Just like that, Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Pezzetta went from hero to goat (in the derogatory sense). Scoring against the hosting Dallas Stars on Dec. 23, Pezzetta put the the Habs up 2-0 in the second period with a shot that had the Reseau des sports telecast comparing him to Cole Caufield. However, Pezzetta was also in the box for an arguably dangerous trip on Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen, on which the Stars scored the game-winning goal late, with the home side eventually winning 4-2.
To be clear, the loss (obviously) wasn’t all on Pezzetta. After all, he did score his goal, but it was indiscipline in general that cost the Canadiens, as the Stars scored all three of their non-empty-net goals on the power play. Mike Hoffman alone took two penalties (the Stars tying it up 2-2 on one of his penalties).
Pezzetta vs. Hoffman
The difference is, it’s pretty hard for Hoffman to theoretically play himself out of the lineup. In an ideal world, the Canadiens would be trading Hoffman at the upcoming trade deadline. The only way there’s a snowball’s chance of that happening is if they showcase him on the regular, like every game and on the power play… even unexplainably giving him more ice time than rookie Juraj Slafkovsky (14:23 compared to 11:54 per game), despite it making infinite more sense for the team’s long-term prospects to do just the opposite.
Related: Canadiens Must Make Most of Hoffman Hot Streak with Trade
The fact is, Hoffman simply doesn’t realistically factor into the Canadiens’ long-term plans. His age (33) and contract, with a cap hit of $4.5 million over the next two seasons, are working against him. In contrast, Pezzetta is just 24. Even though, he’s on a one-way deal that pays him $750,000 regardless of if he’s in the NHL or American Hockey League, it can be buried without issue or ill effect to the Canadiens’ cap situation (by virtue of the maximum amount of cap relief for a buried contract being $1.125 million in 2022-23).
So, ultimately, it’s easy for the Canadiens not to play Pezzetta. Seeing as he’s played just 18 games, the lowest on the team, excluding players who have been injured (Mike Matheson) or recently called up from the AHL (Anthony Richard), they, well, haven’t. To seemingly add insult to injury, Pezzetta’s seen the ice a team-low 7:53 per game whenever he has dressed.
Pezzetta in 2021-22 vs. Pezzetta in 2022-23
It’s a hypothetical misconception to suggest the Canadiens are playing Pezzetta less than last season, though. Getting called up at the start of November 2021, he was a rookie who had endeared himself to Canadiens fans starting in the preseason due to his work ethic. Granted, injuries played a part in Pezzetta playing as much as he did, as he got in 51 games. However, in those 51 games, he actually played less than he has in 2022-23, 7:50 per game, also a team low.
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Sure, Pezzetta was slightly more productive last season, scoring five goals and six assists in those 51 games, compared to the two markers and single helper he’s tallied in 18 in 2022-23. However, when he’s only getting in every other game or so, it’s probably hard to get momentum going from an offensive standpoint, especially when that’s not your part to play.
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To get to 51 games this season, Pezzetta would need to play 33 of the Habs’ final 48 games, and that’s just not going to happen… or at the very least it’s very unlikely considering the additional depth the Canadiens have up front. The likes of Slafkovsky, Kirby Dach, Sean Monahan and even Evgeny Dadonov each represent an obstacle in the way of Pezzetta earning a regular spot in the lineup.
In the case of the latter two, much like with Hoffman, the goal should be to showcase them as much as possible with an eye on the upcoming trade deadline, especially with regard to Monahan based on the projected haul of a first-round pick. So, they’re each on their way out in theory, which would open up regular spots for Pezzetta.
However, in the case of the former two, Slafkovsky and Dach are projected to be big pieces of the rebuild moving forward. Even if Slafkovsky has spent a great deal of time on a line with Pezzetta, he’s the 2022 first-overall draft pick and the crown jewel of general manager Kent Hughes’ vision so far. He’s only going to move higher up the lineup.
Pezzetta’s Bright Spot Gets Drowned Out
The same can’t be said of Pezzetta. Expectations are slightly different for him, as a 2016 sixth-round pick who only made his NHL debut last season. He could possibly end up higher on the organizational depth chart, but it’s so inherently unlikely based on his player profile that it arguably does him a disservice. He’s a role player through and through, one who’s admittedly defied the odds to get this far, but there’s nothing wrong with him topping out as a 12th or 13th forward. NHL teams need them. The Canadiens do too.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be Pezzetta, but it may as well be, considering he’s someone with whom fans have a connection. True, that connection has seemed strained this season, but that’s probably largely because Pezzetta was one bright spot in a season largely devoid of them last one.
Things have changed in that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel as far as the rebuild is concerned. Pezzetta still has a place on this team, but chances are his role will always stay the same. It should still be his to fill if he wants it. The most important thing is he seems more than willing… more than anything.