Out of the four major sports in North America, hockey is definitely the most exciting. With its combination of stamina, tenacity and skill, hockey players seem to be the ultimate athletes. This exciting game has captured the hearts of millions around the world, with an estimated 70 countries playing the sport and two million players registered with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Although just playing and watching the game is fun in and of itself, some diehard NHL fans tend to find greater pleasure in certain doings within the business side of hockey, specifically, trades. Trades are hands down the most exciting part of the NHL season, apart from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This isn’t just an opinion based argument; there are numbers to back it up. Throughout TSN’s 10 hour broadcast covering the Trade Deadline Day, 1.8 million viewers were said to be tuned in for some, or all, of the live broadcast.
Now, seeing as I write about the Vegas Golden Knights while being a Montreal native, I figured I would take a gander at analyzing one of the most exciting trades that occurred between these two teams during September of 2018. Yes, I am talking about the Max Pacioretty trade.
When news first broke of the transaction, it seemed like both sides came out winners. Now, after having watched Wednesday night’s contest between the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, and seeing Tomáš Tatar and Nick Suzuki both chip in goals, I wondered if that still rings true. So, in saying that, let’s take a look at the impact both sides have received since the trade.
Vegas Goes All In
The Golden Knights were fresh off a Stanley Cup defeat when they decided to trade for Pacioretty, the former Habs captain who seemed to be driven out of the city. In Pacioretty, they were acquiring a proven goalscorer who had notched five 30+ goal seasons with the Canadiens. Although the team had some rejuvenated talent on the roster, in the names of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson, they knew they needed a top-end scorer, so that is what the acquisition gave them.
With Pacioretty came a hefty contract extension that had an average annual value of $7 million. Still, Vegas had boatloads of cap space at the time, so it wasn’t a nuance. To obtain his services, the Golden Knights sent Tatar, a young prospect in Suzuki, and a 2nd round pick in 2019 to the Canadiens.
At the time, it seemed sending Tatar, a player Vegas acquired at the prior trade deadline and who underperformed for them in the playoffs, was a steal for the Golden Knights. They had to give up exciting youngster Nick Suzuki, but having not had any playing time in the NHL yet, they figured they would be making a sound investment letting him go.
Even though it seemed like a good idea at the time, most of the assets sent to the Canadiens by the Golden Knights have been surprising with their play and have proved they are solid NHL’ers. So, in light of the fact that both teams seemingly won this trade, we’ll analyze who has won more.
What Vegas Has Gotten
Upon his arrival in Sin City, Pacioretty seemed to have kept his footing from where he left off with the Canadiens. Although his production did drop off during his first season, tallying only 22 goals and 18 assists in 66 games, he did enjoy a resurgence in his second year in Gold and Silver, posting 32 goals and 34 assists, good for 66 points.
Pacioretty seems to be more valuable to the Golden Knights in the playoffs, as he has posted 19 points in 23 postseason appearances. With the team in win-now mode, it seems he can offer them two more seasons of 30 or more goals to propel them to the playoffs. Surrounded by an all-star cast featuring Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo, I would predict that Pacioretty’s numbers hit career highs these next two seasons.
When it comes to playoff time, Pacioretty has proved he can deliver, notching 38 points in 61 postseason appearances. Since the trade, the Golden Knights have received a player who has posted 106 points in 137 regular-season games, which is pretty incredible. Although his cap hit has raised some concerns in the past, I don’t see it being a big issue moving forward. Vegas needs all the scoring power they can get in their search for the Stanley Cup, so keeping Pacioretty for the remainder of his contract would be a wise choice.
The Golden Knights play tonight, and we should be in for a treat. The lineup has gone over some light remodeling, so it will be interesting to see how they perform. If Pacioretty stays healthy for all 56 games this season, I can see him scoring at a point-per-game pace. The man nicknamed “Patches” may be a lot of things to the Golden Knights, but one thing he surely isn’t is a bad investment.
Montreal’s Return on Investment
In that fateful trade where the Canadiens let go of their captain, they obtained a Slovak winger who had a knack for putting the puck in the net but was on a downturn; and a young prospect who’s NHL fate was still up in the air. With so many questions surrounding the two players they acquired, Habs fans weren’t sure if they had gotten all they could for a man coming off a 30+ goal season. After two and a half years, though, it seems they got even more than they expected.
Tatar quickly made a name for himself for the “tricolore,” as he posted 58 points in 80 games and endeared himself to the fans due to his style of play and personality. Things seemed to get even better the season after, as Tatar would go on to lead the Canadiens in points during the 2019-20 season, contributing 61 points, a career-high for him. When we compare his numbers to Pacioretty’s since the trade, Tatar has posted a 0.80 points per game average, while Pacioretty is just below him, with a 0.77 points per game rating.
Although Tatar may seem like the shining star to come out of this trade, the real revelation came from the young prospect sent to them. Suzuki came onto the scene as a rookie in the 2019-20 season, and boy did he deliver. He’d put up 41 points in his first season, earning an NHL All-Rookie Team nod and impressing fans and Canadiens management alike. Regular season stats aside, what really solidified his status as a superstar in the making was his playoff performance in the bubble.
Suzuki looked like a man possessed, playing with a fiery tenacity and skill that drew the admiration of his fellow teammates. He would go on to put up seven points in 10 playoff games, establishing himself as a focal point in the Canadiens’ success for the future. His hockey IQ and his all-around game should leave Habs fans excited for what’s to come in this young man’s career.
What seems to be the icing on the cake is that the draft pick sent in that trade turned out to be Matthias Norlinder, a solid defensive prospect who’s currently playing overseas.
With so much going right for the Canadiens right now, it is exciting to see if they can return to glory and bring home a 25th Stanley Cup. Even if they don’t, it sure is exciting seeing them develop high-end young players who look poised for illustrious NHL careers.
Who Won the Trade?
From a completely unbiased perspective, I would have to say that both teams got exactly what they needed out of this trade, therefore eliminating any “clear cut” winner. Both teams have gotten significantly better, so it would be hard to argue that any one clearly came out on top.
Now from a biased perspective, seeing as I have lived in Montreal all my life and grew up a Habs fan, I can’t help but feel like the Canadiens came out on top on this one. Don’t get me wrong. Pacioretty is a hell of a player and has played quite well while being in Vegas, but just the sheer impact Suzuki has made and the rejuvenation of Tatar leads me to side with the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge on this trade. Either way, both teams are now fielding exciting lineups, so it will surely be exhilarating to see what they can accomplish this 2020-21 season.
What do you think? Who has come out on top of this trade? Let me know in the comment below!
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.