Senators Could Win Big With Galchenyuk

Last week, the Ottawa Senators announced that they had signed forward Alex Galchenyuk to a one-year, $1.05 million deal, and already, opinions are split on the team’s newest addition. A former 50-point player and third overall selection, he has struggled heavily over the past few seasons.

2019-20 was his worst so far in his eight-year career – in 59 games between the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins, he scored eight goals and 24 points. Defense has been the primary concern, and for a team that allowed the second-most goals in the NHL last season, the skepticism over the signing is warranted.

Alex Galchenyuk Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Galchenyuk was with the Pittsburgh Penguins for half of the 2019-20 season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But there’s a chance that this deal could work out incredibly well for the Senators. By the end of the season, Galchenyuk was becoming more competent in his own end and showed flashes of the player the Montreal Canadiens thought they were getting in 2012. Injuries have also hindered the forward significantly, as have constant position changes. The skill is definitely still there, and if he can find his groove in Ottawa, they could have a steal on their hands.

Of course, there is a risk that things won’t work out, but no new addition comes without it. But for the price, term limit, and potential, it’s a smart risk that the Senators to make. Better yet, with their history of taking young, struggling players and giving them opportunities to rectify their career, the franchise could have struck gold with their most recent signing.

Galchenyuk’s Career So Far

When Galchenyuk was drafted in 2012, he had missed nearly the entire season with an injury. That didn’t stop the Canadiens from selecting him with the third pick; in his rookie season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, he had 83 points in 68 games, which ranked third among U18 players and first among U17.

There was even some debate as to whether he could have competed with Nail Yakupov and Ryan Murray for first overall. Those speculations gained some traction after the 2013 lockout ended and the Canadiens rushed their top prospect to the NHL, where he put up an impressive 27 points in 48 games.

Alex Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk with the Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He quickly became one of the Canadiens’ hottest stars, and he got better after every season, scoring 31, 46, and 56 points in the following three campaigns. He also established himself as one of the team’s top goal-scorers, coming in fourth with 20 goals in 2014-15, and tying for first in 2015-16 with 30. An injury caused him to dip to 17 goals and 44 points in 2016-17, but he returned to form the next season with 51 points, albeit with just 19 goals.

However, with the Canadiens still unable to make any impact in the playoffs, criticism turned to Galchenyuk. He seemed to be struggling more than the other stars on the team and had failed to live up to the hype of his high selection.

He was moved to left wing temporarily, but after criticisms emerged over his defensive awareness and possession numbers, the move became more permanent, and his struggles worsened. Then, GM Marc Bergevin cited the attitude in the dressing room, using it as an explanation as to why the team was underperforming, which more than a few saw as a jab at Galchenyuk.

The tense situation ended in 2018 when the Canadiens dealt him to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi. Even with the constant criticism, many were unsure if trading him was the best idea, especially after Bergevin’s deal to acquire Jonathan Drouin for defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, which the Canadiens regretted almost immediately. But, surprisingly, Domi broke out with 72 points while Galchenyuk continued to struggle, posting just 41 points with his new team, even though he was moved back to center.

Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens
Max Domi turned out to be an impact player for the Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Coyotes moved on from Galchenyuk after just one season, sending him to the Penguins for Phil Kessel, who decided to try him out again on the left wing. Yet even beside Evgeni Malkin as a regular linemate, he recorded his lowest point-per-game rate in his career with a 0.378 and was eventually shuffled to play depth minutes alongside Jared McCann.

At the deadline, he was moved again, this time to the Wild for Jason Zucker. In Minnesota, he was moved back to center and, finally, things began to click. In 14 games, he had three goals and seven points and had a positive plus/minus stat for the second time in his career.

Based on his career trajectory so far, it’s unlikely Galchenyuk becomes a dominant offensive catalyst on the top line as his draft position suggested. But at just 26 years old, he is still on the cusp of his prime years. He’s clearly improved his defensive inconsistencies, and his return to center with the Wild proved that he could be an effective second-line scoring option. His attitude will likely always come into question, but as he grows older and more mature, it should become less of an issue.

Where Galchenyuk Fits in with the Senators

The Senators have holes all over their lineup. In 2019-20, they ranked in the bottom-10 in goals scored with 191, and second in goals allowed with 243. Only the Detroit Red Wings had a bigger goal disparity. Their top scorer, Brady Tkachuk, had just 44 points in 71 games, and they were led in goals by Jean-Gabriel Pageau with 24, despite leaving at the trade deadline. Only the Anaheim Ducks had a top scorer with a lower total – Adam Henrique finished the season with 43 points.

That’s not even addressing the offense they’ve lost so far in free agency. Anthony Duclair was not given a qualifying offer despite scoring 23 goals and 40 points, and Bobby Ryan was bought out after a resurgence following his return from his personal leave from the team. At the end of the season, the veteran winger was back on the top line beside Tkachuk and Colin White.

