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Canadiens, Pacioretty end saga with trade to Golden Knights for Tatar, Suzuki and pick

The Montreal Canadiens and Max Pacioretty have finally split. After months of speculation, Pacioretty has been shipped to the Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, 2017 first-round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick.

The rumors surrounding Max Pacioretty’s future ramped up ahead of last season’s trade deadline, continued on at the draft, were a constant source of concern throughout the summer and threatened to carry on into the regular season. But with days to go before the start of training camp, the Montreal Canadiens have finally put an end to the saga.

Late Sunday evening, the Canadiens announced a swap with the Vegas Golden Knights in which they sent their now-former captain to Sin City in exchange for a package that includes winger Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick, previously owned by the Columbus Blue Jackets. As part of the trade, Montreal retained 10 percent of Pacioretty’s contract, which works out to $450,000 for the 2018-19 campaign, while Vegas retained roughly 9.4 percent of Tatar’s pact, roughly $500,000 per season, across the three campaigns left on his contract.

Pacioretty’s departure from the Canadiens signals the end of an era. Montreal’s first-round pick, 22nd overall, at the 2007 draft, he debuted with the Canadiens during the 2008-09 campaign, took strides towards become a fixture in 2009-10 and had a promising campaign derailed in 2010-11 by injury. But upon making his return and playing his first full season in the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge come the 2011-12 campaign, a season in which he won the Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance, Pacioretty asserted himself as a true top talent and offensive driver in Montreal. From 2011-12 on through last season, he was the Canadiens leader in goals, assists, points, power play goals and scored an incredible 43 game-winning tallies.

That chapter is closed now, though, and Pacioretty heads to Vegas with his sights set on bouncing back from what was statistically the worst full campaign of his career. He managed just 17 goals and 37 points in 64 games in 2017-18, a precipitous downturn from the 35 goals and 67 points he had scored one season prior. There’s every reason to believe Pacioretty, 29, can find his form with the Golden Knights, however.

In Vegas, coach Gerard Gallant has his team play an up-tempo, transition game that was offensively fruitful for all involved last season. Several players on what was considered a ragtag group heading into the Golden Knights inaugural campaign went on to have breakout years, and Vegas, once believed to be patched together by spare parts and castoffs, went on to have the league’s fifth-highest scoring offense, a top-10 power play and were tied for the 10th-best shots per game total of any team last season. Better yet, Pacioretty is going to have a wealth of offensive talent around him, and chances are he’s going to have the opportunity to play on a line with either William Karlsson or Paul Stastny as his center. All of that bodes well for Pacioretty, who, barring last season, has proven himself to be one of the game’s most skilled finishers.

Even with last season’s difficulties, Pacioretty has maintained an 11.5 percent shooting percentage over the past seven campaigns, and when it comes to pure goal scoring, there are few players who boast better resumes. Since the outset of the 2011-12 campaign, only eight players have scored more goals than Pacioretty, but he’s more than kept pace with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane. And again, barring last season, Pacioretty has been remarkably consistent. Over the past seven seasons, he has five 30-goal campaigns and scored at nearly the same clip during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13.

It’s evident the Golden Knights are putting stock in Pacioretty maintaining that rate of scoring, too, given the healthy return the Canadiens received. The only surefire NHL-ready talent of the bunch is Tatar, 27, who has scored at least 20 goals in each of the past four campaigns, but in Suzuki and a second-round selection, Vegas has given up two significant assets. Suzuki is especially worth watching, as the 19-year-old has scored a remarkable 120 goals and 271 points in 226 games across the regular season and playoffs in the OHL over the past three seasons. He was Vegas’ third-ranked prospect in The Hockey News’ annual yearbook.

But the weight of the trade for Vegas goes beyond the two players and pick, as the entire scope of the swap has seen the Golden Knights essentially give up an additional three draft choices in the process. Tatar was acquired at last season’s deadline for three picks — a 2018 first, 2019 second and 2021 third — and now those selections have become a sunk cost with the winger shipped off in the Pacioretty deal.

The hope in Vegas, however, is that Pacioretty’s performance long-term will outweigh the cost of the acquisition. And rest assured, Pacioretty is part of the long-term plan for the Golden Knights. It has long been reported that agreement to a contract extension had been one of the sticking points in any trade involving Pacioretty, and it was rumored and all but confirmed to be the lone thing that kept him from becoming a Los Angeles King at the draft. It has been reported by Sportsnet’s Eric Engels and TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie that Pacioretty and the Golden Knights are engaged in contract talks. It should be said that after taking a sweetheart deal with the Canadiens on his last deal, Pacioretty is undoubtedly looking to cash in this time around.

Pacioretty’s new pact with Vegas is the secondary story here, though, as the swap puts an end to the long-standing speculation about his future in Montreal and sees a captain and fan favorite depart. Now, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight, and after months upon months of trade talk and contract ultimatums, everyone, including the Canadiens, can begin the process of moving on.