Yesterday, LWOH writer Alexander Laurin wrote his reasons on why the Montreal Canadiens need to consider trading Alex Galchenyuk. Today LWOH features a response to that piece, noting the importance of Galchenyuk to the Habs as presently constructed.
Alex Galchenyuk Key to the Montreal Canadiens Present
As was correctly noted in Mr. Laurin’s piece, the Canadiens time is now. Yes they have lost their last four games in a row (going 0-3-1 in that span), but the reality is that they are still a first place team. They have star players in Carey Price, and Max Pacioretty on cap friendly deals. The signing of Alexander Radulov has added another key piece to the arsenal. Bergevin also added Andrew Shaw in an attempt to add some championship experience and grit to the roster. Meanwhile Phillip Danault, Paul Byron, and Artturi Lehkonen have emerged as key contributors to the lineup.
On defence, last summer’s trade of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber showed that general manager Marc Bergevin was focused on winning in the immediate future. Weber joins Jeff Petry and Andrei Markov, giving the Canadiens a strong group of experienced defencemen. Quite simply this team is built for the present.
A True Number One Center
As Mr. Laurin also correctly notes, a true contender needs a number one centre. Alex Galchenyuk is still just 22 years old (though he will be 23 within the week). He has improved each of his five years in the NHL, and is scratching the surface of his potential. While it has been argued that Galchenyuk is not a true number one, consider the evidence here.
Galchenyuk has been used on the wing far more than at centre over his previous four years in the league. His first real opportunity to be a number one centre came late last season when Michel Therrien finally began using him as a number one pivot. Put on a line with Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher in late February, Galchenyuk exploded down the stretch and finished the 2015-16 season with 30 goals and 56 points. He continued that production this season with 23 points in 24 games prior to being injured. Overall he had 43 points in 45 games prior to hurting his knee. This is production that put him as a top 10 scorer in the NHL over that time period, and is what is expected from a franchise centre.
While it is true that Galchenyuk has not looked as good on his return, one must remember that he was out of the lineup for over two months. No matter how much a player rehabs and works out, when it comes to being in “game shape” there is no substitute for actually playing games. We have full confidence that Galchenyuk will start scoring again, and soon. He just needs a few more games to find get his legs, and his hands back up to NHL speed.
Defensive Struggles are Overstated
Mr. Laurin has argued that the offence is good, the fact is that Galchenyuk is poor defensively. While he will probably never be a Selke winner, the idea that he is a defensive liability is overstated. The advanced stats show that he is able to generate offense at a greater rate than he gives up defensive chances.
He was a positive possession player, finishing the season with a 53.4% Corsi For, a number that was a +2.7% relative to the team in 2015-16. This season he has been a 51.5% Corsi For player, +2.1% relative to the team. His fenwick numbers of 53.5% (+3.5%) and 50.6% (+1.0) also show that he is a positive contributor at even strength. Looking at shot quality, he shows 53.9% and 51.4% expected goals for over the last two seasons. Quite simply, the narrative that he is a liability just doesn’t follow the stats.
While it is true that Alex Galchenyuk’s face-off percentage has been low at 48.9% in 2015-16 and 40.62% this season. This stat is overrated. We can see that it is not having a large negative effect on his overall possession numbers. This confirms numerous analytical studies that show the importance of face-off percentage has become an overated narrative. (Studies Here, Here, Here, and Here).
Being strong on the dot is just one aspect of being a good centre. Driving possession, creating offense, and playing without the puck are more important than the actual face-off. Being a good face-off man is the cherry on top of the sundae, not the primary aspect of role. This is seen as other top centres below 46% on face-offs this year include the likes of Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele, Evgeni Malkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alexander Wennberg, Artem Anisimov, Auston Matthews, Logan Couture, Jack Eichel, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The Emergence of Phillip Danault
Galchenyuk’s injury and absence brought opportunity. Phillip Danault seized that opportunity and has become a legitimate scoring option for the Canadiens. However, his emergence does not mean that Galchenyuk is now superfluous to the Habs requirements. Danault is much more of a second-line or even third-line centre than he is a true number one. While the Canadiens might choose to keep Danault with Pacioretty, and possibly even with both Pacioretty and Radulov; that does not mean that there is no role for Galchenyuk. It is merely an attempt to ensure there is some elite scoring talent on multiple lines. The reality is that the emergence of Danault has not replaced Galchenyuk, but rather he has filled one of the holes left by the disappointing play of Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais this season.
Acquiring Another Centre
Ideally, the Canadiens would acquire a centre that would allow them to reliably roll three strong offensive lines. As mentioned, Plekanec and Desharnais just are not getting that done this year. Fourth line pivot Torrey Mitchell started out strong, but has really faded, and can not be relied on in a top nine type of position. Meanwhile, prospect Michael McCarron is not an offensive contributor at the NHL level yet, and there is some suggestion that he may never be; instead becoming a strong defensive centre.
This means that Bergevin must look outside the organization to add a centre. Two names mentioned have been Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes, and Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche. Either player would be a welcome addition to the lineup, with Hanzal being a cheaper, short-term solution who provides size and the ability to match with top lines; while Duchene brings speed, offence and strong face-off numbers. Still these are players that need to be added onto a lineup that already features Galchenyuk, not as a replacement for him.
Soon to be 23-years-old, Alex Galchenyuk has long been seen as the potential number one centre the Canadiens have needed. Looking at the stats, it’s no longer about potential, he has reached that level already and is still getting better. The number one of the future is now the number one of the present. If the Canadiens are “all-in”, as some analysts have suggested, they will need Galchenyuk to be a key part of that run.