s alternate captain.

“This is my 10th season now, and I have always had a desire to win. I love the team and the city, but I haven’t taken the time to think about what I would do if management announced a major rebuild. That’s a discussion we should have in the future.”

–Brendan Gallagher

If he would rather leave, that would be step one. The next would be making a trade, and, for the Canadiens, no deal would make sense without picks or prospects coming to Montreal. The likelihood that a trade of that magnitude involving Gallagher will happen this season or offseason is low.

Gallagher Decides to Stay

The best-case scenario is that Gallagher decides he wants to remain in Montreal. However, it’s also possible there are no takers in a trade offer or that Gorton doesn’t find an acceptable deal. Either way, if he remains with the Canadiens, he will provide the young core with vital veteran leadership, not just in the locker room with advice on how to train, diet, and be professional, but also with their approach to the game. He plays an all-or-nothing style based on 100% effort on every shift. He leads by example, and that would be invaluable for the young core to emulate.

As a fan-favourite, Gallagher leading the team and being accountable would only endear him further to Canadiens fans. The organization hasn’t had a career player for over a generation, a player who bleeds Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge. The last revered player to come close was Saku Koivu, but he ended his career with the Anaheim Ducks.

It’s important for him to be seen as not just a player but also a member of the community, as Koivu was. The new vice president of communications, Chantal Machabee understands the importance of connecting with the fans:

“I want people to know there’s heroes on that team. I want the fans to know the players better. I want the fans to realize that those players are not numbers and not statistics; they’re human beings with ups and downs, they’re the best in the world, and they have great personalities. They’re generous, too. They do stuff that people don’t know about, and I want to humanize them, and I know the media needs access to be able to do it.”

Chantal Machabee

There are three important aspects to a rebuild: assets acquired, development of those assets, and fans accepting the plan. Trading Gallagher would likely help bring in an asset or two that could be important to the team’s future. However, keeping him, letting him be the face of the franchise, could have a greater impact on the development of the team’s youth and in helping the fanbase connect to the players and better buy into a rebuilding plan. It’s up to Gorton and his management team to decide which option will have the biggest positive impact on the franchise, and it will not be an easy one to make.

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