Marc Bergevin was on the verge of killing three birds with one stone this past weekend, and then reality got in the way.
If things had gone according to plan, Bergevin would’ve walked away from the draft floor on Saturday having replenished the Montreal Canadiens’ cupboards with a bevy of talented prospects, he’d have resolved an uncomfortable situation with captain Max Pacioretty, and he’d have acquired an established second-line centre in Ryan O’Reilly.
But the cookie didn’t end up crumbling that way.
Sure, consensus among the draft experts is that the Canadiens’ general manager made good on the 11 picks he brought into the organization. But those other big moves never came to fruition, despite his best efforts.
The frustrating thing for Bergevin has to be that there was more than just a glimmer of hope everything would work out differently.
The Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres had been linked in conversations about O’Reilly, with Sabres GM Jason Botterill asking Montreal for the third overall pick in return. And though that was a deal-breaker for Bergevin, trading Pacioretty for another first-round pick he could package back to the Sabres — along with a couple of other picks the Canadiens held in the draft — was apparently something we’re told he came close to doing.
We know getting either Bergevin or New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello to admit that they had a potential deal worked out that would’ve seen Pacioretty going one way and either the 11th or 12th overall pick going the other would be akin to asking Donald Trump to admit to a lie, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
It would’ve been a win for all parties involved, with Bergevin trading Pacioretty and landing O’Reilly after drafting a potential future No. 1 centre in Jesperi Kotkaniemi; with Pacioretty moving to a destination of choice, signing a long-term contract extension and being guaranteed a chance to play with an elite centreman (Mat Barzal or John Tavares) for years to come; with Lamoriello netting a proven 30-goal scorer/one more piece to help him convince his franchise player (Tavares) to skirt unrestricted free agency in favour of a return to the Islanders; and with Botterill pocketing another high first-round pick (and a couple of lower picks, too) to make a dream weekend-over which he drafted a generational talent in defenceman Rasmus Dahlin first overall-that much better.
We’re told that deal was on the table up until the picks started rolling in.
The Canadiens took Kotkaniemi, the Ottawa Senators nabbed Brady Tkachuk and then the Arizona Coyotes threw everything out of whack when they took consensus mid-first rounder Barrett Hayton with the fifth overall pick.
As a result, the Detroit Red Wings, who were set on drafting a centre or defencemen, had scoring winger Filip Zadina — who was ranked by most to be the third-best player available in the draft — fall in their laps at six. And after the Vancouver Canucks took defenceman Quinn Hughes, the Chicago Blackhawks took defenceman Adam Boqvist and the New York Rangers went off the board with right winger Vitaly Kravtsov, it suddenly became abundantly clear that Lamoriello was going to land two of the consensus top-10 prospects in the draft by holding onto his positions.
The Edmonton Oilers took defenceman Evan Bouchard with the 10th pick, and Lamoriello pulled the plug on his deal with Bergevin in order to put flashy forward Oliver Wahlstrom and stud defenceman Noah Dobson into Islanders uniforms.
Bergevin’s Plan B was to trade Pacioretty to the Los Angeles Kings. Had the 29-year-old left winger and Kings GM Rob Blake been able to work out a contract extension, we’d be in a different place. But Pacioretty balked at Blake’s offer on Saturday, he promptly fired CAA’s Pat Brisson and hired Octagon Hockey’s Allan Walsh to represent him, and we went back to ground zero.
There’s still hope this all gets resolved quickly.
We know that O’Reilly became a primary target in the lead up to the draft, back when what was reported Monday — that the Canadiens wouldn’t have a chance to pitch Montreal to Tavares — was made clear to Bergevin. We also know those conversations, which will now have to be centred on different assets, will likely continue as the Sabres explore moving O’Reilly before his $7.5 million bonus is due on July 1.
If Bergevin can’t come to an agreement with Botterill, he’ll likely turn his attention to trying to sign pending unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny. A centre who scored 40 points with the St. Louis Blues this season before joining the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline and registering 15 points in their 17-game playoff run.
Bergevin will also continue to seek out trade possibilities for Pacioretty. There’s no walking that back at this point, especially not after months of trying to strike a deal. The problem is that it’s going to take a concession on somebody’s behalf to ensure this situation doesn’t bleed into training camp.
We don’t expect Pacioretty to scale back his contract demands after living with a six-year, $27 million deal that fell way short of market value. Pacioretty’s decision to part ways with Brisson was a result, in part, of mounting frustration on the part of Pacioretty over the inability of his representatives and the Canadiens to consummate a trade out of Montreal to a destination willing to meet his contractual demands. And on the other side of the coin, we know Bergevin doesn’t want to take pennies on the dollar in a trade — which is what he’ll be looking at if he chooses to send the perennial 30-goal scorer to a team that has no guarantees he’ll sign an extension with them.
In an ideal world, this all gets sorted neatly and promptly. The last thing either party needs is the distraction — and the risk — that comes with Pacioretty returning to Montreal in the fall with an unresolved contract.
But reality can sometimes be a you-know-what.