The Max Pacioretty-Marc Bergevin impasse may be ideological

The two sides don’t seem to be on the same page, and that may be in more ways than one.

The question of “what will the Montreal Canadiens do with their captain?” has been asked ever since Tomas Plekanec was the only player moved by Marc Bergevin at the trade deadline. Max Pacioretty trade rumours have swirled ever since the season’s end, with the Habs winger linked at the draft to a trade-and-sign with the Los Angeles Kings that ultimately fell through.

Pacioretty’s continued status as a member of the Canadiens post-draft meant that discussion turned toward a potential extension rather than a departure, with his changing of agents from Pat Brisson to Allan Walsh perhaps an indication that the captain would like some movement at the negotiating table.

Naturally, Tuesday’s rumour that Marc Bergevin had informed Pacioretty that there will be no contract extension forthcoming from the organization, and that the Canadiens’ GM was seeking a trade for his most consistent scorer sent shockwaves through the Montreal media and fanbase alike. If the negotiations between Bergevin and the Pacioretty camp are now truly at an end, then the soul-searching must begin to determine how such acrimony arose between player and manager.

It is well-known that Pacioretty has one of the most team-friendly contracts in the league. The winger signed a six-year deal on August 12, 2012 with an average annual value of $4,500,000. As such, there is a notion that Pacioretty feels that he has paid his dues to the club and is now deserving of greater riches with his next contract.

Looking at the comparables for Pacioretty’s current deal, the Canadiens’ captain is certainly not incorrect in his assertion. CapFriendly gives the following names as the nine closest comparables to Pacioretty: Loui Eriksson, David Booth, James van Riemsdyk, Evander Kane, Nathan Horton, Wayne Simmonds, Brad Marchand, James Neal, and Milan Michalek. All of the above, including Pacioretty, signed multi-year contracts (all for six-year terms except for Marchand’s four) as pending restricted free agetnts between the ages of 21 (Kane) and 25 (Marchand). Cap hits ranged from a low of $3,975,000 (Simmonds) to a high of $5,250,000 (Kane), with the average slotting in at $4,430,833, just below Pacioretty’s personal AAV.

This cohort indicates that Pacioretty’s contract was appropriate value for the player he was when he signed it. Among the 10 players here, six fall within a very tight 0.59 to 0.65 points-per-game band, with only James Neal distinguishing himself above this group (0.69 PPG).

It is what Pacioretty did after signing that turned his contract into one of the prime bargains in the league. When we look at point production during the span of the multi-year RFA contracts in question, Pacioretty leads the cohort in both goal-scoring and point accumulation per game.

Of the 10 players here, six of the eight have signed their next contracts, and it is these contracts that Pacioretty is looking at as direct comparables. There is more variation in the conditions of these contracts — the term given ranges from five to eight years while the AAV ranges from Horton’s $5,300,000 to Kane’s and van Riemsdyk’s $7,000,000 — but the number we should pay attention to is the percentage of the salary cap. This number spans from a low of 7.23% (Neal) to a high of 9.33% (Kane).

The salary cap for next season is a confirmed $79,500,000. A 7.23% portion of that yields a value of $5,747,850, while 9.33% gives $7,417,350. This is likely the salary range that Pacioretty is looking at, and given that he has outproduced all of his counterparts, it’s probably logical to say that the Canadiens captain is looking for a number in the high end of that range; numbers likely exceeding James van Riemsdyk’s contract in both money and term.

While Pacioretty’s valuation of himself will centre around raw point production, it is probably safe to say that Bergevin places more emphasis on other qualities. Ever since his arrival, the Canadiens’ general manager has spoken glowingly about the need for intangibles: not making excuses, having grit and tenacity, solid character, the need for leadership, and most recently, having the correct attitude.

Bergevin espoused these very sentiments when signing Pacioretty to his current contract in 2012, stating that “he’s shown character with what happened with the [Chara] incident, got hurt and came back strong. He’s a guy that cares about the team and his teammates.”

Bergevin may not have overtly shared his current opinion of his captain regarding these qualities, but he’s spoken subtle volumes with his actions over the last few years:

  • Trading P.K. Subban was supposed to fix a locker room divide, with the implication that Pacioretty, the captain, wasn’t able to remedy the issue;
  • Acquiring Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw for their leadership carried the implication that Pacioretty’s own was insufficient for the team;
  • Stating that the solution was “in the room” and that the Canadiens were lacking “confidence,” implying that Pacioretty wasn’t sufficiently rallying the troops, and;
  • Questioning the attitude of the team at this spring’s year-end press conference that put a bulls-eye directly on the leadership abilities of his captain./

It’s not uncommon for players and general managers to differ on how much they value individual aspects of a hockey player, whether these aspects are on-ice or off-ice. However, the gap between Pacioretty’s by-the-numbers-based valuation and Bergevin’s intangibles-based valuation offers few avenues for reconciliation and mediation. This is no longer a question of debating how much each goal, each point should be worth from a monetary perspective, but rather an argument over whether the on-ice or the off-ice is more important for a cornerstone hockey player.

Historically, Bergevin has not shied away from loosing the purse strings for players he felt were necessary for the club. He did so for Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Carey Price, and for Karl Alzner. The refusal of the GM to do likewise for Pacioretty may indicate that Bergevin now views the winger as a supporting player, a secondary figure on the team that he is trying to assemble. Clearly, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens feels otherwise.

(Salary information from CapFriendly. Point totals from HockeyDB)

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