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Is Brendan Gallagher the Next Captain?

The Montreal Canadiens are on their West Coast trip, with their first game on Tuesday in Seattle against the Kraken. On Monday, news broke that Shea Weber would be joining the team for a couple of days. Weber has been recovering from surgery at his home in Kelowna and has not been replaced as captain while on LTIR. The Habs have named several Alternate Captains in his absence.

Weber was named Captain on October 1, 2018 following Max Pacioretty’s departure via trade. From the time Weber was acquired it felt inevitable that he would eventually be the Habs captain. Just three years later, it’s a long shot that Weber will ever play in the NHL again. On Tuesday afternoon, Jonathan Drouin disclosed to the media, perhaps accidentally, that Weber has basically retired and is already scouting for Marc Bergevin.

A decision to name the 31st captain of the Montreal Canadiens is inevitable.

If Weber’s future is still to be determined, it is understandable that the Habs are not prepared to replace him as captain. That status cannot go on indefinitely. If Weber is unable to play next season, a new captain will be named. Alternates fill the void in the interim, but sporadic visits from the Captain are not a long-term plan.

Aside from respecting Weber, the delayed decision may well be due to the lack of a consensus option to replace him. Discussions on the topic often devolve to a process of elimination. If your guy is not obvious, maybe he’s not your guy. Drouin’s commentary suggests there is little to be determined about Weber’s future, and if this is the case, the bigger question may be who is best suited to be the next captain.

For some fans, there is one choice – Brendan Gallagher. They see him as the heart and soul guy and one of their most consistent producers. In his tenth NHL season, he’s only played for the Habs. He just signed a hefty contract to finish his career in Montreal.

Gallagher is an easy candidate for me to eliminate.

Gallagher may be an excellent teammate, but that’s not the same as being captain material. Just seven games into the season, I can already point to episodes that bring into question whether he’s ideally suited for the role.

The first episode…

On October 19th, the Habs hosted the San Jose Sharks after losing three games to open the season. They needed the win. Instead, the Sharks opened the game with two quick goals and by 3:36 of the first period the Habs were down 2-0. By 15:25 of the period, Gallagher was taking matters into his own hands to get his team going.

The sequence started with a clean hit from Hoffman to Karlsson, followed by another clean hit from Brooks to Cogliano, who was slow to get up. There is no love lost between Karlsson and Hoffman, and Karlsson followed up with a cross check to Hoffman. Gallagher entered the fray and tried to start a fight with Karlsson. Weatherby came to Karlsson’s defence, other players joined the party, and the refs broke it up.

The melee ended with Karlsson getting two minutes for roughing, while Gallagher landed four. The hits from Hoffman and Brooks were clean. They were followed up by a cross check and a half-hearted skirmish. But the Habs ended up shorthanded. The call was a toss-up, but when Gallagher is in the mix the likelihood increases that it will become a call against the Habs.

The second episode…

On October 21st the Habs were hosting the Carolina Hurricanes and Gallagher thought he had their first power play goal of the season on a net-front tip. The goal was called back for goaltender interference.

Gallagher’s skates were outside the crease, his back to Freddy Andersen. Only his butt could have interfered with the goalie. Gallagher is a very small man, while Freddy is a very large man. There is no evidence Andersen even tried to push Gally out of the crease or was impeded in any way. The goal was called off.

If that tip came from Tyler Toffoli or Nick Suzuki, would the outcome have been the same?

The third episode…

Gallagher was interviewed following the second episode and was asked about the call. His response was a direct criticism of the officiating. “I’m used to it by now. 9 out of 10 people will say it’s a good goal, but there’s always that one person in Toronto.”

Gallagher has a point. Goaltender interference calls are chronically inconsistent. But was he suggesting more? Was he suggesting what we all suspect? That when Brendan Gallagher is in the mix, the call is likely going against him?

If that’s what he is suggesting, I don’t disagree with him at all. But two questions are begging to be asked. Firstly, as satisfying as it is for fans to hear him call out the refs, do we think it helps their cause for the next call on the ice? Secondly, is that something you want your captain doing?

These are recent events, but it’s an old issue.

These events are fresh in our minds, but they’re not isolated. In February of 2021 Gallagher also publicly called out the inconsistency in officiating on goaltender interference calls. In February of 2020 a hot mic caught a hot exchange between Gallagher and the officials.

As early as November of 2014, Gallagher’s third season in the league, Retired Official Kerry Fraser was asked whether there are some players that officials “watch for.” In his C’Mon Ref column for TSN on November 19th, Fraser offers some interesting insight. “… based on what I have observed and previously commented on, Brendan Gallagher has earned a rightful place on the Referee’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.”

Early in his career Gallagher had already developed a reputation with officials that was unlikely to work in his favour for calls on the ice.

The things that Gallagher does to annoy refs are part of his game, but you don’t want your captain doing them.

The original description of Gallagher is accurate. He has been the heart and soul guy who consistently scores and has the leadership skills to rally the troops. He’s done all of that without the captaincy. He will keep doing it, with or without a C on his jersey.

There’s another description that fits Gallagher. He annoys the officials. They see him as constantly pushing the boundaries of the rule book, and then backtalking when they call him on it. He has developed a reputation for calling out officials in the media. I don’t think any of us doubts how the refs feel about Gally.

But here is the kicker. It likely that calls on the ice are impacted by those feelings, whether consciously or not. Fraser’s comments pretty much confirm that. We’ve seen Gallagher punched and cross-checked and abused to the point of bruises and bleeding without a call. He’s not getting any breaks from the officials.

The question becomes obvious. Is this the guy you want representing and advocating to the officials for the whole team?

Gally doesn’t need a C on his sweater to be a leader.

Naming a new captain is inevitable for the Habs. In my view, it shouldn’t be Brendan Gallagher. He can continue to lead his way without having a C. But the opposite isn’t true. I don’t think he can have a C and continue to lead the way he does.

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