The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes are set to play at Gila River Arena on Thursday, making it only natural to rehash the still-fascinating Max Domi – Alex Galchenyuk trade.
There’s no denying that the immediate returns have been drastically one-sided. While Galchenyuk’s been a mixture of injured and inconsistent (three goals and 11 points, limited to 23 games played), Domi’s defied all but the wildest expectations in scoring almost a point per game (33 in 35).
Considering the very different results for each player, his team, and the very different hockey markets they play in, you’d expect some over-the-top reactions.
Yet, even some of the warmer takes still acknowledge that the differences are probably exaggerated. While the headline for Eric Engels’ Sportsnet story is a bit much, maybe, in deeming Montreal “already clear-cut winners” of the trade (I’d personally go with “currently” instead of “already”), there’s a nod to the possibility that both players may meet closer to the middle in the future:
Yes, we’ve considered that Galchenyuk, who has 11 points in 23 games, suffered an injury in training camp that required a minor procedure and forced him to the sidelines until the eighth game of the season; that he produced eight points in his first nine games at centre; that it’s still early in his tenure with the Coyotes; and that Domi, who’s producing at an unprecedented rate in his first full year at centre in the NHL, could be in for a course correction.
That “course correction” is crucial to understanding the potential longer-term effects of this trade, or how things could look considerably different down the line.
Whenever you’re looking for red flags about a player being too good to be true, or way too cold to predict future contributions, you’ll often find answers in uncanny shooting percentages, and that’s true here.
It’s almost too perfect that Alex Galchenyuk’s 6.8 shooting percentage this season is so comparable to Domi’s from 2017-18, when he only connected on six percent of his SOG (and that was with four empty-netters). Remarkably, Galchenyuk’s 17.5 shooting percentage this season matches his combined shooting percentage from last season and 18-goal rookie effort from 2015-16, when he shot at 11.5 percent.
So, a healthier, luckier Galchenyuk will probably score more often than he is now. And Domi might cool off a bit, causing the two to meet somewhere close to the middle … which isn’t that far off from where they were upon the trade. As TSN’s synopsis notes, they both had .61 point-per-game averages before the swap, with Galchenyuk being more of a sniper while Domi was a more prolific playmaker.
The key, then, is not to smear either forward. Instead, it’s far more interesting to consider some of the takeaways, and to ponder some of the talking points that might get emphasized too often.
Time will tell
Pat Brisson serves as an agent for both players, giving him a unique – if sympathetic – perspective on both Galchenyuk and Domi. So it’s interesting to see Brisson deliver a “pump the brakes” message on the trade, as he told Craig Morgan of The Athletic (sub required).
“I usually look back later, not after 30-some games,” Brisson said. “I wait and see. So far Max is happy, but the whole team in Montreal is going way better than anyone expected. They have a lot more wins and a lot of players on that team seem to have found themselves and it has a domino effect …”
There’s some recent history that points to maybe not jumping to too many conclusions.
Shortly after the landmark Kyle Turris – Matt Duchene – Sam Girardi – Ottawa’s future hopes and dreams trade, many were burying Duchene and lavishing Turris with praise as the two went through cold and hot streaks respectively. With more time and games under their belts, it’s clear that Duchene is fantastic, Turris is effective, and those early impressions were knee-jerk reactions.
(Also: we probably won’t truly know the impact of that trade until we find out what kind of pick the Senators cough up to the Avalanche.)
Considering their polar opposite shooting luck, the way their teams are playing, and health concerns, things look dramatically different now, but Galchenyuk has a decent chance of catching up to Domi, at least once he gets healthy.
Center of attention
It seems like every big hockey market has a narrative or two that just won’t go away.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins, rumors of Phil Kessel trades loom like Michael Myers creepily staring off from a distance, waiting to make us roll our eyes. When it comes to Galchenyuk, talk of center vs. wing seems inescapable, even now that he’s in Arizona.
Much has been made about Galchenyuk at least briefly moving back to the wing, while Domi’s had success at center, with Jonathan Drouin over on his wing. That’s worth noting, but the obsessiveness sometimes loses the big picture: good players can make a difference from various positions on the ice.
If Galchenyuk can flourish with fewer responsibilities playing on wing, much like Claude Giroux has with the Flyers, then who really cares? Many believe that the flow of modern hockey already obscures centers/wings to more generic “F1”-type designations, so such talk can often get overstated.
Not every mention of Galchenyuk’s perceived inability to play center is meant as a slight, yet sometimes it seems like a coy way of making a blanket insult, without explicitly making them.
Details that might matter
For teams all around the NHL, there are some potential lessons to take from these situations.
The first is one that’s hammered often: it can be very dangerous to trade a player suffering from a low shooting percentage, as you might be guilty of selling low. (Looking at you, Oilers, with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.)
But the Coyotes and Canadiens might have been right in merely identifying that two players simply weren’t fitting in properly, and making a logical-enough lateral move, with things working out undeniably better for Montreal so far through close to half of 2018-19.
Arpon Basu made an interesting point for The Athletic (again, sub required): during his years in Arizona, Max Domi rarely had the same linemate, let alone the same two.
It’s plausible that hockey-mad Montreal fits Domi’s personality better (just ask his dad), while Galchenyuk may get back on track in part because Arizona’s more laid back. But, perhaps the Coyotes might want to put Galchenyuk in less situations of upheaval?
You also wonder if there’s something systemic that’s making skill players struggle to score a bit more in Arizona, while Claude Julien’s done masterful work in optimizing Montreal to be a faster, more attacking team that many expected. After all, the Coyotes’ 2.45 goals-per-game ranks second-worst in the NHL this season, so you can’t pin that all on Galchenyuk.
Interestingly, Coyotes GM John Chayka is making virtually the same “potential”-related comments about Galchenyuk finding his game now that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made about Domi when he was acquired. Bergevin was vindicated, and it’s possible that Chayka will be too, although the Coyotes’ overall outlook seems bleak with crucial goalie Antti Raanta out indefinitely.
As of today, Domi’s been a smash success in Montreal, while Galchenyuk’s a mixed bag for the Coyotes.
It’s plausible that we’ll feel the same way about the trade in several months, and maybe years, but it’s too early to be sure right now.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.