MONTREAL—The Montreal Canadiens are in a jam.
But there’s a way out of it.
Brendan Gallagher, the team’s best right winger, is out for the foreseeable future after undergoing surgery Monday to repair fractures suffered to two fingers on his left hand in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the New York Islanders.
The Canadiens don’t have another player like him; a player that plays with reckless abandon, sacrificing his body on every shift to provide top-line production (nine goals, 10 assists in 21 and a half games).
But they could attempt to acquire a similar player by trading off some of their considerable depth on defence.
A lack of depth at right wing has been an annual dilemma for Marc Bergevin to deal with throughout his tenure as Canadiens’ general manager. That’s why he traded for Michael Ryder, Thomas Vanek, Daniel Briere and P.A. Parenteau in successive seasons before rolling the dice on Alexander Semin and Zack Kassian this past summer.
But the issue hasn’t been resolved.
The Canadiens have yet to find a fit on the right of Alex Galchenyuk this season. Fellow centre Torrey Mitchell was recently used out of position to spark the second line before call-up Sven Andrighetto became the seventh player to receive the assignment.
Semin, who scored just one goal and two assists in 12 games next to Galchenyuk, is now the most likely candidate to take Gallagher’s spot next to Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. He represents a stop-gap option at best having already been a healthy scratch eight times.
Kassian, who hasn’t played a game for the Canadiens, is currently receiving treatment in the NHL and NHLPA’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation program with no timetable for his return.
On Sunday, the team recalled AHL right winger George “Bud” Holloway, who was the league’s third-leading scorer as of Saturday night. Holloway is 27 and has never played a game in the NHL. It’s hard to imagine him being a long-term solution either.
As for the trade market?
Colorado’s Matt Duchene plays all three forward positions and was recently rumoured to be available. And Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle is a prolific right winger, whose name has circulated the mill for years. Either one of them could remedy Bergevin’s problem—if they could, in fact, be had.
There were 20 scouts in attendance at the Bell Centre for Sunday’s game. If they were all in town to watch Islanders’ defenceman Travis Hamonic, who requested a move closer to home in Manitoba, surely some of them might also be intrigued by what Montreal can offer on the backend as well.
Then there’s Jeff Petry, who has been a revelation on Montreal’s second unit after signing a six-year, $33 million extension last summer.
Emelin, who struggled mightily last season, has silenced his critics thus far in 2015-16 with his puck-moving efficiency (his 53.9 Corsi For is a big reversal from last year’s 46.6), and with his physicality (he leads the Canadiens with 52 hits in 17 games).
But capitalizing on Emelin’s current trade value is unlikely, given his full no-trade clause through 2016 and the $4.1 million annual cap hit he carries through 2018.
That makes five defencemen, who appear to be untouchable.
But Tom Gilbert, currently on an expiring $2.8 million deal, could prove attractive to a potential trade partner. He’s capable of playing higher on another team’s depth chart, is a reliable puck-mover and he can play both left and right defence. He’s also Montreal’s plus-minus leader (plus-10).
Gilbert is making too much money to stay as Montreal’s No. 6, and seventh defenceman Greg Pateryn ($562,000) is waiting in the wings to take over.
“[Pateryn’s] a defenceman capable of being in the top six defencemen on any team in the NHL,” said Therrien, who was impressed with Pateryn’s five-game stint in the lineup during Emelin’s time away.
Eighth defenceman Jarred Tinordi has sat as a healthy scratch for all 22 games, and Bergevin is unwilling to expose him to the waiver wire. Surely another team might be enticed by his $850,000 salary, pedigree (a former first-round pick) and size (six-foot-six and 230 pounds).
Defenceman Mark Barberio, who is currently with Montreal’s AHL affiliate, has over 100 games of NHL experience and offers depth on the left side where Tinordi plays.
Gilbert and Tinordi, on their own, won’t be enough to land the Canadiens a suitable replacement for Gallagher or a winger with the offensive chops to play with Galchenyuk.
Would Bergevin be willing to sweeten the pot with 2014 first-rounder Nikita Scherbak, knowing the cupboard still holds thriving 2013 first-rounder Michael McCarron? Would he be willing to give up Montreal’s first-round pick in 2016?
Bergevin’s temptation to make a big move would’ve been strong even before Gallagher went down; Montreal’s 16-4-2 record in spite of Price’s nine-game absence is a sign they’re ready to contend for the Cup. Their window to win won’t be open indefinitely.
The question is: will Gallagher’s injury push Bergevin into action now?