The Max Pacioretty trade caught no one by surprise but what the Habs received in return did for some. Our writers weigh in with their thoughts on the move.
Tom Donovan: Just when you thought Marc Bergevin had backed himself into an all-too-familiar corner, with the punditry saying he’d never net the same return as Canes’ GM Don Waddell – a prospect and three picks, including a second-rounder, for Skinner – the Habs’ GM pulled a proverbial rabbit from his helmet in the form of consensus top prospect Nick Suzuki. The second-round pick was the cherry on the sundae. With this trade, Bergevin may have saved his muscled bacon. Perhaps most encouragingly, he and the organization have sent a strong message to fans that the rebuild is officially on, if we can all just agree not to call it that (sacrilege!).
Expect more of the same this season, with the Habs falling deep out of playoff by the time Shea Weber returns from injury. A blessing in disguise, in my view, as it will hasten the rebuild and allow the Habs’ brass to add to their rich trove of picks from what’s expected to be a banner 2019 draft class.
Will Weber be the next to go? I’m guessing they want him around to mentor the kids—second-tier prospects like Josh Brook and Cale Fleury, for starters, who are close to turning pro. Fair enough. Weber showing the ropes to the new line of defence can only help fine-tune their development. Carey Price? Traded? Highly unlikely, unless there’s a GM unhinged enough to take on his contract.
More importantly for Bergevin, he’s finally addressed the Canadiens’ epic and much-bemoaned need for a number-one centre – check that: they’ll take a number two, as well. At long last, the Habs, in a few short years, should be stacked at the position – something we haven’t been able to say for as long as most of us can remember.
In trading their captain and the face of the franchise, the Habs are also acknowledging what most of us have known for a few years now: Pacioretty may have been a good captain and ambassador for the franchise, but he is too mercurial a player – his playoff record speaks for itself – to act as captain of an NHL team. On the ice, where it matters, he lacks the mettle needed to lead men into battle, game in, game out.
Brian La Rose: I like the move. Not only was I pleasantly surprised that the winger market wasn’t as completely dried up as it looked like following the Jeff Skinner and Mike Hoffman trades, Suzuki should slot in as another long-term core piece while giving them another option at centre which, all of a sudden, is a position of strength. Montreal is quietly assembling a decent young group of forwards that in a few years from now could be quite strong if players progress as hoped.
I’m not a huge fan of Tatar but he’ll fill a role. I suspect he’ll wind up being like Thomas Vanek’s time with the team – he’ll put up decent numbers but not bring much else to the table which will result in him being demoted down the lineup somewhat regularly. It’s not a great contract to try to move (unless you’re Ken Holland) and it will take some time for him to really rebuild his value. In other words, they’re not going to be able to flip him quickly unless they eat a lot of the contract which isn’t a great idea.
This further cements the idea that 2018-19 is going to be particularly rough for Montreal. They’re a team that struggles to score and now they’ve traded their top two scoring threats so some rough days certainly appear to be on the horizon. This wasn’t a win-now move for the team so it appears that management sees the light and is committed to restocking the cupboards.
I also think this will be a good fit for Pacioretty. He gets a nice raise for this season given the difference in tax brackets and then a big raise for what will probably account for the rest of his top years. He’ll have a lot less pressure and should play with a good centre as well in either William Karlsson or Paul Stastny. He winds up in a good spot and the Habs get a nice return. Not a bad piece of business overall.
Kevin Leveille: With the Pacioretty trade to Vegas, I think perception is everything. If this exact trade happens at the trade deadline, my feeling would have certainly been one of disappointment. However, with the circus that this situation had become, I honestly expected much worse than this return. The Habs have traded away a player who’s scored 30 goals in four of the last four seasons, but he’s coming off a 17-goal campaign. Likewise, they are acquiring a player who’s scored at least 20 goals in his last five seasons (fine, he only scored 19 in his first full season but he also missed nine games…), but he was not a fit in Vegas after his trade there at the 2018 deadline. Both players should have plenty to prove to their new clubs to address question marks that arose last season.
