“Given the circumstances”: Reviewing the decisions that ultimately led the Montreal Canadiens to trade their captain

Rumours had been swirling for months, but the reasons for Pacioretty’s trade extend much farther into the past.

The Max Pacioretty trade drama has finally been put to rest with Monday’s 1:00 AM announcement that the now former Montreal Canadiens captain has been dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick.

The initial reactions to the trade are mostly positive. General manager Marc Bergevin was able to land a blue-chip prospect in Suzuki who adds to the organization’s centre depth — whether he becomes a centre or not — while nabbing a solid middle-six winger in Tatar, with a likely top-50 pick. Overall, it’s a much greater pull than what the Carolina Hurricanes got for comparative winger Jeff Skinner.

But beyond the initial reaction, you see this:

There has been a lot of “this is a great trade given the circumstances.”

Pacioretty is one of the league’s premier goal-scorers, and there is belief that the Canadiens could have received a better return if they had played their cards right. Moreover, there’s a feeling that this trade was a result of many poor moves over the last few seasons and that the team should never have gotten to this point.

Bergevin himself may have initiated unnecessary circumstances to led to the trading of the captain. But when did it begin?

The circumstances

It is going to be hard to pinpoint exactly when the timeline of circumstances started. What we can do instead is look back and highlight some perceivably negative moments in Bergevin’s tenure to see where the snowball may have started.

Who wanted the trade to happen?

Bergevin says that Pacioretty asked to be traded, while the winger and his agent, Allan Walsh, repeatedly said that the captain wanted nothing more than to sign in Montreal long term.

Bergevin supposedly had a trade in the works to send Pacioretty to the Los Angeles Kings at the draft, on the condition that the captain sign an extension, which he did not.

This moment is what started the public rift.

However, at this point, Bergevin has embraced some kind of rebuild, and it is reasonable to feel the need to trade a piece that would otherwise cost them a lot of money on a long-term deal. The public drama may have brought Pacioretty’s value down slightly but there is no way of telling if inquiring teams didn’t already have all the information that leaked.

Bergevin was not able to find a centre for Pacioretty in the 2017 off-season

Last summer was a disaster for Pacioretty’s value with the team. Bergevin declared that Alex Galchenyuk was not a centre, despite the scoring success the two former Canadiens had when lining up together the previous season. Simultaneously Alexander Radulov, Pacioretty’s primary assist machine, was not offered what he decided he needed to stay in Montreal, and signed a deal with the Dallas Stars instead.

Bergevin also traded the defence corps’ heir apparent, Mikhail Sergachev, for Jonathan Drouin and let Andrei Markov walk. There was a significant drop in puck-moving defenceman that off-season that could have helped Pacioretty (and all of the Habs’ wingers) find prime scoring chances.

Bergevin also seemingly forced everyone, including himself, to believe that Drouin and Pacioretty would mesh well together instead of finding a legitimate centreman to play with him. The duo did not pan out as expected.

Controversially, Bergevin believed that the team needed minor fixes after their early playoff exit to the New York Rangers the season prior. But with no additions to the blue line’s skill level, losing their best playmaker, and forcing Drouin into a role not yet suited for him, Pacioretty was in tough to match his goal-scoring from years past.

The player choices this summer ultimately decreased Pacioretty’s trade value to an all-time low.

Bergevin says that the problem is in the room

P.K. Subban was a problem in the room. Alex Galchenyuk was a problem in the room. Was everyone a problem in the room?

By Bergevin basically admitting that the players he ices are hard to deal with, he could significantly lower their value. Additionally, the captain of that room holds the weight of every player, and it had shown in his interviews last season. Pacioretty is as honest as they come, and he looked drained and defeated when answering questions last year. A player unmotivated is a player that teams will stay away from.

Bergevin may place too much pressure on his players to be peak humans, and that could be a cause for many of the “attitude problems” that ultimately cause mistrust between teammates. Poor morale equals poor results, which leads to needing to move on from your players.

Believing in a seemingly toxic coaching staff for way too long

The underlying numbers were usually not good for Michel Therrien and co. during the former coach’s latest tenure. Furthermore, Therrien and his staff seemed to struggle with letting young players have significant roles as they were one of the worst developing teams during that time.

Once Carey Price went down with injury, the Canadiens were unmasked and fell off the map. Still, Bergevin put his blinders on and kept faith in his friends and co-workers, despite the coaching staff struggling to incorporate skilled players like Alex Semin, Danny Brière, and Thomas Vanek into the game plan, and couldn’t maintain what should have been obvious roles for Galchenyuk and Lars Eller. It all resulted in Bergevin trading Subban, who was arguably the Canadiens’ best player at the time, for Shea Weber.

Although Weber is a great player on his own, due to his age and need for a specific type of defence partner that the Canadiens did not have at the time, this move significantly reduced the team’s ability to contend.

This was a gamble that did not pay off because Bergevin let Markov walk, traded Sergachev, and he has not attained a young defenceman who could replace Subban or Weber when the latter’s age catches up with him.

Ultimately, it is reasonable to believe that Montreal was not in a position to sign Pacioretty long term because Bergevin closed the Cup window with the Subban trade and subsequent moves.

Team could neither develop nor find the pieces it needed

It is well stated by now that Bergevin’s tenure has not developed many successful NHL players. It is not known if it is based on the players drafted, or the way the young players are coached which ultimately leads them to fail. Either way, it is a problem. Bergevin couldn’t develop players to help the likes of Pacioretty, Price, Subban, and Gallagher at a fast enough rate.

Beyond that, the GM was cautious in targeting top-six forwards with free-agent signings or trades.

The previously mentioned Vanek, Brière, and Semin were all supposed to fill a void but were known more for the drama that surrounded them than their on-ice results. Radulov was a perfect fit but opted to leave after his one-year contract was up.

Bergevin was blessed with star players in their prime but was unable to surround them with the right pieces to maintain a long-term window. Instead, over time, he consistently made moves that on their own were small downgrades, but have resulted in a team much worse than it started out.

Thus, a team that isn’t successful must rebuild for success. So long, our captain.

Final thoughts

The Pacioretty trade was a good one, given the circumstances. In my opinion, though, the circumstances that led to this trade started a long time ago.

Bergevin started out his tenure as a hero who got rid of bad contracts. Since then he has implemented his ideals, and sadly trading away his players in the midst of bad press has become an expected result.

This is it, however. Bergevin is on his second coach with his second round of staff. His players are now all his own, minus Price, Gallagher, and Plekanec. He has a plethora of solid prospects and young players. If it fails now, there is nowhere left to point the blame.

Bergevin acquired a team of bad contracts, few significant prospects, and underwhelming players in their roles. But he also acquired a team that’s natural synergy on paper made sense and had three top-tier players about to hit their prime.

The general manager enters this season with just a few bad contracts, a lot of good prospects, and a team full of solid NHL players. But he also enters this season with a roster that truthfully makes almost no sense in the natural chemistry department when you line the players up together.

Now we will see what circumstances Bergevin will create for the future stars of the Canadiens organization.


Did I miss any “circumstances” that led to Pacioretty’s trade? If so, let me know it the comments!

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