Solving the riddle of Alex Galchenyuk

Confidence is the most delicate and hard to attain resource in professional sports — at any level for that matter. In a way, it’s sort of the fuel that drives players. A player with no confidence is much like a car with no gas.

It ain’t going anywhere until you pump it full of what it desperately needs.

Another way to look at confidence is as a currency of sorts. Those rich with confidence can do practically anything, whereas those starving for it look hopeless and lost.

(Who’s loving the analogies thus far?)

At the highest level, players are blessed with a skillset ordinary folk can only dream of possessing. Perhaps it explains our love of playing video games — it allows us to feel like the pros, to do things virtually that they are capable of showcasing in reality.

 

So much of success at the highest level of sport (and I suppose now, video games) depends on one’s ability to adapt and develop the already luxurious skillset. Without confidence, that process is daunting and nearly impossible.

…And that’s what brings me to Canadiens 2012 first-round (3rd overall) pick, Alex Galchenyuk.

The former Sarnia Sting standout came to the Canadiens with the highest of hopes. He was the much-coveted first line centre that every NHL team needs if they wish to be legitimate contenders for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

However, 345 games into his NHL career and there are far more questions than answers surrounding Alex Galchenyuk.

There’s the recent report of him seeking treatment this past off-season for possible alcohol or drug abuse. Treatment options are made available for players by the league, and anyone electing to use those services are supposed to benefit from confidentiality. Mario Tremblay, who has a history of driving Canadiens’ players out of town, claimed that Galchenyuk sought the above treatment TWICE. Whether true or not, this is what NHL life has been like for Galchenyuk playing in hockey crazy Montreal — we all remember the arrest of his girlfriend a few years back too.

On-ice performance aside, you hope Galchenyuk can exorcise any personal demons he may be battling — he is after all only 23 years old so not rooting for him in this reported fight would say a lot about you as a person.

 

“Mario Tremblay is a no good piece of sh-t”

– Me

 

Moving to on-ice dealings, Galchenyuk’s struggles and inconsistent play have caused the Canadiens to resign themselves to a unpopular and nauseating reality — he may not be the player they thought he was back on draft night.

“Until further notice Galchenyuk will play wing and we will experiment with Drouin at centre” were GM Marc Bergevin’s exact words at the team’s golf tournament back in September of this year. He did give himself an out, claiming that there remains a chance he [Galchenyuk] develops into one but presently is unfit to play the position, citing his defensive competence. Make no mistake, Bergevin drafted him to be a center. Any instance of him stating otherwise is a lie, an attempt to save face.

I won’t dispute the reality that Galchenyuk has much to learn about playing a full 200ft game. His defensive miscues are glaring at times, but he’s also only 23 years old which is crazy when you consider this is his 6th NHL campaign — he never played a single AHL game after being drafted!

Defensive limitations aside, Galchenyuk was meant to play centre. It’s what his team needs him to play, for so many reasons, including allowing Jonathan Drouin to slide over to his natural position on the wing. Rather than bungee Galchenyuk up and down the lineup as a winger, why not do it as a center?

For the time being, he can even start on the fourth line as a way to shelter him from top talent, giving him a better chance to find his confidence.

The present alternatives include the likes of Michael McCarron and Jacob de La Rose, and after watching both play for the past several seasons, I’m inclined to believe they are destined for “Life on the Bus (an AHL story) — Torrey Mitchell is seemingly irrelevant at this point, being the latest injury away from swapping his stick for a suit.

McCarron has 7 points in 52 career games and is a career -14. De La Rose’s career is 70 games young and comes with an equally depressing stat line — 7 points and a -19. In both cases, neither has shown he is capable of playing center at the NHL level…on either end. Galchenyuk, for all his defensive flaws, has shown flashes on offence.

It almost seems like the Canadiens management are shying away from the challenge Galchenyuk presents from a developmental standpoint. They will say they’ve tried, but I’m not fully buying what they’re selling. For all his flaws, Galchenyuk boasts a solid career shooting percentage (13.5%), a Corsi of just over 50% and despite the bonehead passes and plays that most associate him with, displays impressive passing metrics.

He excels at completing passes on the rush, finishing eighth last season in making those per minute. This season, he sits second in that category. The Canadiens, a team heavily reliant on dump and chase hockey would be better served to leverage Galchenyuk’s ability in this area.

Galchenyuk presently creates just under 7 scoring chances per 20 minutes at even strength, which puts him in the top 100 amongst NHL forwards. Finally, in his time at center over the past two seasons, he was easily amongst the top 30 in scoring chance creation.

Do these numbers not, at the very least, show Galchenyuk to be a capable center in the NHL, needing only time, coaching, and…you guessed it…confidence to develop and improve his defensive shortcomings? Throw in hard work on the part of Galchenyuk, which is as much a talent as skating or stick handling, and the Canadiens could be on their way to salvaging an asset once thought to be lost.

Calling the Habs situation down the middle “the worst in the NHL” is a far more accurate statement than GM Marc Bergevin would care to admit. Armed with that unfortunate but true reality, refusing to accept the developmental challenge Galchenyuk presents seems like a major error in judgement on Bergevin’s behalf.

Repeating past mistakes and immediately plugging him into a first line center role isn’t the move. Start him on the fourth and give him some weapons, perhaps Scherbak, who showed encouraging signs against the Panthers and displayed glimpses of chemistry with Galchenyuk, especially on the rush.

As for the other wing position, why not infuse the roster with some more young talent, a player like Daniel Carr comes to mind (6 points in 5 games with Laval and brings speed and a Gallagher-esque level of peskiness to the lineup) — whoever it is, just please end the Hemsky experiment.

As the Canadiens continue to look for ways to spark Galchenyuk’s production, it’s still highly probable this saga ends with a trade. A fresh start is likely needed for both parties to effectively move forward.

Maximizing Galchenyuk’s value — currently at an all-time low — is an ongoing process, and for Bergevin and the Canadiens, challenging him to learn the defensive side of center while continuing to display the offensive promise he’s shown his whole career seem to be the best route to take in doing that.

That is my opinion…until further notice.

 

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