Focus for Canadiens Fans Is Unjustifiably on Pacioretty

Despite the fact Max Pacioretty won’t be on the ice when the Montreal Canadiens face his new team this weekend, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, he’ll still be front and center.

Pacioretty Does Nada Against Canadiens

Pacioretty is injured, meaning for the second time the Golden Knights face the Habs with him on the roster, he won’t be doing much of anything. The fact that the Habs did host the Golden Knights back in November (and won 5-4) does admittedly take the shine off this upcoming contest. Indeed, the only thing noteworthy from a Pacioretty perspective that took place in that game was a classy video tribute to the ex-Canadiens captain prior to the puck dropping. And that was, again, prior to the puck dropping.

Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty – (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

In fact, for what seems like most of the season, Pacioretty hasn’t done much at all. In 30 games, he has a relatively respectable 19 points (10 goals). Take away an 11-game stretch during which he scored eight goals and seven assists though, and, literally, in almost two thirds of the season up to now, he has just four points.

Pacioretty developed something of a reputation for being streaky during his time with the Canadiens. And, looking at his production this season, maybe that’s in part justified. Of course being “streaky” is kind of what separates the superstars who can take it up a notch on a dime from the players who score single points every game or so. Otherwise, the NHL would have a bunch more 200-point scorers than they do (none).

So, it really should never be a matter of whether a player like Pacioretty is streaky or not. It should be whether the player in question is a star, a game-breaking talent if you will. And, this is where it gets tricky when it comes to assessing Pacioretty’s difference-making ability.

The Polarizing Pacioretty

Like P.K. Subban before him, Pacioretty became a polarizing figure in Montreal, which is ironic considering conspiracy theorists say the latter had something to do with the former being traded in the first place. In any case, Pacioretty was either a perennial 30-goal scorer who admirably led the team in scoring season after season (excluding his last) or he wasn’t physical enough for a power forward (even though that wasn’t his game) and didn’t lead enough by example in that regard. The fact that he became captain and was expected to “lead” even more, with the spotlight shining even brighter in his direction, didn’t help much.

Well, it wasn’t fair then as the captaincy is more symbolic in nature than anything else. Really, the only reason for the noteworthiness of this second game between the Habs and the Golden Knights now is how the Canadiens had coincidentally faced Alex Galchenyuk’s Arizona Coyotes last game. Maybe that’s the true conspiracy, how, despite the NHL schedule being released months ahead of time, these Habs somehow got in these games highlighting general manager Marc Bergevin’s more-successful deals immediately before the holiday break.

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In any case, it’s at the very least a timely Christmas gift to Bergevin, whose Habs have fallen from the top of the Eastern Conference to the second wild-card spot. The New York Islanders and Rangers each have enough games in hand to catch them in the standings. So, instead of Pacioretty, who isn’t even playing, the heat should be on Bergevin, who had promised the Canadiens would compete for a playoff spot.

Bergevin Wins Pacioretty Deal

So far Bergevin’s been right. They’re right there. And, yes, he did win the Pacioretty deal hands-down. Tomas Tatar’s production, in what had been Pacioretty’s left-wing slot on the top line, has more than compensated for what Pacioretty brought to the table in his last season here (and is obviously more than what Pacioretty’s brought to the table this season).

Montreal Canadiens forwards Tomas Tatar and Max Domi
Montreal Canadiens forwards Tomas Tatar and Max Domi – (Courtesy Canadian Press)

Vegas also giving the Habs top-prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, which is supposed to be deep, adds insult to injury. There’s no denying Bergevin did well. So, safely assuming Tatar doesn’t get one Saturday, maybe the next video tribute should be for Bergevin, you know… preferably once he’s left. Otherwise, it would be kind of self-serving, you understand. And, please, the sooner the better. He deserves it.

Obviously, the sentiment is in part in jest. Bergevin’s not going to get fired if the Habs make the playoffs this season. And, while he probably should if they don’t, considering it would make three seasons out of the last four and the goal heading into this season according him was to make them, who knows?

The point is, if fans are going to retroactively deride Pacioretty for his failings after he’s left, there’s someone in the organization right now you can focus on instead. You can say Pacioretty failed as Habs captain and you may have a point. But Bergevin failed him and the organization long before, laughably only acquiring a center of quality that could keep up offensively with Pacioretty the same offseason in which the decision was made to trade him.

Pacioretty vs. Weber vs. Bergevin

Under Pacioretty (who on the organizational depth chart was under Bergevin, just to be clear), the Habs missed the playoffs in his first season wearing the “C” in 2015-16. If you’re going to blame Pacioretty for that, when goaltender Carey Price only played 12 games, wouldn’t Bergevin, who failed to replace Price adequately or come up with a decent Plan B, share some of the responsibility there?

Yes, the players had voted Pacioretty captain, so that supposed failure is not on Bergevin. However, how can the choice of player his teammates respect the most be wrong? When an inability to lead by example and succeed on the ice over 82 games isn’t just on a player wearing a stupid letter but every single person in the dressing room, who can just easily stand up on two legs and say something if the campaign isn’t going according to plan?

Nevertheless, the Pacioretty-as-captain experiment went so badly in the organization’s eyes that they took it out of the players’ hands when it came time to replace him with Shea Weber. And, with him in the lineup, things are going adequately with the team 7-5. What happens though if the Canadiens fail, not just in a season Bergevin said they would compete for the playoffs, but also with his handpicked captain at the helm?

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber – (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Old-school types like Bergevin couldn’t ask for a better choice as captain, so it’s unlikely Weber receives much if any flak for such a hypothetical failure. Wouldn’t Bergevin be the logical scapegoat this time around, then? And if Bergevin ends up shouldering the responsibility for this failure, ask yourself what really would separate it from all the ones before when Pacioretty was captain?

Obviously, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because there’s a lot of hockey left to be played. The Canadiens can still make the playoffs. Weber can lead them there. Bergevin can take the credit. Curiously, Pacioretty won’t figure into any of it. So, focusing on him as a problem does little good unless it’s to distract from the here and now. And in the here and now there’s plenty about which the Canadiens and Bergevin specifically need to worry. Starting with actually winning against the Pacioretty-less Golden Knights in the middle of a playoff race.