The Montreal Canadiens can finally put the Max Pacioretty saga behind them. It of course helps that they made out like bandits, trading him to the Las Vegas Golden Knights earlier this week.
Pacioretty to the Golden Knights
To be honest, so did the Golden Knights in a way. They got a legitimate top-line player in Pacioretty for one who had been a healthy scratch throughout their Cinderella playoff run last spring. In the process, they unloaded Tomas Tatar’s undesirable contract on the Habs.
The Golden Knights then replaced it with Pacioretty’s new four-year, $28 million extension, which is more affordable than anyone had predicted. It makes one wonder just how badly the Canadiens wanted to be rid of Pacioretty, that neither party was willing to lock themselves in a room with the other to hash out their differences.
Granted, the he-said, they-said aspect of the story makes one question whether it was the Habs or Pacioretty who initiated the divorce in the first place. On one hand, you have Pacioretty, who, through agent Allan Walsh, swears up and down he never asked for a trade. This, despite Walsh only coming on last June, without any firsthand knowledge of what happened prior to that point. On the other, you have Habs general manager Marc Bergevin and owner Geoff Molson who swear up and down that he actually did, only for them to sneak in as a last word how it’s all irrelevant.
Then why not take the high road to begin with?
Habs Get Suzuki, Tatar and Plausible Deniability
Bergevin and Molson are ultimately right, that it’s irrelevant at this point (other than how their inability to take that high road further hurts the Habs’ reputation). After all, their haul was quite impressive. Give Bergevin credit: He did well here. The Habs got a second-round pick and former-first-round-pick Nick Suzuki who has significant upside as a potential center.
In addition, Tatar gives the Habs a roster player to replace Pacioretty. As a bonus, Tatar has enough of a pedigree up to now as a multi-time 20-goal scorer to give Bergevin and Molson plausible deniability to continue arguing how this move keeps the Habs competitive right now.
Spoiler alert: The Habs, who did not fill any holes on defense or up front after finishing 28th last year, still lack a No. 1 center, a No. 2 defenseman and a No. 1 defenseman for the first half. They’re not competitive. They are rebuilding.
Bergevin Misses the Point
Bergevin does have a point in that, because the Habs won’t be trading Carey Price or Shea Weber, it can’t really be considered a rebuild in the traditional sense. Bergevin doesn’t have a point when he says, “You don’t have a way of guaranteeing you can tank and it will work out well for you.”
The way the NHL Draft Lottery is set up, you can only drop three spots from where you finished in the standings. It’s not a perfect system, but it still rewards bad teams. The worse you are, the more of a chance you have at getting the first pick. Even if you don’t get it, you’re still pretty much guaranteed a high pick, which, if your organization’s scouting department isn’t completely inept, will likely pan out.
Sure, the team who just misses out on the last playoff spot can still win it all in the current format. Just barely missing the playoffs cannot seriously be considered a strategy for long-term success, though. That’s like saying just barely making the playoffs year after year as an eighth seed is a recipe for winning the Cup, because, hey, you have a chance.
That, ladies and gentlemen, sums up the Habs’ official position on their goals for this season. They’re not claiming they’re contenders, only that they’ll strive to make the playoffs. In fact, rarely if ever has Bergevin gone on record as saying the Habs are contenders. That includes right after the team’s best finish with him as general manager in 2014, when they reached the Eastern Conference Final.
It’s clearly about maximizing expectations when you don’t have a legit shot, to keep fan interest up, and minimizing them when you do. In that sense, Bergevin might have just pulled an old rabbit out of his hat, as most everyone is singing his praises for the time being.
After all, he got what he did under less-than-ideal circumstances, namely Pacioretty refusing to negotiate a deal with potential suitors following the start of the season. One can only guess how well Bergevin would have made out had his hands not been tied entering negotiations.
Hey, maybe Bergevin is the biggest winner of all, as he’s getting most if not all of the glory right now. He should enjoy it while it lasts though, because, if he’s serious about his outlook for this coming season, the Habs aren’t winning anything at all. Not a high draft pick and definitely not the Cup. In that sense, Pacioretty’s a big winner too.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.