From the moment Brendan Gallagher flipped off his glove after blocking a shot by Johnny Boychuk, Montreal Canadiens fans knew Gallagher was likely to be on the sidelines for an extended period. Following surgery Monday, Habs fans now have a timeline for Gallagher’s return.
The Canadiens announced Monday the 23-year-old right winger will be sidelined “at least” six weeks. Montreal had already announced that Gallagher had broken two fingers on his left hand after the blocked shot, and the timeline for his returns comes after surgery was completed.
A number of Canadiens players told NHL.com’s Arpon Basu how much Gallagher, an alternate captain in Montreal, meant to the team. Coach Michel Therrien, however, said that no matter what Gallagher’s role is and has been this season the Habs can’t use his injury as any reason to start to slide down the standings.
“It’s a big loss,” Therrien told Basu. “He’s a big part of the success of this hockey team. But we lost [goaltender Carey Price] for a period of time. For me it’s not an excuse to not keep having success.”
It’s not hard to argue that the loss of Gallagher hurts far less than the loss of Price, but this season, few Canadiens have brought to the table what Gallagher has been able to. In 22 games this season, Gallagher had scored nine goals and 19 points, notched four power play tallies and only Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty averaged more time on ice among forwards. Few teams have a player who can be brought into the lineup and fill into the top six, and even fewer have one who also brings the agitating qualities that have made Gallagher a fan favorite in Montreal and a pesky opponent everywhere else.
Montreal will turn to Devante Smith-Pelly in Gallagher’s absence, but Smith-Pelly has been nowhere near the offensive contributor that Gallagher has. In 21 outings, Smith-Pelly, 23, has one goal and six points and has played fourth-line minutes for the Canadiens. He’s a strong skater, but offensively he doesn’t offer near the weapons Gallagher does. And the likelihood of Smith-Pelly being able to fill Gallagher’s shoes on Montreal’s third-ranked power play is slim.
Because Gallagher projects to miss at least 18 games, including the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 against Boston, this could hasten Montreal GM Marc Bergevin’s search for another roster player. It was reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman “there is certainly a feeling [Bergevin’s] going to add” and could be looking at upgrades on forward and defense. With Gallagher out, Bergevin has another reason to look at potential options up front.
Even with the injury to Gallagher, it’s interesting to note that it doesn’t appear Alexander Semin, who was signed to a one-year, $1.1-million contract in the off-season, will get a chance higher up the lineup. Semin, 31, is a three-time 30-goal scorer, yet has been a healthy scratch in eight of the past 12 games and has played fourth-line minutes when seeing action.
Thankfully, Montreal doesn’t have to come anywhere near panic mode. They’ve got a seven-point lead atop the Atlantic Division, have the best goaltender in the world and have proven they can beat teams defensively or in a high-scoring affair. How Gallagher’s absence hurts that ability is to be seen, but the Canadiens will have to make do without him for what could be more than one-quarter of the campaign.