In a late night bombshell the Montreal Canadiens finally found a home for Max Pacioretty, shipping out their captain to the Vegas Golden Knights days before training camp officially opens. After a long drawn out affair on both sides, involving public tirades from player agents and vehement denials from the GM himself, this nasty saga has come to a close as both sides look ahead.
In return for Pacioretty the Canadiens landed OHL standout Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a second round pick that previously belonged to the Columbus Blue Jackets. While not quite in the same ballpark as the asks at the NHL Draft and last year’s trade deadline, it does land them another draft pick, and one of the most tantalizing prospects outside the NHL right now.
For Pacioretty himself, he finally gets some closure on what was clearly a stressful situation, and will be joining a club that made the Stanley Cup final in their debut season. He’ll also rejoin Gerard Gallant, his former assistant coach who was behind the bench for some of Pacioretty’s best professional seasons. It’s a clean slate and a titanic weight off Pacioretty's shoulders, who despite his poor year (by his standards) is primed for a bounce back campaign in the desert.
Digging into the pieces coming back to Montreal, one thing should be made very clear. Nick Suzuki is an outstanding prospect, and adding him to an increasingly deep pool is a major victory for Marc Bergevin. Suzuki is a right handed centre, which now gives the Canadiens an almost criminally unfair depth down the middle with Suzuki joining the likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Cam Hillis, Lukas Vejdemo and others in the Montreal system.
Unlike the defensively responsible Poehling and Vejdemo, and the developing Kotkaniemi, Suzuki has a nose for the net, compiling back-to-back 40+ goal seasons for the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, while also piling up 95+ points in both years. Even more impressively, these numbers are not substantially buoyed by secondary assists. Out of Suzuki’s 100 points in the OHL last year, 76 of them were primary points (42 goals, 34 first assists), and he posted a similar efficiency in the years prior to that. He’s a true game-breaker in the Canadiens’ prospect pool now, and adding his talents to a growing core of centre depth should be music to the ears of Habs fans everywhere.
Moreover, Suzuki loves to shoot the puck, and it’s not indiscriminate. There’s a pattern to where you can find him in the offensive zone.
With his agility and elusiveness with the puck, Suzuki knows how to get into the dangerous areas of the ice and put shots on net. His heat map shows that the slot and right in front of the net is his office, and given his goal scoring totals it’s clear that business is booming there for him.
As for Tomas Tatar, he’s the add on piece in this deal from Vegas, and the important thing to note is that he is not going to replace Pacioretty’s offence in any way right now. Additionally, with three years left at 5.3 million dollars per year, Tatar’s contract isn’t going to hurt the Canadiens in the slightest. In fact without any players on the LTIR, they still have over seven million dollars in cap space.
Tatar will be a middle six winger for the Canadiens this year, and he has some offence to give. However, compared to Pacioretty, the Canadiens are obviously going to be hurting a bit to replace that production.
Decent goal-scoring numbers, backed by a good penalty differential and shooting percentage, helped Tatar at even strength over the past two seasons, but even so he cannot be counted on to fill in Pacioretty's scoring shoes.
For the Red Wings and Knights, Tatar’s shooting locations were almost the exact same, which is good, as there’s a noticeable dip when he is off the ice for his clubs.
When Tatar is on the ice, the left side by the face-off circle becomes a hot bed for shots, and given his position it’s clear that is where he likes to set up shop in the offensive zone. This isn’t to say that he’s a one dimensional player, he’s a fantastic skater with dynamic hands that he puts to great use in all situations.
Finding a playmaker for him will be the biggest task in training camp for the Canadiens, but with Jonathan Drouin, and Max Domi both around, there are multiple options available for him.
With the Canadiens situation being what it is currently there is always the chance Tatar is only in Montreal for a short while, and he could be flipped in a trade at the deadline or further along in the future depending on the status of the team in question.
As for the draft pick, in the last few years Montreal has done an outstanding job both drafting and stockpiling picks, and it’s begun to pay dividends for the club. In the past two drafts, thanks to a trove of picks, they have been able to restock their proverbial cupboard on defence and at centre, their two biggest areas of weakness. Adding another pick, and likely many more over the course of this season, is further indicative that the club is indeed working it’s way through a rebuild.
It’s a far cry from the rumored return of Gabriel Vilardi and Tyler Toffoli plus picks from the Los Angeles Kings, but landing an elite level prospect like Suzuki is still good business. While it will likely remain a mystery forever, the Canadiens might have been able to get more in a deal had the back and forth between camps not reached the levels that it did. Pacioretty for all his faults, real and otherwise, is still a player capable of eclipsing 30 goals on a regular basis, and his absence is going to sting a Montreal club that relied heavily on his output.
This trade however primarily reinforces the idea that the Canadiens are entering into a rebuild, even if Marc Bergevin won’t say those words out loud. It is unlikely to be a pretty season, but in the coming years, when their prospects reach the NHL, the Canadiens might have played the long con to a great degree of success.
Heatmaps courtesy of HockeyViz.com