Max Pacioretty’s remaining time with the Montreal Canadiens could be down to hours.
The possibility still exists that he’ll be back with the only NHL team he’s ever played for, wearing the captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey to start the 2018-19 season. If Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin can’t execute a trade that brings a centre or defenceman back to Montreal in exchange for Pacioretty, the 29-year-old left winger is likely staying put.
We can’t envision a scenario in which the Canadiens and Pacioretty sign a contract extension that keeps him in Montreal beyond next season. It would require major concessions from Pacioretty and he doesn’t have much — if any — incentive to make them after scoring 173 goals in the 424 games he’s played since signing a six-year, $27-million contract in the summer of 2012.
It was signing that under-value contract that had Pacioretty part ways with agent Alec Schall in 2013. And you can bet that with Pat Brisson now in his corner, he won’t be leaving dollars on the table next time around.
“[Bergevin and I] had some talks a month ago to see what Max wanted in terms of salary,” Brisson told Athletique Montreal’s Marc Antoine Godin this week. “We can agree that Max is a 30-goal scorer. He’ll be 31 [soon after his contract expires in 2019] and there are players who start to decline at around that age because of their conditioning or skating, but I see him more like [Toronto Maple Leafs forward] Patrick Marleau. Pacioretty is built a bit the same way and his wheels will still be good for six or seven years, maybe even eight.
“That’s what we’ll look at, and it’s very important because it might be his last contract.”
It’s the type of security Pacioretty has earned, and it’s likely to come with an annual salary north of $7 million. There will surely be a team or two willing to give that to him.
But a Canadiens team stocked with wingers but with holes at centre, on defence and a fair percentage of its salary cap committed to goaltender Carey Price and defenceman Shea Weber for the next eight seasons — isn’t likely to pony up. That’s why Pacioretty has been the subject of trade rumours for the better part of the last 10 months.
The buzz has only intensified this week — and with good reason. The period between now and the end of the first week of July is a finite window to improve your team through trade and unrestricted free agency, and then, suddenly, the music stops and there’s no one left to dance with.
“I get calls about lots of players,” Bergevin said Thursday night in Dallas. “Every year there are teams that want to talk and then they lose your number for two months.”
We know the Florida Panthers were among the teams in conversation with the Canadiens about Pacioretty, but with goal-scoring winger Mike Hoffman landing in Florida via trade with the San Jose Sharks earlier this week, things have quieted on that front.
However, the volume is blaring on the Ryan O’Reilly front. Multiple reports have surfaced about Bergevin having discussed with Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill the possibility of moving Pacioretty in exchange for the centre, who’s under contract for another five seasons at $7.5 million per. Bergevin all but said on Thursday that he won’t trade the third-overall pick in this year’s draft to do it.
“The possibility of trading the pick is very, very thin. I’ll be surprised if we trade it,” he said, before adding that he certainly won’t sacrifice it to make a quick fix to his roster.
But one of the things Bergevin said the Canadiens could consider doing — as a team with deep pockets and upwards of $18.6 million in cap space with Pacioretty still on the books — is take on a bad contract as a value proposition to whatever team he’s dealing with.
For example, the Canadiens can easily take back under-performing Sabres winger Matt Moulson and his $5-million cap hit through 2019 in a deal for O’Reilly. And if they want/need to, they can buy out Moulson between now and June 30.
It’s also believed Montreal would be more than willing to trade for O’Reilly before his $7.5-million bonus is due on July 1, which could give Buffalo incentive to act fast.
Regardless, the market for Pacioretty isn’t limited to Buffalo.
Sources have indicated that the Los Angeles Kings have inquired about Pacioretty, but they also warned that the Kings won’t put both feet in the water until they know where they stand with Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s set to return to the NHL as an unrestricted free agent after five seasons with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg.
The Carolina Hurricanes are another team believed to be interested in Pacioretty, and they could appeal to Bergevin and the Canadiens by making 21-year-old restricted free agent Noah Hanifin available. You’d have to think they’d want assurances Pacioretty would sign with them long-term if they’re going to do that.
And then there’s the New York Islanders, who appear to be edging closer and closer to convincing franchise centre John Tavares to skirt unrestricted free agency and return to them on a long-term deal. Bringing in Lou Lamoriello as general manager and signing 2018 Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz were believed to be huge coups on that front, and trading for and signing Pacioretty this weekend could tip things over the edge.
Perhaps moving the 11th- or 12th-overall pick in this year’s draft, along with a roster player to Montreal, could land Pacioretty in New York.
With all these possibilities in the air, it sure seems like this situation is coming to a head.