It took a lot longer than many expected but the Habs have traded Max Pacioretty. He’s off to Vegas in exchange for top prospect Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a second-round pick.
Pacioretty departs Montreal as one of their top offensive wingers in recent memory. While he had a down season in 2017-18 with just 37 points in 64 games, he led the team in scoring the previous six years.
It’s that type of offensive consistency that will have him in line for a significant raise on his current $4.5 million cap hit beyond 2018-19. Considering that the Habs appear to firmly be in rebuild mode, it would have been hard for the team to justify giving a long-term extension to Pacioretty, who will be 30 when his new deal kicks in. While he undoubtedly still has several strong years left in him, if those correspond with down years for the Canadiens, they won’t really benefit much from the contract.
Pacioretty signed a four-year, $28 million extension with Vegas later on in the day. The deal also contains a partial no-trade clause.
Suzuki is by far the highlight of the return coming back for the Habs. The centre was the 13th overall pick of Vegas back in 2017 and is coming off of his second straight dominant year at the OHL level. In 64 games with Owen Sound, he had 42 goals and 58 assists; his 100 points was the fourth-most league-wide.
The 19-year-old is already signed to his entry-level deal with a base cap hit of $894,166 that can increase to $1.356 million with potential performance bonuses. His contract slid last season and if he doesn’t make the Canadiens out of training camp, it will do so for the second time. He is ineligible to play in Laval this coming season and would have to go back to junior if doesn’t crack the Habs.
Tatar is coming off a particularly rough season himself. He posted his lowest full-season point total with 34 split between Detroit and Vegas. The Golden Knights added him in a late move before the trade deadline in the hopes that he’d add more of an offensive punch for their postseason run. Instead, he spent a lot of it as a healthy scratch.
The 27-year-old has three years left on his contract with a $5.3 million cap hit, making him Montreal’s second-highest paid forward behind Jonathan Drouin. That’s going to be a particularly onerous contract to get rid of (I suspect they were able to get Suzuki only if they took Tatar’s deal in full in return) but with Pacioretty gone, he should get a chance to play in a top-six role and potentially rebuild some value.
However, there is some salary retention on both sides in the trade. The Canadiens are retaining 10% ($450,000) of Pacioretty’s deal while Vegas is retaining 9.434% ($500,000) in each year of Tatar’s contract which makes Montreal’s commitment to Tatar at $4.8 million per season.
The draft pick that Montreal is receiving in the swap is actually from Columbus. Vegas acquired that pick as part of the compensation for them agreeing to take William Karlsson in the Expansion Draft. (That worked out pretty well for them, didn’t it?) The Canadiens now have ten selections for the 2019 draft in place, a total that could certainly go up if they wind up being sellers as the season progresses.
With the addition of Suzuki to a prospect pool that already features Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling, Montreal’s future down the middle hasn’t looked this strong in a long time. It took a long time to get a deal done but the Habs managed to secure a long-term piece for the future, something that Carolina wasn’t able to do earlier this summer in the Jeff Skinner trade. The situation may not be pretty in 2018-19 for the Canadiens but the future certainly looks brighter.