Max Pacioretty is about to be given both a great opportunity and a great responsibility. He will likely assume the much maligned role of being a winger on the side of Scott Gomez. After traveling to Hamilton to watch the AHL’s leading goal scorer, Jacques Martin came to the conclusion that Pacioretty was ready to join the big club, and capable of igniting Gomez. The question must be asked, however, whether Martin is simply setting Pacioretty up for failure.
Pacioretty has been playing very well with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season. He currently leads his team in points (tied with Desharnais heading into Tuesday’s game in Houston), and leads the league in goals scored. He’s also a +4 and has led his team to the top of their division. He’s hitting people, he’s driving to the net and he’s playing like the dominant power forward we hoped he would play like. With all of his success, Habs fans have been quietly thinking that maybe he could be of some help to the big club. Then, on November 5th, Pacioretty decided to open his mouth.
The young American stirred up a great deal of controversy last month during an interview with Tony Marinaro of the Team 990. In the interview, Pacioretty had explained how the treatment he received in his last stint with the Canadiens had only served to destroy his confidence and hamper his development. He emphasized the fact that being consistently demoted to the fourth line after any and all mistakes was unfair and had him thinking too much when on the ice. Finally, Pacioretty stated that he would prefer to ride the buses in Hamilton than play on the bottom two lines in Montreal. If the New Canaan Connecticut product still thinks this way, he’s in trouble.
Playing with Scott Gomez this season has been more of a curse than a blessing this season. Benoit Pouliot, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri have all struggled when playing next to the Alaskan enigma. One has to wonder whether a 23 year old with less than 100 NHL games under his belt will succeed where so many accomplished veterans have failed. Despite being bigger and stronger than most of the talent that has lined up next to Gomez, Pacioretty’s lack of experience surely won’t aid him in his job of helping the Canadiens develop a solid second line. Scoring goals in the AHL doesn’t necessarily translate to the big leagues, just ask Jason Ward. It’s more than likely, although definitely not hopefully, that Pacioretty won’t be the answer to the Gomez question. Will Pacioretty be relegated to the bottom lines or the press box if he isn’t able to breath some life into the star center?
The Habs’ blue-chipper shouldn’t be so against playing on one of the bottom two lines. Many of the league’s biggest names didn’t start their careers playing twenty minutes a night: think of Jason Spezza‘s experience with Jacques Martin. Also, Pacioretty’s comments were a direct insult to the contributions of third and fourth liners around the league and on his team. Players such as Jeff Halpern and Benoit Pouliot have done more with less ice-time than the man he’s about to flank. Playing in the NHL is a privilege, and Pacioretty needs to learn this quickly.
Of course, fans should keep in mind that it isn’t necessarily fair to expect a rookie to carry a seasoned veteran. Bob Gainey once explained (referring to rookie Mikhail Grabovski), during one of Alex Kovalev’s many extended slumps, that its up to the veteran to get the rookie going, and not the other way around. If the Pacioretty experiment fails, maybe the coach should start questioning the role of its $8 million dollar center, rather than that of one its youngsters.