LAVAL, Que. — Raise your hand if you thought the Montreal Canadiens would receive an established — and younger — 20-goal scorer, a centre prospect who was selected 13th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft and has since had a 100-point season at the junior level, and a 2019 second-round pick in exchange for Max Pacioretty.
I certainly didn’t think it was possible. Not under the very public circumstances of Pacioretty’s situation with the Canadiens. You have to tip your hat to Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin for making lemonade out of lemons.
The Canadiens’ GM didn’t ask for his intentions to trade Pacioretty to become a matter of public record. But word got out in December of last year, and it made trading the perennial 30–goal scorer for a reasonable return a tricky proposition at best.
Having a done deal with the Los Angeles Kings at this year’s draft blow up in Bergevin’s face only lessened the likelihood of him being able to move Pacioretty for anything Canadiens fans would deem acceptable. Especially in trying to move him ahead of training camp.
Make no mistake, this was only going to get harder for Bergevin the longer it took. The idea that Pacioretty, who’s entering the final season of a six-year, $27 million contract, could increase his value by performing to the height of his abilities—with distraction swirling all around him—was far fetched. The risk of him underperforming, or of him getting injured, was too much to take on.
Just as signing Pacioretty, who turns 30 in November, was a risk Bergevin and the Canadiens clearly didn’t want to take on either.
The winger turned down a six-year, $36 million extension the Kings offered him when he was reportedly almost traded to Los Angeles in June. It was going to cost the Canadiens at least that much to keep him in Montreal, on a team that has some depth on the wings and is lacking some at centre and on defence.
Tomas Tatar, 27, is coming to the Canadiens having scored at least 20 goals in each of the last four seasons. The Vegas Golden Knights are retaining just under 10 per cent of his salary over the remaining three seasons of his contract. He may not be a scorer of Pacioretty’s caliber, but he can at least do his part to supplant some of what’s lost in this deal for Montreal.
If Nick Suzuki, the 19-year-old centre who scored 42 goals with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack last season, can chip in immediately for the Canadiens, that’s a bonus. Being a top-end centre prospect coming to a team that’s been lacking at the position for nearly three decades is at the heart of what makes this a palatable deal for Montreal.
A 2019 second-round pick is a throw-in that puts it over the edge.
Sure, the Golden Knights are getting the best player in the deal. They lost a bona fide 30-goal scorer in 31-year-old James Neal to free agency this summer, and they’ve now replaced him with one that’s younger.
But Bergevin avoided all the pitfalls of bringing back Pacioretty and having his uncertain future hang over the Canadiens like a dark cloud for his remaining days in uniform, and he managed to pull off a trade most Canadiens fans will be pleased with.
That it happened a little after 1:00 a.m. ET on Monday was only the tip of the iceberg, as far as shock value is concerned.