Canadiens, Gallagher affirm belief in each other with long-term contract

Eric Engels discusses Brendan Gallagher’s new extension with the Montreal Canadiens and how it was a compromise for both parties.

Nov. 30, 2014: Brendan Gallagher signs a six-year, $22.5-million extension with the Montreal Canadiens. The former 147th draft pick is locked in long-term after playing just 150 games in the NHL, two years and six weeks into the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract.

The deal came when the majority of the league’s players in Gallagher’s category were being signed to bridge contracts, with risks mitigated on both sides of the ledger depending on the quality of the player. And it was signed just three weeks after he went point-less for nine consecutive games—the longest drought of his career up to that point in time.

Sure, Gallagher had accumulated 40 goals and 82 points and established himself as a relentless, greasy scorer while playing mostly third-line minutes, and there was ample reason to believe the contract would prove to be a steal for the Canadiens.

But the deal wasn’t on trend.

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Ask Alex Galchenyuk, the former third-overall pick of the Canadiens who broke in with Gallagher in 2013 and scored 27 goals and 73 points in the 137 games he had played up until Gallagher’s signing. He was signed for two years, $6.5 million, exactly eight months later after completing the 2014-15 season with 20 goals and 46 points.

So how come Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin had no pause about signing Gallagher when he did?

“He doesn’t take a shift off, he never has,” he said on the day Gallagher signed in 2014. “The effort is always there, and his character is off the charts. He’s always in the paint, he works hard, he gets loose pucks and he’s not afraid of anything. He competes night in and night out.

“The way Brendan performs on the ice, he’s always around the net. Whether you’re six-foot-eight or six-foot-one, he plays the same way. His foot is always on the accelerator.”

In simpler terms, Bergevin knew exactly what he was buying.

Five years into the deal, nothing has changed. Gallagher’s amassed 115 goals and 218 points in 340 games. And though he’s spent those five years as an assistant captain—first to Max Pacioretty, and then to Shea Weber—he’s been second to no one in the organization in the dedication department.

Gallagher built status as the heart and soul of the Canadiens long ago, and he’s maintained it ever since. And given all that, and the resonance of Bergevin’s words back in November of 2014, there was no sense in allowing the perception that the Canadiens and Gallagher were at odds to linger any longer than a day.

On Tuesday, Gallagher’s agent, Gerry Johannson, leaked to two reporters that negotiations between both parties had broken off.

On Wednesday, Gallagher signed a six-year, $39-million deal.

Was it a surprise? The timing of it was, absolutely. Especially after Bergevin made overtures on Tuesday about how his 2021 free agents would have to accept that there was only enough money to go around under a stagnant salary cap ceiling and that they’d have to “make some sacrifices” if they wished to remain in Montreal.

But it shouldn’t be that shocking Bergevin and Gallagher were able to find middle ground in a hurry.

It took a couple of minor concessions on Gallagher’s end. As we noted on Tuesday, he had the $45.5-million contract Chris Kreider signed with the New York Rangers in February as the closest comparable to use in negotiations, but he ended up accepting one year and $6.5 million less than Kreider did. Kreider also got $22 million of his deal in signing bonuses, which is $22 million more than Gallagher got.

Bergevin conceded, too. He gave Gallagher the type of security almost no one is getting in this pandemic-stricken system. He signed him until his 35th birthday, after giving 26-year-old Josh Anderson a seven-year, $38.5 million contract that takes him to 33 and Tyler Toffoli a four-year deal worth $17 million that takes him to 32.

Bergevin promised he’d make Gallagher his highest-paid forward, and he delivered on his promise.

He did it because Gallagher has earned it, but certainly because he knows what he’s buying.

Is there risk in this deal? Plenty of it. The chances Gallagher produces as much on his next contract as he did (and will continue to do) on his current one are not favourable. And players who play like him—like a human pinball—tend not to age unblemished.

But you don’t win without them.

And the Canadiens have their sights on winning now. That much is clear after Bergevin burned through every dollar available to him under the cap to secure a much-improved roster for the 2020-21 season. He’ll gladly take on the risk that Gallagher’s deal could prove troublesome on the back end for the potential reward of having the player he knows and loves for right now—and for at least a couple of years more.

Does it mean some other players get squeezed out down the line? Almost assuredly. Looking at Montreal’s cap situation for the 2021-22 season, it’s no secret Bergevin’s going to have some hard choices to make.

But it was an easier decision to lock Gallagher up now than to allow him to think for even one more second he could be perceived as less vital to the team’s championship aspirations than any of the other players Bergevin signed over the last six weeks.

Maybe Bergevin would have squeezed a better deal out of Gallagher had he waited.

Or maybe he would have created resentment where there wasn’t some before. The kind that could push Gallagher to the open market.

That would’ve undone a lot of good work the GM has done to finally put this team on a winning track.

You know, the work Gallagher just invested in by agreeing to stay with the Canadiens.

He said just over a month ago that nothing mattered more to him than winning. It’s clear he believes he can do it in Montreal.

“I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else,” he said in a video message to Canadiens fans through the team’s Twitter account. “I love what Berge has done this summer. We’re going to have a very competitive team, and the guys are excited.”

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