Islanders Can’t Afford Max Pacioretty

As the NHL and the NHLPA make progress towards a projected January 13th, 2021 start date, organizations will begin to look over their rosters to see if they need to make any further changes. In fact, there have already been reports that the Vegas Golden Knights are shopping some of their bigger names, such as Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, and once again, Marc-Andre Fleury. With the likelihood the new season starts in about a month, things could be shaking up to be a December to remember.

Fans of the New York Islanders quickly turned to Twitter to express their interest in bringing a player like Pacioretty to Long Island. At first glance, it sounds like a nice idea. However, when you dig a little deeper, there are a lot of reasons why bringing the former Montreal Canadiens’ captain would hurt rather than help the organization.

After running a poll on Twitter, it’s apparent that although some want to see Pacioretty in blue and orange, most said it “depends on the cost,” showing uncertainty in the benefits of a move involving the veteran winger. Additionally, more votes went to “no” rather than “yes,” regarding acquiring Pacioretty.

Pacioretty’s Cost

The Golden Knights are looking to shed some salary; however, they’re not going to just be giving the six-time, 30-goal scorer away. In recent history, the Florida Panthers acquired forward Patric Hörnqvist from the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour. Although Hörnqvist’s last 30-goal season happened a while ago, both players have comparable contracts and bring similar presences to their teams, as well as a goal-scorer’s touch.

A similar package to what Florida gave up for Hörnqvist, the Islanders would be sending Scott Mayfield and Casey Cizikas to Vegas for Pacioretty. After having already traded Devon Toews for cap relief and losing Johnny Boychuk to long term injured reserve, trading away another top-six defenseman such as Mayfield is not a good idea.

Casey Cizikas - New York Islanders
Casey Cizikas – New York Islanders Oct. 27, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for Cizikas, although his output is comparable to Sceviour’s, he brings a lot more to his game by killing penalties, wearing down opponents on the ice, and is a big part of the Islanders’ locker room. He’s a prime candidate to remain on Long Island when his contract is up at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season and is part of the solution moving forward.

If Vegas is asking for picks in return, Barclay Goodrow retrieved a first-round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the San Jose Sharks, among other smaller pieces at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Despite being a few years younger, Pacioretty has had far more offensive output in his career, and there’s no reason why Vegas couldn’t ask for that same price, maybe a little more.

The Islanders did just acquire two second-round picks in the Toews deal previously mentioned with the Colorado Avalanche. However, those picks are better suited for a younger top-six scorer who they can retain long term. Pacioretty is on the wrong side of 30 and not getting any younger. With a farm system that doesn’t feature many high-end prospects, general manager Lou Lamoriello could put those picks to better use by drafting young talent or acquiring someone who better fits the mold.

Future Effects

Even if Lamoriello was able to acquire Pacioretty a little cheaper than the hypothetical scenarios previously mentioned, the Connecticut native would have two remaining years on his contract at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.

Lamoriello has some pretty important names to re-sign in the summer of 2021. Cizikas, as we know, will be due for a contract, as well as top-pairing defenseman Adam Pelech, top-six forward Anthony Beauvillier, and the highly touted goaltender, Ilya Sorokin. Michael Dal Colle’s future remains a question mark, but if the organization decides they want him to stick around, he’ll need a contract. As well as a number of non-roster players who will need contracts such as Otto Koivula, Kieffer Bellows, and possibly Josh Ho-Sang.

New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech
New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

In a flat cap era, Pacioretty’s $7 million cap hit through 2023 simply makes it unrealistic to retain the important parts of the core moving forward. Sure, it’s possible with the Seattle expansion that the Kraken decide to select someone like Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle, or Semyon Varlamov, all of whom carry significant cap hits. However, there’s no guarantee Seattle’s organization will pick up any of those players or that Lamoriello won’t protect any of them.

The word on the street is that Lamoriello is looking to sign Mat Barzal to a bridge deal for 3 years, at a $7 million average annual value (AAV). Add that to their projected cap hit of $67,844,167 in 2021-22, and the Islanders would have a $74,844,167 cap hit. Pacioretty would put them just over the $81.5 million cap ceiling, leaving the team no room to re-sign their important pieces.

In short, Pacioretty’s $7 million AAV would be too expensive for the Islanders who still need to sign their star center.

Aging Islanders

Rounding out the list of reasons the Islanders should avoid acquiring Pacioretty: going into the bubble, they were already one of the older teams in the playoffs (which included all but seven teams). Although head coach Barry Trotz and co. are in a window where they can win now, the core of the team is still pretty young, and the goal should be to get a little younger.

Unfortunately, the Islanders have an abundance of contracts of guys over 30 years old. Andrew Ladd’s contract remains immovable, while players such as Anders Lee, Eberle and Bailey won’t be coming off the books within the next 2-3 years. Lamoriello shouldn’t be looking to add another player in the same category to this list.

Max Pacioretty Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas Golden Knights left wing Max Pacioretty (67) (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It might have been a good idea to acquire a guy like Pacioretty two years ago when the Canadiens traded him to the Golden Knights. Now, the flat cap era is upon us, and it may stick around for a few more years after the league and its players have taken a big hit due to the pandemic. The Islanders need to bring their average age down while trying to maintain their recent success.

Nowadays, there are far too many reasons why Pacioretty’s bloated contract would make for some difficult short-term hurdles for Lamoriello, only hurting the Islanders’ future.

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