There is a great deal of uncertainty in Montreal after a disappointing first round exit, where they struggled to score goals with consistency. The issues at center ice continue to haunt the organization. Thomas Plekanec has slowed down with age and could easily find himself exposed in the expansion draft, if not traded away later in the season. They need Alex Galchenyuk to become a bonafide top-six (if not #1) center. And yet, this past season, he struggled mightily down the stretch. His 2-year bridge deal is now expired and the RFA will need to come to terms with the Montreal franchise which has expressed quite a bit of frustration with his play.
Arbitration is certainly an option for Galchenyuk. The player’s agent, Pat Brisson is certainly willing to negotiate a one-year deal, but will the Canadiens want to risk Alex having a career year and skyrocketing his cost? That decision could be unwise tactically on the part of management. Ryan Spzorger of The Hockey Writers believes that the Canadiens would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to sign the potential number-one center long term. Especially after a relatively “down” season, Galchenyuk could be signed to a relative bargain, keeping the Canadiens’ cap structure reasonable for years to come.
There are two major issues which could cause negotiations to stall. First, there is a definite gap in perceived value between the player and the organization. The Canadiens have repeatedly dropped Galchenyuk down the lineup, with the player seeing the third line these playoffs alongside the likes of Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen. Fellow 23 year-old Phillip Danault usurped his spot on the top line, and the mediocre Tomas Plekanec leapfrogged him as well. His defensive play has been the subject of constant criticism, both under current coach Claude Julien as well as former coach Michel Therrien. Second, he has continually been shuffled from wing to center and back again. Players who have played the majority of their career up the middle don’t often appreciate the shift, nor react well to it. Although Galchenyuk has obviously been frustrated with the situation, he has tried his best to adapt to a foreign position on the left side, to little success.
Galchenyuk’s value as a trade piece shouldn’t be understated if the gap between the negotiating parties is too great. GM Marc Bergevin could be tempted to move him for a more “established” center if the offers from other teams increase in frequency. In the end, it seems likely that the parties will compromise on a short-term contract somewhere in the range of $5-6 MM. This would provide Galchenyuk further incentive to perform and gives Montreal an “out” if he continues to regress. A year removed from a 30 goal, 56 point season, it would be a mistake to not include Galchenyuk as part of the Canadiens’ future plans.