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What would a Jeff Skinner trade mean for Max Pacioretty’s value?

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With a comparable reportedly about to come off the market, could Pacioretty be next?

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

According to a report from Darren Dreger, the Carolina Hurricanes may be on the verge of trading Jeff Skinner. This comes after Pierre LeBrun had put out there that the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues were interested in his services.

If the Hurricanes’ alternate captain is, in fact, about to come off the market, the focus around the league for teams in need of a goal-scoring winger is likely to shift singularly toward Max Pacioretty.

While there has been much speculation about what type of return Pacioretty would command for the Montreal Canadiens, we are likely to get our answer if Skinner is first to be moved.

The two are very comparable players in a lot of areas. The calling card for each is their ability to put pucks in the back of the net, which they have done at a remarkably similar pace over the past three seasons, at least when you look at their play in all situations.

The Hurricanes’ target-man tallied 89 goals in 243 games since the 2015-16 season, averaging out to 0.36/game. The Canadiens’ captain, meanwhile, has scored 82 times in 227 appearances, equalling Skinner’s rate.

Image credit: Bill Comeau

There starts to be some divergence, though, when you look at their production at 5v5. Since 2015, Skinner has scored 65 goals when both teams were at full strength. That’s 20 more than Pacioretty has managed.

There is a “good luck, bad luck” argument to be made here, though. We’re comparing an unusually good year from Skinner in 2016-17, in which he scored on 13.2% of his shots, to an unusually bad year from Pacioretty in 2017-18. Pacioretty’s shooting percentage was a measly 4.8% at 5v5, well below his usual form.

As a result, we should expect any regression back to the norm to favour Pacioretty. Of course, when you’re talking about value in a trade, general managers around the league aren’t likely to make that concession during negotiations with Marc Bergevin, resulting in a selling-low scenario for a Habs team that may have no other choice.

While both players are known primarily as goal-scorers, we should also look at what else they bring to the table.

There is little argument to be made about which player is more defensively responsible. While neither starts in the defensive zone very often, Pacioretty does so more often. The more telling stat here is how often each player is trusted on the penalty kill.

Pacioretty played 108 minutes short-handed for the Canadiens, while Skinner came off the bench for just 40 seconds while the Hurricanes were on the penalty kill this past season.

The Canadiens’ veteran winger is also the stronger possession player of the two, with far better CF% numbers relative to his team than Skinner can boast. Pacioretty does so while playing against stronger competition, showing that he is trusted against opposing top lines.

Contractually, the two players are in very similar situations, although Pacioretty provides more value short term. Skinner has one year remaining on his deal with a cap hit of $5,725,000. Pacioretty, too, has a single year remaining, but comes in at a lower cap hit of $4,500,000.

The negotiations from there are where things get interesting. Pacioretty is two years Skinner’s senior, but is said to be looking for a lucrative deal after getting the short-end of the stick in his last contract negotiations.

Potential suitors may be less willing to take on Pacioretty knowing they’re likely going to wind up signing him to a similar deal to what Skinner will receive, while getting fewer prime years out of it. Of course, for teams looking to win immediately, this concern may not be as pronounced. One year of a likely 30-plus-goal-scorer at $4.5M is enticing enough.

With Skinner potentially leaving the block, there will be one less team out there looking for a top-line left-winger. On the other hand, there is one less available, and demand is likely higher than the supply. While there are a number of options out there in free agency, few of them are as sure a thing as Pacioretty, and none will come with as favourable a salary — at least not for this year.

If both players are set to be traded, which of the two is likely to come at a higher price? In any event, if we’re waiting for a domino to fall before Pacioretty is to be moved, a Hurricanes trade may be it.