Alex Galchenyuk and his potential emancipation from Montreal

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  • Alex Galchenyuk
    Alex Galchenyuk
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Michel Therrien
    Canadian ice hockey player
  • Max Pacioretty
    Max Pacioretty
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  • Matt Duchene
    Matt Duchene
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Alex Galchenyuk is 23. He’s a restricted free agent this summer. He is having the best point-production year of his career – 29 points in 37 games, with 12 goals – although his pace has slowed after some knee injuries limited him to two games in December and five games in January.

That’s what Alex Galchenyuk is. What he isn’t is a winger, and what he should be is a No. 1 center, which is the problem with Alex Galchenyuk playing for Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens: His deployment, for a variety of reasons, has seen him on the wing and doesn’t cast him as a No. 1 center.

Which is great for his fantasy hockey position eligibility and demonstrably [expletive] for his development as a No. 1, which should be the focus.

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In fairness to Therrien, Galchenyuk’s been used more at center this season than he’s ever been in the NHL. One short stint on the wing recently was a reaction to his difficult return from his latest injury, but mostly he’s been a center. And hey, wouldn’t you know it: 0.78 points per game and 0.30 goals created per game, both on pace for career bests.

But the most talented player the Habs have at center doesn’t play with Max Pacioretty and doesn’t play with Alex Radulov. The reason, as far as some can tell, is that he’s a young player that makes mistakes and Therrien hesitates to allow him to make them with his two offensive stars. Or with Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, a line that looked like it could dominate after last season.

So the Canadiens don’t know what they have in Galchenyuk, and that’s a tough gig when he’s due to get paid. Which brings us to Elliotte Friedman’s report this week:

The shuffling between centre and wing show a player and an organization still struggling to find the right fit. Galchenyuk’s contract is up. He is two years away from unrestricted free agency and eligible for arbitration. Many of his peers are getting long-term deals in the $6-$7 million range.

With 30 goals last season and 29 points in 37 games this year, he is going to get paid. [GM Marc] Bergevin could wait until the end of the season to address this, but more than one NHL exec says the Canadiens “have a lot of moving pieces” right now. Undoubtedly, he’s trying to move money (David Desharnais/Tomas Plekanec), but there’s certainly a chance something bigger happens.

Matt Duchene may be older, but is under contract for two more seasons at $6 million per year. Bergevin is trying to sign Alexander Radulov, with Carey Price and Max Pacioretty to come. If you think you can have a more established Duchene at a potentially lower number for the next two years than Galchenyuk, does Montreal do it?

Everyone took out their Jumping To Conclusions mat on this one and assumed this means Galchenyuk for Duchene.

It could, but it’s also pretty obvious that the Colorado Avalanche are looking for a blue-chip defensive prospect or young defenseman in a deal for Duchene. So Galchenyuk would be part of a package, in theory. And that would seem to be overpayment for Duchene.

Another theory is, of course, that the Habs trade Galchenyuk for a piece that could get them Duchene. But that’s burying the lede: Would the Canadiens consider dealing away Galchenyuk?

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That comes down to two factors: The acquisition of a replacement for him at center, with someone like Duchene; and the admission from Bergevin that they simply don’t see giving him No. 1 center money when he’s not a No. 1 center in their eyes. Or, shudder, as a second-line winger.

In a perfect world, Galchenyuk gets paid, stays in Montreal and thrives offensively by playing with the team’s top wingers as their center.

But no world that’s ruled by Michel Therrien can be described as “perfect,” unless your standards for perfection are middling returns and a constant haze of second-hand smoke.

So maybe the better option is to emancipate Galchenyuk and put him on a roster that will allow him to be a warts-and-all top center.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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