Even though he wasn’t moved at the trade deadline, there seems to be a level of expectation that Max Pacioretty will soon be dealt. With that in mind, our writers offer up their thoughts on who Marc Bergevin should be targeting for trade talks.
Tom Donovan: The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames top my list of the most likely trade destinations for Max Pacioretty. The Oilers need a winger fast enough to play with Connor McDavid, and Pacioretty fits that bill to a T. The Canadiens, meanwhile, desperately need a center, and while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is not the bonafide top pivot the Habs covet, he would be a significant upgrade where it’s most sorely needed, with a cap-friendly deal that expires in 2020-21. Throw in picks and/or moveable parts, and you may have the makings of a blockbuster deal. RFA Darnell Nurse would look good in a Habs’ jersey, too, but you have to believe the Oilers will do everything they can to sign him to a bridge deal. Another scenario would see the Habs swap Pacioretty for the Oilers’ first-round pick in the upcoming draft – the Oilers hold the tenth pick – for a chance to select top-rated centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Calgary is also among my likely destinations for Pacioretty. T.J. Brodie – long the subject of trade rumours – would give the Habs another puck-moving blueliner, as would Dougie Hamilton, who is widely rumoured to be available. The Flames are still waiting for Sam Bennett to unlock his considerable potential, and a fresh start might be just the thing he needs to do so. RFA Mark Jankowski, coming off a sophomore season that saw him pot 17 goals, would give the Habs a centre with size and offensive upside. Pacioretty would slot in nicely alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, giving the Flames a top line as lethal as any in the league.
Brian La Rose: Bergevin’s comments at the end-of-season presser last month implied that he doesn’t have a lot of interest in extending Pacioretty so the first question becomes is it better to deal him now or wait to see if someone has an in-season injury or struggles out of the gate or gets desperate? Considering it seems to be getting harder and harder to make non-deadline moves during the season and the anticipated increase in the cap, the time to make the move is this summer.
The next question is whether or not to look for a futures return or more of a win-now one. Long-term, the former makes more sense but I don’t get the sense that the Habs are going to willingly sign up for more losing next season. As a result, that will probably limit the number of suitors.
In terms of possible fits, Calgary stands out. They’re looking for more offence and have a very deep back end. Brodie has been speculated as a possible trade candidate and he’d fit Montreal’s needs well as a puck-mover that could play alongside Shea Weber. He also has an extra year left on his contract which would be appealing to Bergevin. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edmonton look to move Oscar Klefbom after he had a down year – he’d be a riskier pickup given the term left on his deal but the reward potential is certainly there. Pacioretty could slide in on their second line and really bolster their attack.
Our other writers below offer up some similar ideas so I don’t want to duplicate all of them here. I’ll instead offer up the Devils as a dark horse team to watch for. I think they’re going to look to make a splash or two this summer and if Bergevin is okay with more of a futures return, they have some young centres in their system that the Habs would certainly have interest in.
Kevin Leveille: When asked about the possibility of trading Pacioretty at the deadline, my answer was that the return would be underwhelming and that Bergevin should wait. The winning of the lottery has all but guaranteed that the Habs’ position of strength (the wing) will get stronger and that trading Pacioretty now makes the most sense to fix obvious areas of need at centre and left defence. I believe as many as 18 teams would be interested to make Bergevin an offer for Pacioretty, with various levels of interest by the potential suitors and/or Bergevin. The GM should have the choice of heading in various directions with this deal.
Will he opt to be aggressive and take a win-now approach? This could open trade talks with teams in Alberta. Packaging Pacioretty with a young defender such as Victor Mete or Noah Juulsen could land either packages of Bennett and Brodie or Klefbom and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the Habs. This is not my recommended approach for Bergevin, and fanbases are likely to argue who needs to add to make the deals work.
Will he opt for the usual route of maintaining a competitive team? This would give the team to make the playoffs now, but won’t sacrifice another young defender. Here we find many rumoured trades that I hope Bergevin steers clear of. One-for-one deals involving Ryan O’Reilly, Nick Foligno, Kyle Turris, or Ryan McDonagh are not good ideas. This category is also where the most advantageous deals find themselves if one doesn’t mind dreaming big. Perhaps a trade to Vegas for Shea Theodore plus a first round pick could be feasible. Or maybe the Rangers want to bring him home for Brady Skjei plus their top-10 selection? What if Montreal sacrificed one of their second-rounders and tried to take advantage of a new GM in Minnesota? Pacioretty plus a pick for Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin? It’s nice to dream, but that’s all it’s likely to be.
I think the best possible return for Pacioretty happens if Bergevin commits himself to a quick rebuild, removing the idea of necessarily being competitive in 2018-2019. This would open the avenue of the most discussed rumour around the trade deadline in the St. Louis Blues: Robert Thomas or Jordan Kyrou + picks being the desired return. Perhaps the most intriguing deal of all is down this path with the Carolina Hurricanes. What if Noah Hanifin and Nicolas Roy were to be the return? How would Hab fans feel if Bergevin balked at the idea of adding to Pacioretty for this return and the trade became Pacioretty for Haydn Fleury and Nicolas Roy? To be a fly on the wall in Bergevin’s office…
Norm Szcyrek: I am not sure the Habs will trade Max this offseason unless he was the subject of Bergevin’s “attitude” [as in bad] comments Marc repeatedly made at the end of season press conference. If the Habs do trade him then I would predict the two likely targets are either Florida or Anaheim.
