Time for Canadiens to reconsider how they deal with Alex Galchenyuk

Montreal Canadiens' Claude Julien discusses Alex Galchenyuk's development as a player, after the forward saw limited ice time in Wednesday's contest against the Calgary Flames.

MONTREAL—It’s time for a new approach with Alex Galchenyuk.

If the plan is to keep Galchenyuk with the Montreal Canadiens, the team’s management and the coaching staff had better start coming up with a different way to get the best out of him.

The 23-year-old, who’s in his sixth NHL season, has already authored a 30-goal campaign. He’s also gone long stretches of his career producing at a point-per-game clip. But it’s been far too long since we’ve seen him exert his dominance for any sustained period of time.

A lot of that is on Galchenyuk. He needs to be properly prepared mentally and physically, willing to sacrifice to the expected level on the ice, willing to work at both ends of it, and he has to adhere to the system that’s been put in place.

But some of Galchenyuk’s spotty play is on management and the coaching staff. And the way both parties have openly discussed his deficiencies on the ice, and the way they’ve short-leashed him at times, can’t possibly be helping his confidence.

"A player has to do more than score goals," coach Claude Julien said after playing Galchenyuk a team-low 9:18 in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. "That applies to everyone. So he has to be better without the puck, win battles along the boards, those things are important. In a tie game, he wasn’t that good tonight along the boards, so I decided to shorten my bench."

There’s nothing wrong with doing that here and there. A big part of a coach’s job is keeping his players accountable, and Julien has made a habit of doing this with all of his players.

It was just a game prior—in a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues—that Julien benched Canadiens leading scorer Brendan Gallagher for over eight minutes after the winger took a penalty and followed it up with a giveaway in the neutral zone that resulted in a goal. And Julien didn’t mince his words the next day, when he said that Gallagher had an off night.

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But it’s been far too rare, dating back to the end of last season, that Galchenyuk’s been talked about in a positive light by Julien or by Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.

It couldn’t have possibly served Galchenyuk well when Bergevin came out after the Canadiens were dismissed from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and said that the hope was that Galchenyuk could take two steps forward after taking one back. And all the comments made by him and Julien about Galchenyuk being incapable of playing centre, after the kid had 23 points in 25 games to start last season in his first real shot in the No. 1 slot, would only serve to injure his confidence.

When you combine all of that with the fact that the player has spent stretches on the fourth line and had his ice time reduced to less than 14 minutes per game in 14 of the 59 games Julien’s coached since taking over for Michel Therrien last February, you start to understand why some media members—including Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette and Brian Wilde of Recrutes.ca just this past week—and a fair portion of the fans have suggested it’s time for the Canadiens to trade him.


It’s not all bad.

Galchenyuk has mentioned in recent interviews—dating to the beginning of this season, in which he’s scored six goals and added 10 assists in 30 games—that he appreciates the relationship he’s forged with Julien.

And Julien offered some insight on his commitment to Galchenyuk’s development, when he was asked about it by Sportsnet on Friday.

"We know he’s a good player, we know he’s got skill, and we sit down with him, we do video, we have meetings, we talk about different things," said Julien. "So at the end of the day, you continue to work with players and you never give up on your players. We know that Alex is a young player still. You look at his age and because he played as an under-ager—if you want to put it that way—we expect more. But I think there’s still some untapped potential there that we keep working with him on.

“The biggest thing is, as I’m telling you now, is that you can’t give up on him. You gotta keep trying to push the right buttons, you gotta try to keep helping him, and sometimes it’s not the fun things for either side, but at the end of the day it’s important to realize on both sides that we’re trying to make it work here and not make it fail."

When Julien was asked if enough was being done to focus on Galchenyuk’s strengths rather than harping on his weaknesses, he said, "We work with what we can, but…as a coach you want to continue to help him work with his strengths and continue to show his strengths, but you also want him to work on things he needs to work on."

There have been significant efforts made by Julien to shelter Galchenyuk from tough matchups and to lean on his offensive ability against weaker competition. And the coach has placed him in a steady role on the power play and started him outside of the defensive zone for nearly 72 per cent of his shifts this season.

But perhaps the time has come to give Galchenyuk more opportunity to redeem himself after he makes a mistake or two. It’s certainly come to re-evaluate how he’s spoken about outside the confines of the dressing room.

Those are efforts worth making when you consider his potential and the value he can provide on a contract that pays him $4.9 million per season for the rest of this one and the two that follow.

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