Brady Tkachuk Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk led the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators with just 44 points (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

General manager Pierre Dorion has been very active this offseason in his attempts to address those concerns. He snagged Evgenii Dadonov, one of the biggest tickets available among the forward class, a right-winger who scored 25 goals for the Florida Panthers last season and 28 goals in the two seasons before that.

Austin Watson was also acquired in a minor deal, and although he hasn’t surpassed 20 points in a season, he will be a reliable depth forward and provide plenty of grit on the bottom six. The Senators also re-signed Chris Tierney and Connor Brown, two wingers who broke out with the team last season and look to become solid top-six contributors.

Related: Predicting the Ottawa Senators’ 2020-21 Roster

Even with those additions, there are still openings in the top-six. There likely will be an opening for a top-six center as well as a depth left winger. Galchenyuk could fill both those spots, but the Senators should be careful about where they choose to put him.

At center, he’s proven to be a capable forward and has made improvements that could realistically see him as a second-line pivot. At the wing, however, he’s struggled and generally has put up his worst statistical seasons from that position. If the Senators want to make the most of their newest player, he needs to spend the majority of his time up the middle.

On the second line, he could end up beside Brown and Nick Paul, who have become two of the team’s best set-up men. Brown had the second-most assists last season, while Paul ranked 10th. With sniper Galchenyuk, the trio could form a dangerous trio, with the two former players setting up the newest arrival and creating a lethal second line.

They would also possess enough skill to rotate the shooter, as Brown and Paul are also strong shooters, which would give the line some versatility. The Senators need secondary scoring more than ever this year, which Galchenyuk can provide.

Impact on the Lineup

There’s also a number of rookies who could slide into the lineup in the 2020-21 season. The Senators have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of right-winger Drake Batherson, who’s been lighting the AHL on fire for the past two seasons. There’s also Alex Formenton, a left wing who had a very strong first season with the Belleville Senators last season, scoring 27 goals and 53 points as a rookie. Both will get shots to claim a spot on the 2020-21 roster, although it’s likely only one will make the team.

Drake Batherson #79 Ottawa Senators, November 27, 2018
Drake Batherson has been the Senators’ top forward prospect for several seasons (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At center, however, there are two prospects who look ready to join the team on a full-time basis. Josh Norris is the front runner after scoring 31 goals and 61 points in his first professional season in 2019-20, the highest among all AHL rookies. The 2017 first-round pick was one of the key pieces in the Erik Karlsson trade in 2018. He’s been one of the hottest risers among all Senators’ prospects and projects to be a top-six player in the future.

Then there’s Logan Brown, the Senators’ first-round pick in 2016. He’s had a rough time since joining the organization in 2017-18, with some wondering if a change of scenery would help him in the long run. He had a strong AHL rookie season, scoring 42 points in 56 games in 2018-19, but an injury held him back last season. Still, he managed to appear in 23 NHL games, where he scored a goal and eight points, plus 25 AHL games, where he had 28 points. He’s put in the hours to warrant a long look at training camp, and there’s likely a roster spot that’s his to lose this season.

Logan Brown Ottawa Senators
Logan Brown could also compete for a spot on the 2020-21 Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, with Galchenyuk at center, he pushes out one of those top center prospects, unless Artem Anisimov or White is moved to a wing. All of a sudden, there’s a log jam at center with Galchenyuk added to the mix that could result in missing out on a year of Logan Brown’s or Norris’s entry-level contracts. For a team committed to the youth movement, Galchenyuk does complicate things to some degree.

Finally, the addition of Galchenyuk ends any speculation on the return of Duclair. Initially, it was thought that the Senators were trying to negotiate a team-friendly deal for the winger, but when talks stalled, they instead went after Dadonov and later added Galchenyuk with the money used to try and sign Duclair.

Fans will undoubtedly miss the breakout star, but the two new additions should make the Senators a better hockey team overall.

Best Case Scenario

Adding Galchenyuk is a risky move by GM Dorion, but he’s proven time and time again to have a good plan for the future. The Senators’ farm system went from one of the worst to one of the best in the NHL under his control, and despite some questionable draft choices, he’s shown to pick players strategically. He’s in this for the long haul, and he takes the appropriate risks when necessary.

That’s what the Galchenyuk signing is – a calculated risk. He’s young, talented, and although he has had a rough couple of seasons, he has strong offensive instincts. Ottawa will give him opportunities to break out again while giving their top prospects more time to develop.

Duclair was in the same situation last season, and it worked out wonderfully. There is a good chance Galchenyuk repeats as a breakout star, and then the question becomes whether the Senators re-sign him or deal him for more future pieces. If he doesn’t, then they simply can cut ties with few repercussions. There is very little that can go wrong for the Senators in this deal, and a lot that can go right.

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