Last season didn’t go as expected for the Montreal Canadiens or Brendan Gallagher. The Habs were always going to be in tough to make the playoffs after returning to the stacked Atlantic Division, but a last-place finish immediately after having reached the Stanley Cup Final seemed like insult to injury… and Gallagher’s no stranger to injuries.
Gallagher’s Dogged Play Catches Up to Him
Playing in just 56 games due to various ailments, Gallagher put up just seven goals and 24 points, well off his usual ~30-goal pace, at which he scored in each of the previous four seasons. Of course, Gallagher only actually hit 30 goals in the first two of those four seasons. In 2019-20, he played in just 59 of the Habs’ 71 games (scoring 22). In 2020-21, he played in just 35 of the Habs’ 56 games (scoring 14). There’s an undeniable trend developing.
So, to a certain extent, even though 2021-22 didn’t go according to plan for the Canadiens as a whole, everyone should have expected Gallagher to see limited action due to injury, as it has unfortunately become the norm. And, seeing as he was on the verge of turning 30 (and since has), everyone should have at least half-expected him to start slowing down from a production standpoint. It’s just unfortunate he slowed down so much, especially in the first season of his six-year, $39 million deal.
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Gallagher’s deal ended up being one of the worst on the Canadiens last season and, because of his dogged style of play and the injuries that have piled up over the years, it’s unlikely to have been a complete fluke. However, in Gallagher’s defense, he’s acknowledged last season was a failure from a statistical standpoint and that his body didn’t hold up as a result of the short summer following the Final. At his post-mortem media availability, he was adamant 2022-23 would be different.
Ultimately, it’s easy to believe in Gallagher, for the simple reason 2021-22 was such a trainwreck. Just about anything in comparison is going to look better, even if it’s also a hot mess. Think the last Transformers movie (before Bumblebee) compared to the second-to-last Transformers movie, neither of which would have really been worth the money if you went to go see it in theaters.
In that same vein, it’s hard to argue Gallagher was worth the money last season. It’s easy to see why at least some Habs fans see him as deadweight in a salary-cap-driven era. However, there’s little point or justification in wishing him to get traded out of town.
Gallagher Earns His $39 Million Deal
For starters, there are other ways for the Canadiens to get out of the cap bind in which they find themselves. Secondly, it’s not Gallagher’s fault he makes a lot of money. When someone, i.e., ex-general manager Marc Bergevin, gives you a boatload of money, you don’t ask too many questions before signing on the dotted line. Just about anyone would have done similarly in Gallagher’s position. Even a literal saint would also take the money under similar circumstances and simply turn around and give it to charity instead.
Related: 3 Ways the Canadiens Can Clear Some Cap Space
There’s actually a case to be made that Gallagher is entitled to every last cent, just that he ideally would have been paid the money in the seasons leading up to his inevitable decline. In fact, for a time, Gallagher was a statistically elite winger (from ‘Analyze This: Underrated Hab Brendan Gallagher is one of NHL’s best,’ Montreal Gazette, Nov. 1, 2018)… just one making an average of $3.75 million from 2015-21. So, consider his salary these days backpay. Such is the nature of the NHL, where all too often players are paid for past seasons, only to be radically overpaid into the twilight of their careers.
In other words, that oversized cap hit he’s earning now? He actually did earn it, but, in Gallagher’s case, there’s a chance he can continue to, to some degree. Ultimately, 2021-22 was a bad year for just about everyone on the Canadiens. So, why can’t Gallagher have been victimized by the same plight of half the team? Especially after he lost his entire line to free agency (Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault), which was one of the best in the entire NHL at driving play, only to end up playing the most with Laurent Dauphin and Mike Hoffman. Ultimately, in such a situation, there’s going to be an adjustment period at least, and indeed the stats do say Gallagher still played relatively well, even if he wasn’t getting his name on the scoresheet.
That’s in large part why Gallagher is theoretically in the running to succeed Shea Weber as Canadiens captain. In many ways he’s probably in a better position to be than, say, Nick Suzuki, who’s another frontrunner for the title. Gallagher has more experience after all, and, like Suzuki, is unlikely to be going anywhere over the length of his contract.
Gallagher for Canadiens Captain?
True, the size of Gallagher’s contract factors in, but it wasn’t that long ago universal adulation on the part of Habs fans was the primary reason instead. The beleaguered Habs fans who are calling for him to be traded are conveniently ignoring all the goodwill he’s built up over the years, to the point that it’s become a “what have you done for me lately” type of relationship.
On one hand, it’s to be expected in professional sports, and it’s hardly as if Gallagher has won countless Stanley Cups with the Habs to earn untouchable status. On the other, ask yourself if there’s anyone else who leads by example in terms of attitude and dedication to the organization more. Gallagher doesn’t need a letter to formalize what’s already widely known and accepted, that he’s a leader in a locker room, which is precisely why he arguably should get the captaincy nevertheless.
There’s a reason the Canadiens didn’t trade Gallagher prior to his previous contract expiring, at which point he would have been an unrestricted free agent. Instead, they decided to re-sign him, throwing caution to the wind (and adding in a no-movement clause to boot). It was always going to be a bad contract, and, even though 2021-22 ended up a worst-case scenario, it’s not as bad as it all looks. Gallagher is poised to rebound in some capacity, potentially wearing the well-deserved “C” in the process, helping to re-establish a winning culture on the team.
The wins may not come fast and furious in 2022-23, but they’re not expected to, as the team is officially in rebuilding mode. It’s one more sign the adverse impact of Gallagher’s contract has been overstated, one more reason his overall value is under, as the Canadiens seek to shape and mold a new crop of youngsters. He doesn’t necessarily need to be captain, but he does need to stay for the Habs to benefit.
Likelier than not, the Canadiens will eventually feel the pinch of Gallagher’s contract, but that would be the price of helping to instill the value of skating through a wall just for a win throughout the team, a sentiment he personifies. Arguably well worth it.