Max Pacioretty has been a focal point of the Montreal offense for nearly a decade, but with free agency in the offing, the Canadiens seem prepared to move their captain along. Where will he land?
Over the past decade in Montreal, Max Pacioretty has played more than 650 games for the Canadiens, over which time he has scored a team-leading 236 goals, registered 567 points and scored at a rate higher than any other long-tenured player. He’s become the centrepiece of the offense, an on- and off-ice leader and the 29th captain in the history of the league’s most storied franchise.
But with unrestricted free agency in the offing and arguably the Canadiens’ best forward of this generation due a new deal next July, Montreal has reportedly informed Pacioretty that his career will be continuing elsewhere.
On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Marc Antoine Godin reported that Pacioretty, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Canadiens in 2007, has been told by Habs GM Marc Bergevin that the organization does not intend to negotiate a contract extension with the 29-year-old winger, which makes it all the more clear that Pacioretty’s days in Montreal are numbered. The report comes on the heels of plenty of speculation leading up to last season’s trade deadline and the early portion of the summer, including some draft day scuttlebutt centering on a reported deal between the Canadiens and San Jose Sharks involving Pacioretty.
If Montreal has told Pacioretty that there’s no opportunity for an extension, it appears the only question remaining is whether or not he begins the campaign as a Canadien. There is no reason for Montreal to move their captain with any immediacy and Bergevin could wait until he fields what he feels is the best possible offer for the goal-scoring winger instead of rushing along a trade. So, it could be days, weeks or months before Pacioretty is on the move. But when he does get shipped off, here are five destinations that make sense:
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Obvious, of course. Even if the reports of Pacioretty’s trade to San Jose were a mess come draft weekend, it doesn’t change the fact that the Sharks seem sure to add either before the campaign begins or early in the season. As it stands, San Jose has more than $7.3 million in cap space with which to work and with the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames and arguably the Los Angeles Kings each improving their rosters significantly this summer, it feels as though it’s only a matter of time before Sharks GM Doug Wilson makes his big off-season addition.
Pacioretty as a fit in San Jose makes all sorts of sense, too. The Sharks’ offense was middling last season, finishing 13th in the league, but they could use another piece up top to really turn their top two lines into a powerhouse. With Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl already in place and locked up for next season, Pacioretty could be the final piece of the puzzle. And while it might only last one season, it sure would be interesting to see how Pacioretty, in search of a bounce back campaign, would fare with Thornton as his center.
The most apparent destination? Maybe not, but Pacioretty and Carolina could form a nice marriage. The Hurricanes finished last season with the ninth-lowest goals per game rate in the NHL and only three teams have a lower rate of scoring over the past four campaigns. Suffice to say, Carolina needs scoring and Pacioretty can bring it in bunches. Though he’s coming off of one of his lowest scoring seasons, the veteran winger has shown over the past decade that he’s a capable 30-goal scorer. He’s reached the plateau five times and has a .36 career goals per game rate. That’s 29.5 goals per 82 games over the course of his career.
The Hurricanes definitely have assets that can be used to pry the winger out of Montreal, as well. While Carolina is no doubt hoping for a return to form, Victor Rask’s disappointing 2017-18 might make him trade fodder and an intriguing trade chip, while it’s no secret the Hurricanes have had conversations about moving Jeff Skinner and co-captain Justin Faulk. Add Pacioretty to a line that already includes Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and Carolina could have a lethal unit on its hands.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
There’s no replacing superstar center John Tavares, particularly not with a slightly older winger. That said, if the Islanders are at all interested in recouping some of the offense that was lost when ‘JT’ bolted in free agency and inked a deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, Pacioretty isn’t a half-bad option.
On the whole, the two aren’t all that statistically comparable as Tavares is undoubtedly the more complete player and has 372 points to Pacioretty’s 295 points over the past five seasons. Where Pacioretty can replace Tavares, however, is in the goal department. Since 2013-14, Tavares scored 160 goals in 378 games for New York, while Pacioretty has scored 158 goals in 380 games in Montreal across the same span. Pacioretty also puts far more rubber on goal and has proven himself to be an effective power play scorer. The Islanders need those attributes in a player with Tavares gone.
The only issue is prying Pacioretty out of Montreal. Ideally, New York wouldn’t do away with young assets and picks, but it’s tough to find a worthwhile roster option that would get the Canadiens to bite on a deal.
The Ducks managed to keep pace in the Pacific last season despite having difficulty on the attack. In fact, Anaheim’s offense was about as top-heavy as any in the league. Rickard Rakell led the charge with 34 goals while Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique chipped in 20 apiece. And forget about a handful flirting with the 20-goal plateau as the Ducks had only two other players exceed 15 tallies. Pacioretty would be the perfect fit to inject some offense into the top six, particularly as Corey Perry slips further and further from his former 50-goal form. Pair Pacioretty up with Ryan Getzlaf, who continues to be a supreme playmaker, and there’s a chance the winger bounces back with a 35-goal campaign.
None of this, however, is to mention that the Ducks simply need some additional bodies to fill their top-six. There remains questions about the health of Ryan Kesler and how many games he’ll be able to play next season, and given their injury woes next season, Anaheim might simply want to have the security of an additional scorer who can effectively plug into a heavy-minute role.
Not quite a sleeper pick to wade into the Pacioretty trade waters, but the Panthers should be one of the teams that seriously considers scooping up the winger. Unlike others listed above, the need for scoring in Florida isn’t quite as obvious. The Cats scored at nearly three goals per game last season and have a stable of top-six forwards that includes Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov, each of whom scored at least 20 goals last season. But if you add Pacioretty to that mix, the Panthers could immediately have one of the most sneaky-good top-six units in the entire league.
Florida would need to clear roughly $2 million in cap space to comfortably bring Pacioretty aboard this season. Of course, shipping a mid-range salary such as Nick Bjugstad’s $4.1 million the other way would take care of that in a hurry. The long-term outlook isn’t bad for the Panthers, though, because with $16 million-plus available next summer and the core locked up, Pacioretty could be handed a new deal without Florida being too tight under the cap.
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