There was a rumour of the Panthers being interested in Max while offering RW/C Nick Bjugstad. Montreal’s counter-offer was centre Vincent Trocheck, who I would be ecstatic to see play for the Habs, but that was turned down. Some type of trade could still be salvaged between these two teams as the NHL draft approaches.
Ducks GM Bob Murray has a connection with Bergevin from their days in Chicago, and the two teams have made minor deals in the past. At centre, Ryan Getzlaf is practically an untouchable, and Ryan Kesler is not likely someone the Habs would want back, especially given the questions surrounding his health for next season. The Ducks have two great high-end centre prospects in Sam Steel and Troy Terry who I doubt Anaheim would want to part with to Montreal. However, Adam Henrique may be available, and for the Habs, he could be a solid #2 two way centre who can also play wing. If Anaheim does not want to part with a centre, then perhaps a right winger like Jakob Silfverberg may be available. He’s two years younger than Max, can play left wing and also has one season left before becoming a UFA. Jakob is their #2 right winger but with the improvements of Ondrej Kase, he may be on the verge of dropping to the #3 slot on the Ducks’ depth chart.
Dave Woodward: While the Canadiens may end up regretting it, it appears that the decision has been made not to extend Pacioretty beyond next season. If that is the case, they would be wise to deal him at the Entry Draft or before next season while the full benefit of his club-friendly $4.5M cap hit for the 2018-19 season can help yield the best possible return for their Captain.
Any trade must address the Canadiens’ most urgent needs. Their foremost needs are a left-handed top-pairing defenceman to play with Weber and a first line and a second line centre. Of course, Pacioretty’s trade will not address all these areas and the trade itself will subtract 30 goals from the Canadiens’ pop-gun offence. However, Pacioretty’s market value may well be inflated by the Kessel factor. Phil Kessel had problems with the spotlight in Toronto. The media attention weighed on Kessel and his performance suffered. He also played with ordinary Centres, which hindered Kessel’s production. The trade to Pittsburgh released the coy Wisconsin native of any team ambassador responsibilities and, with the opportunity to play with an elite centre, Kessel has thrived.
Given the above, perhaps the most compatible trade partner for Pacioretty is the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have two elite centres and are in dire need of secondary scoring. Pacioretty has demonstrated that the captaincy in Montreal weighs on him. Max struggles when he is the number one guy. The situation in Edmonton is almost a Kesselian fit for earnest Max. In Edmonton, McDavid will quite rightly be option one for the lower key Edmonton press corps and Max will, in comparison to his Montreal role, enjoy a more private role, part of the leadership group but not the team’s PR point man. With the opportunity to play alongside either McDavid or Leon Draisatl, Pacioretty could well shatter the impressive numbers he registered as the number one goal scorer for the offensively-challenged Habs. That possibility may well entice Edmonton to part with some serious talent for Pacioretty’s services.
The Oilers have a couple roster players that would address the Canadiens’ needs, namely Nugent-Hopkins (either a 1A or 2nd line centre on most teams) and Darnell Nurse, a young, left-handed defenceman who could play with and benefit under the tutelage of Weber (of course, we assume that Draisaitl is going nowhere). The Oilers also have the tenth pick in the NHL Draft, right around the rankings of this draft’s best centre prospects such as Oliver Wahlstrom (who is listed as a winger or a centreman), Joe Veleno, Barrett Hayton and Kotkaniemi.
If discussions with the Oilers do not work out, the Florida Panthers are another option. Unlike the Habs, the Panthers have had success developing young centreman and Trocheck is someone Montreal would like to see come the other way in a deal involving Pacioretty. The Panthers also have the 14th pick in this year’s draft (see the above).
I would also consider the following targets in no particular order:
1. Tyler Toffoli in Los Angeles and/or the Kingston Frontenacs’ Gabe Vilardi (a Kings’ prospect who they are unlikely to part with).
2. Ryan O’Reilly and/or Sam Reinhart in Buffalo.
3. Robert Thomas of the Hamilton Bulldogs but this is likely a pipe dream. St. Louis is unlikely to trade the rights to this young man.
4. Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, and/or Jacob Slavin in Carolina.
5. Joel Eriksson Ek in Minnesota.
Ideally, the Canadiens will target a younger player for Pacioretty whose cap hit is favourable and who will also be under club control for at least a few more years. That will allow the acquired player(s)/ pick(s) to move toward their prime with the Habs’ younger forwards that will ultimately form the Canadiens’ core in the medium term. Certainly, there is no point adding a Jeff Carter (age 33) from Los Angeles. The Canadiens are not a Carter away from contending in the next few years. No. 25 is a long way away. The return for Captain Max should be focussed on addressing glaring needs and building part of your core, ideally now but most importantly in the long term.
There is a legitimate concern about whether the Canadiens’ long-term interests are aligned with those of their embattled GM. Bergevin is under tremendous pressure to turn the ship around quickly in order to save his job. Hopefully, in this pivotal deal, Bergevin will not compromise the Habs’ long-term future by settling for a short-term “fix”. That type of deal might help them make the playoffs next year but will not bring home No. 25, which at the end of the day should be all that matters.