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Canadiens Analysis

The Most Polarizing Montreal Canadiens Forward In 2023-24



Montreal Canadiens Brendan Gallagher

All eyes are on the future now that the Montreal Canadiens have committed to a long-term rebuild.

And while the upcoming crop of prospects includes players such as Lane Hutson and David Reinbacher, the Canadiens have to be mindful of which veterans help the team produce positive results, while simultaneously weeding out the older players who are holding the team back.

The Habs currently have one of the youngest lineups in the NHL due to the latter, which puts an onus on finding good veterans, players who can help mentor the inexperienced players while also contributing on the ice.

This brings us the most underrated player in 2023-24.

Well, to be more accurate, this brings us to the most underrated player when compared to the perception held by fans.

Some may suggest Joel Armia fits the bill.

He’s having a relatively solid season from an offensive standpoint, but there’s another veteran in the lineup who is scoring more often than Armia while making a significant positive impact on the team’s possession numbers.

Perception Versus Reality

Brendan Gallagher was once regarded as the heart and soul of the team. He produced fantastic numbers throughout his career with the Canadiens, which led to a very rich contract offer by former Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.

And while Gallagher certainly deserved the raise, there’s no doubt his current contract is an albatross from a salary-cap point of view.

But if we temporarily set aside the deal that pays him $6.5 million per season until 2026-27, there is value to be found in Gallagher’s results this season.

Consider this.

While Gallagher is on the ice, the Canadiens do a very good job controlling the shots. In fact, other than Joshua Roy and Nick Suzuki, Gallagher is the top forward when it comes to the Canadiens’ shot share.

In addition, only Roy ranks higher than Gallagher when it comes to expected goals. Only four forwards have actually been on the ice for over 50 percent of the expected goals this season; Roy, Gallagher, Suzuki, and Armia.

For those wondering, Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield are on the wrong side of 50 percent, but just barely. A good game would push them beyond the 50 percent mark.

Of course, usage comes into play.

Some would be quick to point out that Gallagher does not face a very elevated level of competition since he’s been relegated to a third-line role.

And they’d be right.

But we also have to acknowledge that he’s not exactly playing with two offensive dynamos at the moment. The quality of teammates will always have a higher impact than the quality of competition.

In that vein, it’s only fair to point out that when Gallagher plays with Josh Anderson and Jake Evans, the results are encouraging. To the tune of 53 percent of the expected goals at 5v5.

But the same cannot be said when we remove Gallagher from the equation.

Without Gallagher, Evans has only managed to control a paltry 39 percent of the expected goals. As for Anderson, that number drops to 40 percent.

In other words, Gallagher is not just helping them tread water, but he’s also the driving force behind their first positive possession numbers of the season.


Brass Tacks

I don’t want to suggest that Gallagher has become a valuable player for the Canadiens from a salary cap point of view.

His expensive contract will always hang over his head like Damocles’ sword, waiting to strike the moment he does something good on the ice. He’s also shown a lack of discipline this year, which has put his team in a difficult position more than once.

But the perception that Gallagher is no longer an NHL-caliber player could not be more incorrect.

It has snowballed to the point that some suggest he’s one of the worst players on the team. That is also incredibly incorrect, though I am sure I will get my fair share of complaints from fans who are unwilling to change their opinions.

Gallagher is helping the Canadiens control the flow of the game every night, something that takes on even more value when we consider the team struggles in most possession metrics.

What’s more, he’s doing it with two forwards who have traditionally been negative impact players at 5v5.

In that vein, it’s time to readjust our perception of Gallagher’s value.

He’s a very expensive player when it comes to his raw production, and he’ll probably never justify his contract extension, but as it stands, he’s far from the team’s biggest problem.

If more veterans on the team were producing the numbers we’re seeing from Gallagher, the Montreal Canadiens would be in much better shape.

All Montreal Canadiens statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted. Via Natural Stat Trick.