Monday, 10 September 2018

Blockbuster To Start Camp

I'd like to make the joke that this image was Max Pacioretty waving good-bye to the Montreal Canadiens' faithful fans after Marc Bergevin continued to destroy the foundation on which this team was built, but that wouldn't be true. Instead, I'll just focus on the fact that Marc Bergevin continually has made baffling moves as the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, and another one happened overnight when he traded captain and sniper Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights. Say what you want about the Golden Knights and how losing James Neal would affect their scoring, but the Golden Knights have replaced him with a younger, possibly hungrier scorer through Montreal bumbling in how they handled Max Pacioretty's contract negotiations and the player himself.

Officially, the Montreal Canadiens dealt Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Tomas Tatar, prospect winger/centerman Nick Suzuki, and a 2019 second-round pick. Yes, the Canadiens had already worked out a deal with the Los Angeles Kings at the deadline last season, but Pacioretty invoked his no-trade clause after Los Angeles wasn't willing to negotiate an extension with the player. The result was that it put the Canadiens in an unenviable position in knowing they had tried to deal their star away while the player was able to prevent that from happening.
Look, if the writing wasn't on the wall for Pacioretty after the failed Los Angeles trade, he had to know that something was up as the summer progressed with little traction being made on an extension in Montreal. That being said, Pacioretty did the PR campaign well: he stated he never asked to be traded, he loved being a Canadien, his heart was in Montreal, or some twist of all three of those messages. Literally, Pacioretty said everything he was supposed to say as a veteran, as a leader, and as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He seemed prepared to go into camp and do everything asked of him by the Montreal brass.

That all changed after George McPhee and Marc Bergevin had a late-night phone conversation.

If you're the Vegas Golden Knights, you're slowly putting things together without Nate Schmidt but with Max Pacioretty on the roster. Paul Stastny now has a legitimate sniper with which he can be paired, and that should allow William Karlsson to do his thing on the second line just as effectively with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault once more. Adding Pacioretty moves a 29 year-old goal scorer into 31 year-old James Neal's spot on the roster, but Vegas is getting a proven leader who play the power forward role as effectively as Neal as his stats show.

Pacioretty has scored 226 goals in 626 NHL games for a rate of 0.36 goals-per-game. Neal has notched 263 goals in 703 games for a rate of 0.37 goals-per-game. Given that Neal has played with some elite centermen in his time - Evgeni Malkin, Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro - compared to the centerman that have played with Pacioretty - David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk - there's a good chance that we may see an uptick in Pacioretty's production when both men's careers are over. Pacioretty has scored more points-per-game (0.72) compared to Neal (0.70) over that same time, so perhaps we shouldn't be solely focused on just the goal-socring of Pacioretty as he sits just 10 career assists behind James Neal despite Neal playing 77 more games that Pacioretty.

On the flip side, Montreal just game up their best goal scorer since 2011-12 by a large margin for what amounts to a career restart in Tatar, a solid junior-hockey playmaker in Suzuki, and a bag of magic beans in the second-round pick. Pacioretty had outscored every other Canadiens player since 2011-12, and led second-place Brenden Gallagher by nearly 100 goals over that same span. Just looking at the last two seasons, no player scored more goals or more points than Pacioretty. The closest player in goals? Paul Byron who has shown consistency in finding the back of the net, but was still ten goals back of Pacioretty over the last two seasons. The next closest player in points? Alex Galchenyuk with 95 points, and he's now playing for the Arizona Coyotes.

Look, there's no easy way to say this, but the Montreal Canadiens are going to struggle to score goals this season after trading away their top two point producers over the span of the last two seasons. Brenden Gallagher has an outstanding campaign last year, but that productivity seems highly unlikely to continue. Byron, as stated above, has found some consistency and Jonathan Drouin appears to be settling into his role, but there's a couple of major pieces of the scoring puzzle gone for the Montreal Canadiens because of some terrible mismanagement by the front office and coaching staff.

If Jack Hughes is looking at possible places to play next season, he may want to start brushing up on his French. At this point, I'm not sure there will be a team who is worse than this in the NHL this season. And that's saying something with the likes of Ottawa and Carolina purging their rosters.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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