Will Galchenyuk ever be the centre Montreal needs?

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin jokes about making a trade on PlayStation, but says in reality trading for top centremen is hard to do, also says Alex Galchenyuk is not ready to be shifted to centre.

The jacket was sharp. The jokes were there. The charm still shone through a roughly one-hour grilling. This was definitely the real Marc Bergevin. However, you couldn’t watch the GM of the Montreal Canadiens conduct his post-mortem press conference without feeling like you’d encountered a new, perplexing component of his personality.

Where did this waffling come from?

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The subject that had Bergevin equivocating like crazy was whether or not the team would attempt to make a full-time centre out of 21-year-old Alex Galchenyuk. This question is driven by a multitude of factors, not the least of which are the Canadiens’ long history of being poorly represented at that position and the team’s inability to generate enough goals to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup.

At this point, getting Galchenyuk in the middle seems as obvious as figuring out your next move when you’ve got a jar of peanut butter in one hand and two slabs of bread in the other.

But there was Bergevin, suddenly referencing the fact Galchenyuk used to play a little wing in junior, too, and mentioning that he didn’t excel in defensive coverage when the Canadiens gave him a brief look at centre for about a dozen games around Christmastime.

“I can’t tell when or if he’ll be a centre,” Bergevin said.

This after Bergevin himself made Galchenyuk the third overall pick in the 2012 draft and—until Friday morning—basically did nothing to dissuade the widely held assumption that, someday, the idea was for the 6-foot-1 American to at last provide the Habs with a true No. 1 pivot.

Team dynamics have played some role in keeping Galchenyuk on the flank (for better or worse, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller have had a lock on the top three centre spots) and certainly the player himself could have done more to this point to force the organization’s hand. Still, given the team needs and the huge significance of the position, the Canadiens must take every measure possible to see if Galchenyuk is a fit. He should have to prove he can’t play centre, not that he can.

The other centre talk focused on whether or not Bergevin would actively attempt to procure one currently employed by another team. His response to this, over and over, was that those players just aren’t available, “Unless I want to give up Carey Price.”

To back this claim, the GM cited Joe Thornton’s 2005 trade from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks as the last time an impact pivot was moved. (More on Big Joe in a minute. You can probably guess where this might go.)

This is where we could really use some clarification because, if Bergevin means that’s the last time a huge centre in the dead of his prime and in the middle of an MVP season was dealt, he’s absolutely right. If he’s saying centres who can really, really help a team don’t get traded, that’s positively false.

In the past two off-seasons alone the Dallas Stars have acquired Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza to give them a wonderful 1-2 punch. The Anaheim Ducks brought in Ryan Kesler last summer and they’re now in the Western Conference final. The circumstances of those transactions varied, as Seguin had yet to fully blossom, while Spezza and Kesler were veterans looking for a change. The point, though, is that high-quality players do move for a variety of reasons.

So while we know Montreal isn’t going to relieve Anaheim of Ryan Getzlaf or the Chicago Blackhawks of Jonathan Toews, there are still situations out there worth investigating.

Maybe there was a Freudian aspect to Bergevin mentioning Thornton more than once, because last time we checked, the San Jose Sharks have done absolutely everything they can to alienate a guy who’s still got a couple years of top-level production in him and was the third-best faceoff artist in the league last year. The Edmonton Oilers are about to draft a generational talent in Connor McDavid and have way too many good forwards for a club with throbbing needs everywhere else.

And if the Canadiens—given the desperate need for offence—are willing to expand their goal search beyond middlemen, why not get crazy and call your blood rivals in Toronto? If the Maple Leafs are taking it down to the wood, how do you not inquire about 27-year-old Phil Kessel, a right winger who would thrive in a spot where the only thing asked of him is points.

Yes, these are difficult trades to make and require some salary cap management and sacrificing a portion of your future to pull off. But even the most conservative armchair GM would have to acknowledge Montreal has reached a tipping point. Only three times in their past 18 playoff games have the Habs managed to net more than two goals in regulation time. The club has some good prospects, but nobody who is going to push them over the top in the next couple years.

Hey, given the Canadiens have goalie Zach Fucale in the pipeline and two second-round picks in 2016, maybe they can get a deal done without losing any youngsters who figure to fill the net one day. In terms of what he gave up, Bergevin has made a number of wonderful small trades during his three years on the job. It sure seems like now might the time to try his hand at a big one.

All that said, and acknowledging the man isn’t going to telegraph his full intentions for the summer, Montreal’s GM didn’t sound like a guy about to move off his well-entrenched stance that the Canadiens will stick to drafting and development in their attempt to build a winner. Maybe that—and not what to do with Galchenyuk—is the approach Bergevin should consider tweaking.

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