Friday night, the Montreal Canadiens traded forward (center? wing?) Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for winger Max Domi. It was the third consecutive year Habs general manager Marc Bergevin had made this type of trade, more commonly referred to as a one-for-one; a year ago to the day, he traded prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Lightning for Jonathan Drouin, and in late June 2016, he made the biggest deal, P.K. Subban to the Predators for Shea Weber.
But back to the Friday trade, in which the Canadiens traded a 24-year-old forward who’s under team control for two more seasons and has a track record of scoring goals, for a 23-year-old to whom Montreal instantly gave a two-year contract extension and does not have a track record for scoring. Bergevin is already talking about his intangibles.
Galchenyuk, who is just 13 months older than Domi, has six years of NHL experience. He broke into the NHL at 18 and scored 30 goals for Montreal at 22. Here’s the list of 22-or-younger players to score 30 goals in a season this century: it’s pretty good.
But one of the problems Montreal had with Galchenyuk (as the team defined it) was figuring out whether he was a wing or a center. For years, Montreal has lacked a bona fide No. 1 center. It attempted to address that need in acquiring Drouin and moving him back to pivot — where he played his junior hockey, but not very much in the NHL — but that has yet to work out.
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Fast-forward to the trade late Friday evening, with the Canadiens dealing away Galchenyuk and, oh, look, Arizona possibly trying him down the middle again.
Chayka on Galchenyuk: “He’s has success playing the center position. … I don’t think we’d make this trade if we didn’t think he had the ability to play center.”
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) June 16, 2018
“That’s what I want. I’m excited about it.” – Alex Galchenyuk on playing centre in Arizona.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) June 16, 2018
Galchenyuk scored 19 goals in the 2017-18 season, and he did so while scoring on a career-low 8.9 percent of his shots (his shooting percentage was nearly half the 16.3 he shot the season prior). Of the 1,000 minutes Galchenyuk played this season at 5-on-5, more than half of them were spent with Drouin, more than any other teammate, who was attempting to make that position shift. There were clear chemistry issues, and a chunk of Galchenyuk’s scoring (nine goals) came on the power play.
Bergevin told the media way back in September 2017, prior to the start of the season, that Galchenyuk would be on the wing and Drouin at center — while in the same breath being pretty critical of Galchenyuk’s defensive play.
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It remains to be seen if the Canadiens will cut bait on Drouin as a center and move him back to the wing. The 23-year-old forward, who was coming off a dominant 2016 Stanley Cup playoff run for Tampa Bay (five goals and 14 points in 17 games), put up one of his worst offensive seasons in the NHL in his first year with the Canadiens (13 goals and 33 points in 77 games).
Have no fear, though, because the acquisition of Domi will only bring with it more ambiguity with respect to the wing/center debate.
#Habs GM Marc Bergevin says Max Domi can play centre but he’s looking at him as a winger #HabsIO
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) June 16, 2018
Montreal also holds the third pick in the NHL Draft, where it could select Boston University forward Brady Tkachuk who, of course, has spent time playing both wing and center.