The 2017-18 season was tough (and by tough, I mean abysmal) for the Montreal Canadiens.
Their star defenceman injured his foot during the first game of the season and continued to play until it forced him out of the lineup. Shea Weber suited up for the last time in the season on December 27.
The best goalie in the world had the worst season of his career, finishing with a 3.11 goals-against average, .900 save percentage and a record of 16-26-7.
And we witnessed the captain pretty much throw in the gloves and go down with the ship.
It was the start of the 2015-16 season when Max Pacioretty was voted by his teammates to be their captain. For the last three years, we’d watched as he worked to lead and protect his team, aiming to get them to the playoffs and bring home the Stanley Cup. And when the bad streaks came (and they always reared their ugly head), he stood by his team and his city, taking any blame that came his way — even when it wasn’t deserved.
This past season, however, it seemed as if the pressure finally got to the captain, and in turn, his ability to lead the team faltered.
In the previous five full seasons before this disastrous one, Pacioretty easily tallied 30 goals or more, with a high of 39, and 35 just one season ago. This time around he finished with 37 ... points. His game changed, attempting to become more of a playmaker. Trouble is Max, you’re a goal-scorer. This little experiment left him with 17 goals and 20 assists by the end of the season.
Just one season earlier, his team finished first in the Atlantic Division and made it to Game Six against the New York Rangers in the playoffs. This season, the Habs finished 28th overall, ranking 25th in defence and 30th in both offence and the penalty kill.
So, what happened? It could have been management’s tight grip on the purse strings, refusing to spring for a top player who could help out the team. But, according to Marc Bergevin, the team was never fully in sync and the evilness of bad attitudes seeped into the locker room, sucking the fun, drive, and hockey smarts right out of the team. Well, that’s not a direct quote. What Bergevin said was, “Regardless who we bring in, if the team’s attitude doesn’t change, the results won’t.” Potayto, potahto.
By the time the year-end presser rolled around, Pacioretty was well aware that his days in Montreal may be numbered. When David Schlemko gets the nod to participate in a six-round shootout while Patches sits on the bench, you know something’s amiss. In previous years, any time you heard a rumour that the Habs’ top goal-scorer was going to get traded, you’d roll your eyes and give a proper “as if” smirk. But in February, there was no eye-rolling. It was pretty much expected.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human. I take full responsibility for where my game is at and how I’ve contributed to, I guess, the negatives of this season. But to be honest, guys, I can’t shoulder the whole thing,” Pacioretty said during locker cleanout day. “And that’s unfair to myself and to my family. I don’t know if people have taken it wrong, my kind of shortness with the media as of late. But I appreciate the people that did respect the fact I’m a human being and I have a family to worry about.”
Pacioretty has always made it known that he loves playing for the Canadiens. He loves the city and the fans and hopes to remain a Hab. However, he did say that he has no interest in returning if stripped of the ‘C’.
He’s entering the final season of a six-year, $27-million contract, so management has a decision on their hands. Do they attempt to sign him to a new deal, make a trade sometime between now and the 2019 trade deadline, or risk losing him for nothing at the end of next season? Bergevin didn’t do much for the captain’s spirits after stating, “I can’t confirm today because it’s still a long ways, but he’s done a lot here. He’s a goal-scorer and goal-scoring is at a premium in this league, so we’ll have to look closely where we are when we get near July 1.”
A lot of things are going to have to change before October rolls around, both on and off the ice. So, the big questions: Will April 7, 2018 be the last time we’ll have seen Max Pacioretty sporting the ‘C’ for the bleu, blanc et rouge? Is he worthy of being called “captain” next season? Or should someone like Brendan Gallagher, who has only one gear, who battles for any and every puck, who faces the media, and who’s been the heart of the team and an alternate captain for the past three seasons be asked to step into the captain’s skates?
Perhaps we should all just pretend that this season didn’t exist, chalk it up to bad luck, bad attitude, bad management, bad juju, whatever, and just cross our fingers that history doesn’t repeat itself. Whether Pacioretty gets a chance at a do-over next season is the top question regarding the current roster and its leadership core.