The injuries to Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais have depleted Montreal’s depth down the middle. While the team currently sits comfortably in a playoff spot, they are likely to struggle offensively until Galchenyuk in particular returns. With that in mind, we asked our writers if GM Marc Bergevin should stay the course or if he should be looking to make a move to shore up the position sooner than later.
Gordon Black: With all the talk about injuries to Galchenyuk and Desharnais (not to mention Andrew Shaw, Andrei Markov, and seemingly half of the AHL roster) exposing the already suspect depth of the Canadiens, many people seem to be ignoring the fact that the Habs employ a system where players can be shifted throughout the lineup with minimal acclimation. It is by no means ideal to have Phillip Danault as your de facto first line centre, but as a placeholder, he will get good reps and confidence and his drop in skill from a Galchenyuk will be mitigated in the short term by an increase in important minutes by other capable and comparable lines.
Given the relatively short-term nature of the injuries (hopefully, in Shaw’s case), I would like to see the Habs stand pat and use the time to figure out what they have in the pipeline and who might be ready for NHL duty. As long as they keep winning, this will also provide a huge strategic bonus in that some prospects will get increased incidental spotlight time in front of other teams’ scouts and Bergevin will come to the trade table with more value along with a better knowledge of who he wants to keep long-term.
The only thing to be wary of is tempting fate. As injuries mount, there is inevitably a breaking point and the team may be nearing it. Another injury could strike at any time and if the GM waits on a trade until the losses start piling up he will be taken to the woodshed by just about any of his colleagues. There is no point in making a deal that you wouldn’t have made before the injuries – but in a year where the team is ‘all in’, it may make sense to pull the trigger early on any big splash they have planned.
Hilding Gnanapragasam: Should Bergevin look externally to fill the gaps left by Galchenyuk and Desharnais, or should he stand pat and weather the storm from within?
The answer is yes.
Yes, Bergevin should be searching for a centre, but hopefully he already has been. The Habs’ need for a true second line centre has been apparent for months, so Bergevin and his scouts should already have a good sense of the market. With that said, the GM should not push his pursuit into high gear, as it will appear desperate and force him to deal from a position of weakness. If the player Bergevin wants and the Habs need for the playoffs isn’t available until the deadline, so be it.
So for the short term, yes, the Canadiens should weather the injury storm from within. Do they have the horses to do so? So far, the early indications are good, with players like Danault, Artturi Lehkonen, and now McCarron stepping up and playing well. The upside of the whole situation is that it gives Canadiens’ management an excellent opportunity to evaluate their assets and determine how good they really are. Heck, let’s face it: if the Canadiens cannot play .500 hockey without Galchenyuk and Desharnais, then chances are they are further from being contenders than we may have thought.
Brian La Rose: While it may be tempting to make a move now, this is a salary cap world. If the Habs want to add an impact player at or near the trade deadline, they simply cannot afford to bring in a replacement now, short of someone that’s cheap and could potentially be sent down when one of them returns.
Yes, LTIR could allow them to bring in someone more proven but that will only create another issue when it comes to activating Galchenyuk/Desharnais as they have to be back in cap compliance to bring them back. In other words, they could get a better replacement now but then they’d have to turn around and trade that replacement (or someone with a comparable salary) as soon as one of the two were ready.
In the meantime, the Habs will be able to get a good look at Danault and really see if he’s part of the long-term future as a centre. He’s off to a nice start so far but how will he handle the increased responsibility? If he acquits himself well, that could potentially affect what positions are on their wish list come February.
Being patient in this situation is hardly the exciting option but basically, it’s the only one they really have.
Paul MacLeod: What the Canadiens should do to cover for Galchenyuk and Desharnais is both stand pat and be proactive. Bergevin should simultaneously search for a good value trade for another centre because they were not strong in that area before the injuries and while he is waiting for other GM’s to adjust their asking prices as the Habs are not sinking, he should carefully evaluate the centres they do have and where they fit going forward. I hope he realizes that the team needs top six scoring and that if Danault is a capable 3rd centre, then Desharnais does not really have a role on the team. Hopefully, the question that will be answered while these two are out is: Can Tomas Plekanec still generate enough offence to be a top six forward on a cup contending team?
Norm Szcyrek: Assuming no further centers get injured, then I believe Bergevin will stand pat with regards to the injuries up front to Galchenyuk and Desharnais. By this I mean that I don’t expect any trades to be made until after both players get back in the lineup. However, call ups from the farm are to be expected, and the addition of Michael McCarron has already occurred. With McCarron capable of playing either center or the wing, that’s a valuable flexibility.
So far, Michel Therrien’s strategy to assign more ice time and responsibilities to players at centre like Danault, Shaw [until he was recently injured], and Torrey Mitchell has helped use up the ice time. It seems Therrien has been trying to roll his four lines more evenly as an adjustment, and the players have performed relatively well overall. For this approach to be really successful, they will need their two forwards struggling the most [Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher] to break out of their slumps. In Plekanec’s case, he has improved his offensive production with seven points in nine games since Galchenyuk was injured while Gallagher has three points in that span, but does not appear to be playing the same style as he had in previous seasons.
David Woodward: The Galchenyuk and Desharnais long-term injuries leave a hole in the lineup. Nonetheless, these injuries also represent an opportunity for some players that are on the cusp of either breaking into the NHL or taking on a greater role with the team. The Canadiens are in a good position in the standings so they can afford to be patient, at least for now. In these circumstances, they should allow some of their depth players to step up and seize the opportunity.
While Galchenyuk is a big loss, Desharnais no longer is. Galchenyuk will be tough to replace and they have no centre with comparable scoring talent. However, the Bergevin era has blessed the Canadiens with some depth. Many of the Canadiens who began the season on the wing can play centre, such as Danault, Brian Flynn, and even Shaw (although he is also injured now). McCarron is also now with the big team and he has been a centre in the minors.
There are also players in St. John’s that can fill some holes on the wing, such as Chris Terry (who has been called up), the snake-bitten Charles Hudon (when he returns), etc. Along with Mitchell and Plekanec, the Canadiens should weather the storm now and decide whether they should add another piece closer to the trade deadline. At that point, their needs will be more clearly defined. Of course, if a Martin Hanzal becomes available for cheap (a la Thomas Vanek a few years back), the decision may be revisited. However, absent an opportunity that Canadiens cannot refuse, I would stand pat.