Once the shock wears off, they’ll understand.
I’m referring to the Montreal Canadiens fans who are currently losing their minds on every social network over the news that dropped just after 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday night — that general manager Marc Bergevin traded former 30-goal scorer Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for career-36-goal-man Max Domi.
They are indignant, and I get it. They watched Galchenyuk take major strides over the course of a lost 2017-18 season. He’s a world-class talent who matured over the past nine months, one who appeared to be on the cusp of finally reaching the potential that saw him drafted third overall in 2012; the potential that oozed out and teased everyone during that woeful 2015-16 Canadiens campaign, when he scored 30 goals and 51 points and earned a real crack at becoming the centre the team has so desperately needed since Saku Koivu was wearing their uniform.
Even if Galchenyuk hadn’t found a way to establish himself as that in the two seasons since then, he had morphed into a somewhat reliable winger, and these people weren’t ready to give up on him.
These are also the same people who watched recently traded P.K. Subban and his Nashville Predators come within two wins of a Stanley Cup a year ago, and then traded Mikhail Sergachev while his Tampa Bay Lightning fell in this year’s Eastern Conference final to recently traded Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly, whose Washington Capitals won this year’s Stanley Cup just a couple of months after the Canadiens landed the third overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Their faith in management is about as low as it can get and that’s not going to be resolved by the acquisition of an underachieving winger in exchange for an underachieving winger.
But even the biggest Galchenyuk fans have to acknowledge that this deal wouldn’t have happened if both players hadn’t left their respective clubs wanting for the majority of the 640 games they’ve combined to play in the NHL. If they’re able to do so, they might also be able to consider the potential in the player that’s coming back to Montreal in the deal.
Domi is a year younger than Galchenyuk, he’s produced points at the same exact rate — albeit in 196 fewer games — and he is four years away from unrestricted free agency while Galchenyuk is only two years away.
Domi might also end up saving the Canadiens money on whatever deal he signs in short order versus the $9.8 million due to Galchenyuk over the next two seasons. And even if he doesn’t come through on that, declaring the Coyotes a winner of this trade, on this day, is premature.
It’s not as if either player has peaked. They were both prolific scorers at every other level of hockey. Both impressed on the international stage. And both have shown over brief NHL careers that they possesses the ability to break games wide open on any given night.
But if either of them had done that on a consistent basis, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. If they had been models of perfection both on and off the ice, the discussion wouldn’t be centred on their untapped potential.
For Galchenyuk’s part, it never seemed to work with the Canadiens. It was a struggle with head coach Michel Therrien, who couldn’t get him to commit on the defensive side of the puck — and ultimately couldn’t trust him at centre and in all situations. And it was practically a calamity for Therrien’s successor Claude Julien, who was so exasperated by Galchenyuk’s approach that he stuck him on the fourth line in the 2017 playoffs and had him starting the 2017-18 season there, too.
“It doesn’t get any lower than that,” Galchenyuk said at the end of the season before admitting he needed to turn inward to dig himself out.
If he hadn’t found a way to do that over the months that followed, he surely wouldn’t have had much appeal to the Coyotes.
And if Domi hadn’t scored 18 points in his final 20 games of this season, after scoring just 38 points in his sophomore year, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have pulled the trigger either.
These teams took calculated risks, and they did so because they were ready to move on. They are two teams who finished near the bottom of the standings, two teams that promised changes were on their way, and two teams making bets that a fresh start for the player they acquired is just what the doctor ordered.
They may have pulled off a shocker late on Friday, but it’s not a trade that’s difficult to understand.