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Canadiens Analysis

Veteran Brendan Gallagher’s Value To The Montreal Canadiens

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Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher

Having grown up writing about the Montreal Canadiens, I didn’t know what it would take to turn me into that curmudgeonly old guy defending the veterans as the fanbase rightfully becomes obsessed with the youth movement. I guess all it took was time. And Brendan Gallagher.

It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago when Gallagher himself was a core piece of the previous youth movement. A sparkplug who could play on any line and elevate players around him. Through working his way up the lineup, Gallagher quickly established himself as a fixture on the first line throughout his prime. Not only was Gallagher a fixture, he was the common thread of Habs top lines from Pacioretty and Desharnais, to Tatar and Danault.

In his prime, Brendan Gallagher was a two-way force from the wing and one of the most reliable producers of offence in the NHL at 5-vs-5. You may think I’m exaggerating, but from the lockout-shortened 2013 season through 2021, Gallagher’s 1.08 goals per 60 minutes ranked 10th in the NHL among forwards with 3000+ minutes played (383 players), ahead of players like Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Evgeni Malkin, etc. His 2.11 points per 60 minutes ranked 36th, while he ranked first in the NHL in shots on goal, shot attempts, and individual goals per 60 minutes. He also ranked 17th in on-ice goal differential relative to team over that time, and first in expected goal differential relative to team.

The years since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021 haven’t been as kind to Gallagher.

Seemingly overnight he lost both his linemates, his role on the team in large part, and injuries began to truly mount. With all the stability cut out from under him, Gallagher finally got a decent payday as everything fell apart. Needless to say, the contract greatly influenced fan perception.

Gallagher Isn’t The Same Player

Going over Brendan Gallagher’s past accomplishments should give you an understanding of how good he was, but I’m not going to lie to you and say he’s still that guy. Cumulative injuries have taken some scoring touch, and when you add age to the equation, there are times Gallagher struggles now where he wouldn’t normally. The eye test on Gallagher tells us one story, but it’s not a complete one.

Yes, Gallagher struggles to keep up with the play at times, but we do have to consider his context. The health situation the previous two seasons has been a nightmare to deal with for the entire club, and Gallagher is no exception. The quality of linemates Gallagher plays with has dropped severely. Gallagher never played huge minutes, but his ice time has also been reduced.

None of this is to say that the changing of the guard with the Canadiens was wrong, it’s undeniably the right choice.

However, when we’re looking at Brendan Gallagher the hockey player as a whole, we have to look at all the factors before we judge too harshly.

Better Than You Think

The impression I get is that Gallagher’s season isn’t viewed as much of an improvement over the last two injury-plagued years. That’s despite his shooting percentage ticking back into the normal area for his career at 10 percent. 15 goals and 29 points may not seem like much to write home about, but for a player who has barely played with the team’s few offensive engines, it’s not a bad mark.

In fact, you may be interested to know that Gallagher is third on the Canadiens in goals per 60 minutes at 5-vs-5 this year after Joel Armia and Alex Newhook. Per 60 minutes he’s also third in shots on goal, first in expected goals, second in shot attempts, first in scoring chances, high-danger chances, shot attempts of the rush, and rebounds created.

The outputs aren’t what they once were, but the inputs are not that far off, and I do wonder how much the outputs would improve with better quality linemates or at least more consistent ones. That’s especially important when you realize the kind of minutes the coaching staff still trusts Gallagher for.

Dom Luszczyszyn's research at The Athletic reveals truer impacts of teammates and competition. Brendan Gallagher is the only Habs player to fit in both the hard defence and hard offence quadrant.

Brendan Gallagher is the only Habs player to fit in both the hard defence and hard offence quadrant.

Yes, I’m sorry, I’m using Dom Luszczyszyn’s breakdown of teammate and opposition impact again because I think it’s worthwhile to note that Gallagher is the only player at forward or defence to fit fully in the hard defence and hard offence quadrant. He’s literally been skating uphill this season.

Say The Word Washed at Your Peril

I wrote earlier about how the inputs for Gallagher have continued to look good despite the production falling off quite a bit. I think it’s worthwhile to display what that looks like compared to the rest of his career.

A season by season breakdown of Brendan Gallagher's impact on his team by comparing how the team performs while he's on the ice compared to when he's on the bench.

A season-by-season breakdown of Brendan Gallagher’s impact on his team by comparing how the team performs while he’s on the ice compared to when he’s on the bench.

The first thing you’re going to notice when graphing out Brendan Gallagher’s impact on the Montreal Canadiens over the course of his career is that the navy blue line that represents goals has nosedived in 2023-24. Part of the reason for that is the performance of the top line featuring Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Juraj Slafkovsky, but most of it has been due to Gallagher’s team-low on-ice save percentage of 89.7 percent, and the second-lowest on-ice shooting percentage on the team at 7.22 percent.

Goals are the most volatile of these on-ice metrics, and the fact that goals are the only downward trend for Gallagher this year should be encouraging.

The second thing you should notice is that apart from goals this year, Gallagher has never once in his career been a negative impact player at 5-vs-5. That is a truly remarkable feat considering the last couple of years.

The focus is rightly on the future, and Gallagher may not be part of that future in the long term. Not being part of the future doesn’t make him a detriment though, and the fact is he still pulls the team in the right direction on a nightly basis. He’s doing that without Max Pacioretty, without Phillip Danault, without Tomas Tatar, without much help at all.

It shouldn’t be surprising that it was Brendan Gallagher’s scrappiness that helped produce Lane Hutson’s first point in the NHL. He also made sure Hutson got the puck as a keepsake. For all the outside chatter about trades, long-term injured reserve, and buyouts, Gallagher is still doing his job and doing it quite well in a trying season. He’s bought into the culture that Hughes, Gorton, and St. Louis are trying to build.

For the 12th straight year, Brendan Gallagher has worn the CH on his chest and played the hard minutes. The cocky smile might be a grimace a bit more often, but if you see the most erratic metric pointing one way, and four others pointing another, I think you’re making a mistake to believe the erratic metric is the one telling you the important information.