Canadiens’ Succession Plan for Pacioretty

It’s possible the Montreal Canadiens retain the services of Max Pacioretty up to the point at which his contract expires next summer and beyond. Just unlikely.

That’s due to numerous factors. For example, barring an inability to bounce back from an uncharacteristically unproductive 37-point season, his next contract will be more befitting of a perennial 30-goal scorer. Of note, his current pact only pays him an average of $4.5 million per.

For another, barring a slew of hugely successful offseason maneuvers by general manager Marc Bergevin, the team itself may not be poised to rebound from their collectively disappointing 71-point season. In such an instance, it wouldn’t make sense to hold on to a huge trade chip for long, when Pacioretty wouldn’t be doing much good in the line-up of a losing team.

Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty – (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

In any case, the widespread assumption is Pacioretty is going to be moved, especially after how he was reportedly shopped at the trade deadline. If the rumors end up coming true, who takes over for Pacioretty in the locker room? Consider the question asked and answered.

Pacioretty as Captain

Bergevin has already gone on record as saying there won’t be a captaincy change after the disaster that was 2017-18. You have to believe that’s only if Pacioretty stays a Hab. He would have a hard time captaining the team from some other city, anyway.

So, if Pacioretty gets moved, who would be on the short list to get the “C?” It would logically come down to the team’s two alternate captains: Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher. There are points for either one.

For example, you want a captain who’s going to stick around for a while. Weber’s not going anywhere for like a decade. He’s also a renowned leader, who produces at both ends of the ice.

On the other hand, in Gallagher, who just scored 30 goals for the first time in his career, you get a 26-year-old arguably entering his peak years of production who embodies much the same intangibles Weber does, only in a smaller package. That only reinforces the notion that Gallagher leads by example, playing bigger than he is.

Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher
Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher – (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Add into the mix his six seasons of service as a Hab (compared to two for Weber), and Gallagher becomes the only real choice.

Pacioretty as Top Scorer

Pacioretty had been the team’s leading scorer each season from 2011-12 on. Of course, he wasn’t able to keep the streak alive, due to a combination of lack of luck and offensive support from the back-end.

To his credit, Gallagher wrested the crown away from Pacioretty by posting a career-high 54 points. It’s probably not something the team’s brain trust wants to see repeated, though. Having a heart-and-soul guy atop the stats sheet is nice and good and all, but all it means in turn is the highly skilled guys aren’t doing their jobs.

If management wants to ice a competitive team, it’s also unlikely the team sees having a leading scorer with only 54 points (which is probably about where Gallagher tops out at) as a recipe for lasting success.

So, look for a guy like Jonathan Drouin to get more ice time, with the 17:36 per game he received likely to bump up closer to Pacioretty’s 19:01. Someone’s got to eat those minutes. It makes sense that it be one of the team’s most talented forwards who was among the hottest down the stretch, as Drouin collected 13 points over his last 14 games.

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

Drouin was also acquired in a controversial trade and is a native Quebecer. So, putting him in the best position to succeed helps out everyone involved. To be fair, he’s also got the talent to back up any boost in confidence the organization has in him. That’s evidenced by his 21-goal, 53-point season last year with the Tampa Bay Lightning and his pedigree as a third-overall pick. He’s clearly got room to grow.

Depending on whom the Habs take with the third-overall pick they have at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft this year, it’s very possible another horse enters the race eventually. For now though, if Pacioretty goes, Drouin becomes guy. He has to be.

Pacioretty as Scapegoat

It probably comes with the territory of being captain and one of the team’s best players, how when things don’t go well you have to answer for its failures. That’s clearly true in the case of Pacioretty (and Price to a lesser degree). The witch-hunt has already started.

Price, due to his string of bad play, is another potential target, but remember: He’s here for the long haul on an arguably untradeable contract. Same goes for Weber on defense. The team needs those guys to bounce back and raking them over the coals only serves to shine a spotlight on the bad decision-making that went into bringing them on/ keeping them in the fold.

Meanwhile, Gallagher, if he does become captain, will always be shielded partly from blame because of his hard-nosed style (whereas Pacioretty was rarely one to use his size effectively, as all of his critics will always point out). Similarly, despite the pressure of playing in his home province, Drouin will rarely shoulder all the blame. That’s probably true even if he does take over the mantle as the team’s top scorer, as he’s also a native son. Everyone wants those guys to succeed.

The ideal candidate for both the media and management would be someone who’s paid enough to warrant a lot of responsibility, but for whatever reason isn’t consistently delivering. Someone who might be eyeing greener pastures as we speak. Someone like Alex Galchenyuk, whose contract runs out in 2020, which is strangely fitting seeing as hindsight always is.

Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk and Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews
Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk and Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

As a former third-overall pick himself, Galchenyuk oozes potential and will likely never be short on potential suitors, even for the purposes of a trade if Bergevin and the Habs feel as though it’s time to pull the trigger on one. That time looks to be coming soon, one way or another.