Being captain of the Montreal Canadiens is a difficult task. Not only are you expected to lead the team on and off the ice every year, but you’re burdened with the expectations of the previous generations of fans; the ones who watched players like Jean Beliveau lead dominant teams to multiple Stanley Cups.
Max Pacioretty has done a fantastic job on and off the ice for the Habs, constantly being their leading scorer, and being at the forefront of the charitable work during the off-season.
Yet, the team’s symbolic leader cannot seem to get a respite from the constant criticism of fans and some branches of the media. With the Canadiens still allegedly looking for a bona fide first-line centre, and/or a top-pairing defender, his name gets mentioned as part of a package for an established NHL star.
There are serious issue with this line of thinking, the first being that the team has no one to replace his talent on the wing, and they’re trading another piece of an established core that should have been extremely easy to build around for many years.
In the short term view of things, trading away Pacioretty means a lot more than just trading the spokesman of your team, and one of the faces of the franchise, it also means they’re trading away one of the NHL’s best goal-scorers.
In the past five years he trails only Alex Ovechkin, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Kane, and Sidney Crosby for total goals. That’s not just elite territory, that’s the upper echelon of the NHL elite, with multiple league MVPs included. Since becoming a full-time NHL player, in every 82-game season Pacioretty has scored 30 goals, and added at least 20 assists in each of those years, while also eating up harsher minutes and taking shifts on the penalty kill.
Compared to his peers in the league, Pacioretty matches them in terms of first-assist production and shot suppression, while being well above average in terms of scoring goals and generating shots.
The greatest part of this is he’s doing it on one of the best deals in the NHL, where he is paid a mere $4.5 million a season. That’s not just a steal by Marc Bergevin, it’s felonious robbery.
Some bemoan his lack of playoff production, when in reality he’s produced at a pace just outside of first-line production, all while leading the team in shots, and scoring chances, and going toe-to-toe with the opponent’s top forwards on a nightly basis.
The narrative that Pacioretty isn’t clutch is unfair, and in all likelihood if he wasn’t wearing a C on his jersey this criticism wouldn’t be brought up nearly as much.
It would be impossible to get back fair value in a trade. Not only do you need to replace a 30-goal-scorer, you have to replace one of the league’s best defensive 30-goal-scorers, and you’re probably not going to find another one of those for anywhere close to $4.5 million a year.
Trading Pacioretty would mean that the only major building blocks Bergevin has left from when he took over are Alex Galchenyuk, who has been rumoured to be on the trade block for the past year, and Carey Price who just signed an eight year mega deal with Montreal.
Moving Pacioretty would signal that the team is ready to blow the team up and start rebuilding from the net out with Price and Weber on defence as his two core pieces. In the possibly near future a rebuild might be easily possible on the fly, with the hefty contract of Tomas Plekanec potentially coming off the books, but as it stands right now rebuilding is the worst possible option for Montreal.
Carey Price is exiting his prime years, and despite being the best goalie in the world, he will experience a decline — one that’s not just a temporary stretch of poor play — at some point. Moving away arguably your most valuable asset in Pacioretty during a closing Cup window is bad asset management.
Losing Pacioretty means that Bergevin will have effectively neutered the team he took over in 2013; a team that had a mix of promising young prospects, established young players on forward and defence, and the league’s best goaltender. Price will still be in net, sure, but unless he finds a way to score goals from his crease, he won’t be able to shoulder the load forever.
Instead of focusing the criticism on a proven goal-scorer — even in seasons when the team struggled to come up with offence — it would be wiser to point the finger at a bottom six that has never really threatened the opposing goaltender in recent seasons, a defence corps that often gets trapped in its own end, the coaches who include those players in their strategies, or the man at the top who provided all the pieces for them to work with.