In the dim light of a police cruiser, Alex Galchenyuk’s unhinged tirade against the officers starkly contrasted the bright future once predicted for the Habs’ 2012 first-round pick. His recent signing with Arizona was overshadowed by this incident, leading to his release and painting a grim picture of a career veering off course.
As I pondered over this scene, my mind wandered back to Galchenyuk’s beginnings under Michel Therrien, the coach who had shepherded his early NHL years. Revisiting archives, including a memorable photograph of Therrien, Brendan Gallagher, and Galchenyuk, I was reminded of the high hopes of that era. The debate at the time wasn’t just about Gallagher and Galchenyuk but also about Galchenyuk’s best fit: centre or wing? This debate was a microcosm of the broader questions surrounding the Habs’ strategy and player development, a puzzle it seemed Bergevin and Therrien rarely figured out.
In 2022, Therrien’s reflections on the ‘La Poche Bleue’ podcast, as Galchenyuk languished on waivers courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche, revealed a complex relationship. He spoke of Galchenyuk’s family, initially seen as supportive, but gradually becoming a disruptive force. The Canadiens struggled to counteract this negative influence, indicative of broader challenges within the team’s management of player welfare – who could forget Danny Kristo’s frostbitten toes and Kassian’s crash?
Indeed, 2016 was a tumultuous year for the Canadiens. Amidst controversies, including a domestic violence incident linked to Galchenyuk, Therrien yearned for simpler times. He humorously wished his players would stick to a routine of cookies and milk, a subtle nod to the increasing complexities of managing modern athletes. This period also saw Therrien grappling with Galchenyuk’s dependency on his father’s approval, even during games, leading to the unusual step of stationing a staffer at the locker room door to minimize distractions.
Despite these challenges, Therrien’s affection for Galchenyuk was, and remains, evident. “We really tried everything in our power to help him,” he reflected. Nowadays, Galchenyuk’s move to the KHL is universally acknowledged as a career that didn’t reach its expected heights.
During Galchenyuk’s tenure with the Canadiens, the team experienced significant highs and lows. From the excitement of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final to the disappointment of missing the playoffs in subsequent years, the Habs’ journey was a rollercoaster. This period was marked by key acquisitions and departures, including the controversial trade of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber in 2016. The team’s fluctuating fortunes mirrored Galchenyuk’s own inconsistencies on the ice.
Today, the Canadiens are openly acknowledging a different approach. Recognizing the importance of veteran mentorship and the human aspect in player development, they’ve introduced figures like Chantal Machabee and GM Kent Hughes, an ex-player’s agent with a stoic approach to the Canadiens’ asset management. This change, we are told, signifies a shift in the organization’s philosophy, emphasizing the need to nurture talent both on and off the ice.
But as I sit on this cloudy morning reflecting on Galchenyuk’s story, one wonders if earlier intervention and a different support system might have altered his and others’ paths during the Bergevin era. As the Canadiens build a new chapter with their current roster, the lessons from Galchenyuk’s saga loom large, especially with recent criticism of Juraj Slafkovsky, serving as a reminder of the delicate balance between talent, guidance, and personal growth in the high-stakes world and the young man’s game that is the NHL in 2023-24.
Better late than never!