BROSSARD, Que. — It was a season that started with such promise for Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu, but ended in total calamity for both players.
Their respective futures are now anything but secure with the Montreal Canadiens.
Both players are coming out of two-year bridge contracts, both are pending restricted free agents, and both have fallen woefully short of expectations. Galchenyuk, who earned $3.1 million this season, started as the team’s No. 1 centre, scoring on pace with the Top 5 players in the NHL over his first 25 games. Mid-season knee injuries slowed him considerably and his inconsistency down the stretch saw him moved to the left wing of the fourth line to start the playoffs. He finished on the left wing of the third line, going scoreless in Montreal’s six-game loss to the New York Rangers.
Beaulieu, who earned $1 million, had an exceptional showing during exhibition and began the year next to Shea Weber on Montreal’s top defence pairing before he gradually slipped down the depth chart. He found himself watching as a healthy scratch for Montreal’s final game of the year.
“Nathan Beaulieu is at a crossroads,” said Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on Monday. “The clock is ticking.”
He may as well have been speaking about Galchenyuk, too.
The 23-year-old forward has been in the league for five years, played 336 games and 28 in the playoffs, but he hasn’t done enough to convince Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien that he can be trusted at both ends of the ice.
There’s been much consternation in the fan base about how Galchenyuk’s been developed, with the team reluctant to put him at the centre position through most of his first three seasons. But after scoring the bulk of his 30 goals from that spot last season, he took a considerable step back with only 17 this year.
“At a certain point, players have to take ownership and know where their game is at,” said Bergevin.
But there hasn’t been much accountability from Galchenyuk on that front. When he was asked on Monday if he was satisfied with this year’s performance, he said: “We can stand here all day and talk about what went wrong, but I’m already focusing on next year. Nothing much for me to say.”
As for Beaulieu—the 24-year-old who set a career-high with 28 points in 74 games—his self-evaluation was rather frank.
“I thought I could’ve been better,” he said. “If you look at the numbers and everything else, it was a pretty good season. Personally, I would’ve liked to have been in a different situation, and the way it ended was obviously super disappointing. I’ll take that on the chin and I’ll better myself.”
There’s plenty of doubt as to whether or not Beaulieu will have the opportunity to do that with the Canadiens. You have to wonder how much money Bergevin would invest in a defenceman who has played 225 games and 17 in the playoffs and hasn’t yet found the consistency expected of him.
Would Bergevin sign Galchenyuk to comparable contracts of big-money earners such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Filip Forsberg, Sean Monahan and Mark Scheifele? All of them earn at least $6 million and are signed for at least six years while also possessing comparable stats to Galchenyuk. It’s a stretch to think he would.
“He’s just gotta find that consistency,” said Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber. “He’s a great, young player, but at the same time it’s a hard league and you gotta be able to do it every night.”
If the Canadiens are going to hang on to Galchenyuk and give Beaulieu another chance, both players are going to have to emerge as the stars they’ve shown they’re capable of becoming. Getting maximum return on either or both in a trade at this point would prove challenging considering their recent struggles.
“The hope is that he took a step back so he can take two steps forward,” said Bergevin about Galchenyuk.
The question is will Bergevin wait to find out?
It’s even more pressing in Beaulieu’s case.
When Beaulieu was asked if he has a pulse for what his future is with the organization, he admitted he didn’t.
“It’s tough to say,” he said. “Obviously I still believe in myself and know I can be a big part of this team. It’s tough to put a fingerprint on it right now, but I feel like I can still be a big part of this team on the back end and feel like the organization still thinks that from talking to them.”
Time will tell.