Pacioretty definitely holds a higher ceiling if he bounces back which left Vegas adding to the deal in a second round pick and yet another centre prospect in Nick Suzuki. Suzuki was the 13th overall selection in 2017 who’s scored 96 and 100 points in the OHL over the last two seasons. He’s a smaller centre at 5’11 but appears to be responsible as shown by his +51 and +30 stat lines demonstrate. Then one has to consider that Vegas is picking up some of Tatar’s contract and handed Max a four-year $28M contract. I think that’s a steep price for Pacioretty, though Vegas did well in keeping the term of the deal to four years. For a team that certainly doesn’t appear to be anywhere near contention, trading away the potential big contract of Pacioretty for a 10-year asset in Suzuki and keeping a capable body on the current roster in Pacioretty’s spot appears to be a rare win for Bergevin when it comes to trades.
Paul MacLeod: Matt Duchene and Max Pacioretty are comparable players with some pundits giving Duchene an edge, undeserved in my opinion because he is three years younger and plays centre. Pacioretty has scored 25 more goals and 54 fewer assists in 28 fewer games.
Max Pacioretty: 626 games played; 226 goals; 222 assists= 448 pts or .716 PPG
Matt Duchene: 654 games played; 201 goals; 276 assists= 477 pts or .729 PPG
As we know, Montreal got only one player (Tomas Tatar, who has never scored more than 29 goals and who was a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs), one prospect, Nick Suzuki, and one draft pick (Columbus’s 2nd rounder for the upcoming draft) for Pacioretty.
In contrast, Colorado received 3 picks (Ottawa’s 1st in 2018, Nashville’s 2nd in 2018, and Ottawa’s 3rd in 2019). 3 prospects including well-regarded centre Shane Bowers, defence prospect Samuel Girard, and winger prospect Vladislav Kamenev), and Andrew Hammond, a backup goaltender.
Why would Montreal get so little and Colorado so much? The answer seems to be that Pacioretty has only one year left on his contract. However, that explanation does not hold up to examination as an extension with Pacioretty was a condition of the deal.
The real explanation is simple. Montreal mishandled the situation. The brain trust, and I use that phrase in its loosest possible definition, failed to offer their Captain an extension and made it known that they did not want him back at any price.
Again, the “plan” seems to be “if we don’t want them, then we have to make them look bad so we won’t look like idiots for making this trade”. Once again, that plan didn’t work except for the part where the organization systematically devaluates an important asset while further damaging what little credibility they have left.
If the plan was to trade Pacioretty it should have been done prior to last season’s trade deadline so that the return would be maximized.
I don’t care about WHO gets traded; it’s all about the return. For most of Bergevin’s major trades, the return has not been good enough. The return has not been good enough – especially in the last two trades because the Canadiens have actively acted against the organization’s best interests when dealing with, and talking about, the player involved.
The Canadiens used to be known as the best organization in hockey. Now, instead of the strategic magic of a genius like Sam Polloc0, they have a bumbling, reactive, dimwit who would not know a strategic plan if he tripped over it.
Subban, Galchenyuk, now Pacioretty – all gone. The return? An aging defenceman, a couple of reclamation projects up front, one draft pick, and one prospect.
It is to weep.
Norm Szcyrek: The long rumoured trade of Pacioretty out of Montreal has finally come true. On the surface, it appears to be one of those hockey trades that will benefit both teams. Vegas is getting a good two-way goal scorer who will help offset the loss of production from other veterans they lost to free agency. The Golden Knights have one of the best top lines in the league, so Max will likely slot in on the second line and should flourish with Paul Stastny as his centre.
The return to Montreal is good. Tatar is a streaky scorer, albeit a one-dimensional one. The seasons he flourished in Detroit was when he was sheltered on the second or third lines, so if he receives top line minutes in Montreal, he’s likely to struggle. I like Suzuki as a prospect. Although he’s not big, he has great hockey sense which will help him adjust and eventually adapt to the pro game. His offensive skills are excellent, with great playmaking and shooting abilities. His skating is not at the same level, but I don’t believe it’s enough of a handicap that will hold him back so long as he puts in the work to improve it. Suzuki has played both centre and on the wing. Given the lack of talent at the pro and amateur levels at both positions, I am fine with Suzuki eventually becoming a pro player at either forward slot. If he doesn’t thrive down the middle and ends up a playmaking winger in the mold of an Alexander Radulov, then the Habs will benefit even though the organization needs centres now and the in the near future. The second round pick is a nice addition, and it comes from Columbus so it’s likely to be in the bottom third of that round.
