To say things have not gone well for Brendan Gallagher in the last couple of years would be a significant understatement. Is there any cause for optimism that he could turn things around in 2023-24?
Through the first month of action, Gallagher was off to a bit of a slow start offensively (five points in 15 games) with some underlying numbers that suggested a bounce-back should have been on the horizon. But one thing that the numbers didn’t catch was that he was playing through a broken ankle and after playing through that for a few weeks, he was shut down.
To Gallagher’s credit, he wound up coming back quicker than expected, a testament to his work ethic. Unfortunately, the downside to coming back early is the risk of an injury re-occurring. That’s exactly what happened this time and a week later, he was right back out of the lineup.
This time, instead of coming back two weeks earlier than expected, he came back about two weeks later than the original timeline. By this point, the Habs were completely out of the race so there was no playoff push to try to return for and after re-breaking the ankle the first time, exercising caution made plenty of sense. In the end, Gallagher missed 13 games the first time, came back for three, and missed the next 32, basically making his season a complete write-off.
Upon his return, Gallagher actually managed four goals in the final dozen games while more than doubling his shooting percentage from that first segment of the season. That at least allowed him to end the year on something resembling a good note which can’t be said for too many others considering how much the Habs struggled down the stretch.
Stats: 37 GP, 8-6-14, -5, 45 PIMS, 0 PPG, 2 GWG, 93 shots, 14:17 ATOI
5 Year Averages
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
Even in the days when he was listed on the top line (I’m thinking back to Tatar-Danault-Gallagher from a few years ago), Gallagher’s usage wasn’t that of a prototypical top liner. Instead, he was deployed more like a second liner. Last season, it was even lower.
It’s hard to forecast that changing much this coming season. Gallagher simply isn’t a good complementary fit on the top line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki as a shoot-from-anywhere approach runs counter to how Caufield and Suzuki work together. Meanwhile, Josh Anderson is still in the mix. Kirby Dach could be on the right wing again with Sean Monahan back; if Dach stays at centre, then Monahan could be on the wing. Alex Newhook is now in the fold and with Martin St. Louis showing a preference for playing wingers on their non-natural side, he could very well be on the right wing as well. None of this bodes well for Gallagher’s playing time.
As a result, in terms of even-strength player, Gallagher looks like he’s destined to be in the bottom six. While I could see a scenario where using him on the fourth line makes sense (generally the brief moment where the forward group is fully healthy), I don’t expect that will be his long-term spot. It’s not because of his contract either. Gallagher’s compete level earns him the trust of all his coaches and on a team that’s quite likely to miss the playoffs again, they’ll be counting on him to help drag the team into the battle some nights. That should still keep him in a relatively important role most nights.
From a special teams perspective, Gallagher saw his power play ice time dip a bit last season even with Montreal running four forwards on both units for long stretches. With the returns of Monahan and Juraj Slafkovsky, the addition of Newhook, playing time on the man advantage could be a bit harder to come by. His willingness to battle in front should give him an edge but it wouldn’t be shocking to see his power play time dip again in 2023-24. As for the penalty kill, he spent about as much time killing penalties last season as you’ve spent reading this paragraph. That’s probably not going to be any different moving forward.
I’ve seen some early projections for Gallagher that have him around the 40-point mark. That feels a bit optimistic on a couple of fronts. First, he hasn’t produced at that level the last couple of years when he’s healthy and second, he just can’t stay healthy. Gallagher has had a significant injury in each of the last four years, sometimes, more than one. With how he played in his prime, taking all sorts of bumps and bruises, does anyone really think that will change?
Still, Gallagher does have a bit of fantasy utility for deeper leagues this season. For pools that go deep enough, ones that place more emphasis on goals over assists would see Gallagher’s value increase. While he doesn’t fire the puck quite as often now, he’s still a safe bet to be somewhat of a volume shooter which makes him a possible late-week waiver-wire option in head-to-head pools with that category. For most leagues, however, Gallagher won’t have a ton of value.