The writing was on the wall in the drawn-out saga between left wing Max Pacioretty and the Montreal Canadiens. From being called out publicly to awkward handshakes, it was inevitable that Pacioretty would get shipped out of Quebec’s biggest city. The veteran forward was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, which was followed up with a four-year, $28-million contract extension. The reigning Western Conference champions added a consistent goal scorer to an already gifted offense and will make an immediate impact on the Vegas attack.
Golden Knights Receive 30-Plus Goal Scorer
There is no denying Pacioretty struggled last season, but which Habs players didn’t? The Canadiens were a dumpster fire in 2017-18, as the goal-scoring flames were completely extinguished. The Habs’ former captain gets a fresh re-charge now in Vegas and will bring his consistent 30-goal scoring prowess to the Golden Knights.
Prior to last season, the American-born forward cultivated an above-average 2016-17 campaign by racking up 35 goals and 32 assists for 67 points in 81 games played. Pacioretty’s goal and point totals were both team-highs, while his 35 lamplighters were ninth in the NHL. He also notched a Habs-best seven game-winning goals. The veteran left winger played a significant role in Montreal’s 103-point season that saw them advance to the playoffs.
The 2016-17 season was not the first time he crossed the 30-goal plateau. Since entering the league in 2007-08, Pacioretty has broken the 30-goal barrier on five occasions. His greatest season in this department came in 2013-14 when he recorded 39 goals in 73 games, putting him fourth overall in the NHL goal-scoring race. Pacioretty built on his success the following season with a 37-goal, 67-point output, as he finished 2014-15 as the league’s fifth-highest scorer. The 29-year-old winger has been a top-10 goal scorer three times.
The Golden Knights’ offense had zero issue putting pucks in the net last season, and Pacioretty will only elevate the attack. However, Vegas’s core of reliable scorers is still relatively young, so the addition of a 10-year veteran provides the Golden Knights with greater experience. Furthermore, Pacioretty captained the Canadiens, quite possibly the most difficult responsibility in hockey given the rabid hockey market and ruthless Montreal media.
Pacioretty Fills James Neal Void, Upgrades Line Two
A key offseason departure from the Golden Knights was forward James Neal, who signed a five-year, $28.75-million contract with the Calgary Flames. The veteran left wing was a staple on Vegas’s second line in 2017-18. Pacioretty joining the roster not only fills the hole left by Neal’s exodus but also provides an upgrade to line two.
Neal was never a prime-time scoring threat for Vegas, but his contributions were noticeable. The 31-year old forward notched 25 goals and 19 assists in 71 games last season, as his goal total was slightly above his annual average of 23.9 goals per season. More importantly, his lone campaign in Vegas was the 11th season of his NHL career, so his extensive experience in the league was quite valuable to a young squad. Neal also provided the Golden Knights with solid playoff experience, as he was one year removed from a run to the Stanley Cup Final with the Nashville Predators.
The only advantage Neal has over Pacioretty is the playoff experience, along with a willingness to get physical with the opposition. Montreal’s former captain has endured struggles in previous postseason appearances. However, the entire Golden Knights roster now has a full dosage of playoff hockey in their blood after a glorious postseason run. Battling through the rigors of the postseason will not be a challenge for Vegas post-Neal.
Pacioretty gives Vegas’s second-line a sizable enhancement in the scoring department. The New Canaan, CT native is a threat to record 35 goals and 70 points on annual basis. Adding his offensive production to a trio of center Paul Stastny and right wing Alex Tuch will give Vegas one of the NHL’s most effective second lines. The playmaking ability from Stastny will complement the former Hab very well, as the center will have no issue feeding pucks to the blade of Pacioretty’s stick.
The First-Line Chemistry Stays Intact
When a goal scorer of Pacioretty’s caliber joins a new team, sometimes the existing lineup has to shift drastically. The forward who can net 35 goals annually will often desire to skate on the top line and send another above-average point producer to the line two. Movement of this nature can result in chemistry issues among the top-six forwards.
This common scenario will not riddle the Vegas depth chart in 2018-19.
What will remain unscathed is the dynamic duo of left wing Jonathan Marchessault and center William Karlsson. Vegas’s offense is spearheaded by a pair of relatively young forwards who have built a deadly chemistry with one another. Both Marchessault and Karlsson possess dynamic skill sets on offense that help them mesh smoothly. Each of the two packs a reliable goal-scoring punch to go along with excellent puck movement abilities.
The numbers back it up, as Marchessault and Karlsson led the Golden Knights in scoring last season. After a slow start to his career, the Swedish-born forward finished with a team-high 43 goals and 35 assists for 78 points. Karlsson’s goal total was the third-highest in the NHL. Marchessault was not far behind his European teammate, as he finished with 27 goals and 48 assists for 75 points. The one-two punch of Karlsson and Marchessault is one of the most lethal in the league, and the acquisition of Pacioretty will not hinder that in any way.
Overall, the addition of Pacioretty in Vegas is a significant victory for a championship contender—in the regular season at least. But if the former Habs captain struggles once again in the postseason, then it might be a different story.