Even though this trade can be seen as a “win” it’s also a loss in a few ways. Trading a captain out of Montreal is never a positive sign. That position used to be a status symbol within the league but now appears to be a high pressure, thankless position that puts an additional spotlight on you without any benefits. I don’t believe Max was a great choice as a captain, but it appears the management team did not want to allow Subban to have that role and did not feel there were any other solid options. Max never seemed very comfortable in that leadership role although he made a good effort in many ways.
During the end of season press conference, Bergevin kept re-emphasizing the importance of attitude, implying there was an attitude issue in the dressing room. I believe that was attributed to Max and Alex Galchenyuk. Last fall when the Habs as a team were struggling, a reporter asked Pacioretty what he thought was contributing to his own struggles. I am paraphrasing his reply, in that he essentially said the talent level around him has been reduced which is the main reason for his reduced offensive numbers. In other words, the loss of players like Radulov and Markov made the team’s talent level weaker, and the replacement players that replaced them did not help. This comment I believe Bergevin took as a challenge to his position, which led to the whole “attitude” issue and likely started the Max trade clock.
Another loss is the whole perception of the trade, meaning did Max request the trade or was it Bergevin’s idea? Both Max and his agent denied a trade was requested from his camp. After the trade was completed, both Bergevin and Geoff Molson said there was a trade request that came from the player. During last spring’s end of season press conference, the Habs made a point of saying the organization would become more transparent with their communications to the media and fans; however, this trade with respect to who initiated it muddies the waters of that topic. In the end, I believe it’s easier to believe the player than the team based on both of their track records of honesty.
Dave Woodward: It would be unfair not to recognize Pacioretty for his contribution to the Montreal Canadiens. He was a top scorer in the league for the last five-plus years without a number one centre to play with and on a team whose pop-gun offence was, well, offensive. Nevertheless, it is time to move on.
The Pacioretty-Bergevin soap opera did not place the Canadiens in a position of strength. Clearly, a divorce was in the best interests of all parties, particularly after Captain Max announced that he would not negotiate an extension during the season. One would have thought that obtaining fair value for Pacioretty was not at all likely but Bergevin did, in fact, obtain a nice return, given the unfortunate set of circumstances that Bergevin was so instrumental in creating.
Vegas clearly received the best player in the deal. Pacioretty will fit in nicely with the Golden Knights, a team that has some real centres and was looking to replace James Neal on the wing. Tatar is the only established NHLer coming to the Canadiens and he has performed well in the past for Detroit. However, his recent and abbreviated time with the Golden Knights was less than inspiring as he was a healthy scratch for much of the playoffs. They were more than delighted to rid themselves of most of Tatar’s $5.3M cap hit. So for the next few years, advantage Vegas.
Of course, the Canadiens project to be a train wreck this year (and perhaps for a few more) with or without Captain Max. Tatar may fill a few seats with die-hard fans while the kids develop but it is the future that is relevant for the Habs. For this reason, Suzuki (and perhaps the second round pick) is the key to the deal. Suzuki can possibly play centre. Along with Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the pipeline at this position, perhaps the kids are all right and better days may be ahead. However, those days will not arrive in 2018-19.
For Vegas, the future is now and Pacioretty may help them win a championship. For the Canadiens, the deal helps them in the future and Tatar, 27, is a few years younger than Pacioretty who is 29 and will turn 30 in November. It may well be a deal that works for both teams.
That said, the Pacioretty-Bergevin soap opera did not have to be this painful. Bergevin’s continued insistence to be the Alpha-male and show every star Canadiens’ player whose boss is not in the best interests of the Canadiens’ organization. Who would want to play in Montreal? High taxes and bad weather are no longer the only drawbacks. Subban, Markov, Radulov, Galchenyuk, and now Pacioretty. I suppose if one wants loyalty, they can buy a dog…or play somewhere else.