BY PETER HOUSTON – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
Alex Galchenyuk was the “Gally” who came into Montreal Canadiens’ camp last year with the most hype. But it was the Brendan Gallagher “Gally” who came away as the Calder Trophy finalist. Both players had very solid rookie seasons, with Gallagher putting up 15 goals and 28 points in 44 games and Galchenyuk with nine goals and 27 points in the full 48. But will they be able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?
It’s definitely far from a scientific fact that players regress after a successful first year in the league, but it has happened to every Calder Trophy winner since Patrick Kane. Steve Mason’s save percentage dropped from .916 to .901, Tyler Myers went from 48 points and plus-13, to 37 points and an even rating, Jeff Skinner went from 0.77 points per game to 0.69 and Gabriel Landeskog saw his points per game drop off from 0.63 to 0.47.
Galchenyuk and Gallagher could also be poised for a similar regression based on their on-ice shooting percentage. It’s a statistic that is almost impossible to keep consistent year to year unless you are Sidney Crosby, because it is largely driven by luck.
Galchenyuk and Gallagher led the Canadiens last year in on-ice S% at 11.72 and 10.74 respectively (league average for forwards is somewhere between 8 and 8.5). What was Skinner’s on-ice shooting percentage his rookie year? 10.97. Sophomore year: 9.28. Last year: 5.04 (which is why he should be poised for a huge bounce back year, but that’s beside the point).
Another thing that will be interesting to track with the Gallys is their usage. It seems that last year Michel Therrien was being very conservative with how he used Galchenyuk in order to “develop him properly.” The only players who got less ice-time 5-on-5 last year were the fourth line and Lars Eller was the only non-fourth liner with less powerplay time than Galchenyuk. Therrien has talked about how Galchenyuk’s role will increase this year but won’t say to what extent. And he’s also mentioned that young players “have to learn to walk before you run.”
If indeed Galchenyuk’s role does increase, that likely means spending less time on the checking line with Lars Eller and Brandon Prust and more time in the top six. Depending on who his linemates are, that could be a blessing or a curse. Galchenyuk started 58 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone last year, which by league standards is pretty high. But Gallagher, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty were all above 60 percent. Does his increased role mean playing alongside some of those players and seeing his offensive opportunities increase, or does it mean playing more with Brian Gionta and Thomas Plekanec, who start less than 50 percent of their faceoffs in the offensive zone and face much tougher players than Galchenyuk did on the third line?
One thing that would be beneficial for both Gallys would be to play together. Last year, they were on the ice together 5-on-5 for 127:26 minutes. During that time, their goals for per 20 minutes (GF20) was 2.04. When they were apart, Galchenyuk’s GF20 was 1.21 and Gallagher’s 1.19. Much was made of Galchenyuk’s late season resurgence on Lars Eller’s line, but in their 338:13 minutes together last year Galchenyuk’s GF20 was 1.24.
If you ask me, the Gallys (mostly Galchenyuk) seem poised for a sophomore slump unless Therrien makes big changes to the way he used them last year. But that doesn’t appear to be too likely considering Therrien’s comments and the addition of Daniel Briere. In order to avoid a drop off in points because of his unsustainably high on-ice shooting percentage, Galchenyuk is either going to need to start a lot more faceoffs in the offensive zone (not likely) or see a lot more time on the powerplay (slightly more likely). So unless Therrien starts to use Galchenyuk as a consistent top-six forward, don’t be surprised by a little sophomore slump.