After a summer filled with rumors, an almost-deal and an agent change, Max Pacioretty was finally traded from Montreal in the early hours of Monday morning, headed to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round draft pick.
The move was the culmination of months of questions surrounding the Habs and their now ex-captain, who has one season remaining on his current deal, and quickly signed an extension with the Golden Knights to the tune of four years and $28 million that will take him through the 2022-23 season.
According to Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, Pacioretty had requested a trade last season, though a failed deal with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2018 NHL draft led to the winger changing representation and new agent Allan Walsh saying the player didn’t want to leave Montreal as recently as August 28. He's been with the franchise since being the team's first-round pick in 2007, amassing 226 goals and 448 points in 626 games.
One of the NHL’s most consistent scorers in recent seasons—he posted 30-plus goals and 60-plus points in five of his last seven years, failing to hit the marks in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and in 2017-18 after suffering a knee injury—Pacioretty gets a fresh start and will add even more depth to the Golden Knights attack. He'll likely be part of a new-look second line that included free-agent signing Paul Stastny and breakout winger Alex Tuch.
"We thought we are a better team today than we were yesterday," Vegas GM George McPhee said. "We think he is going to be a good fit. ... I hope that we're a better team than we were last year. … He's a productive player, he brings speed, he brings some size and he fits our club. He is a very good two-way player, you can play him [in] a lot of different situations."
The Golden Knights have high hopes heading into their second season after becoming the most successful expansion team in NHL history, winning the Pacific Division crown and Western Conference title before falling to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final. Pacioretty joins the young franchise with a new arena and rabid fanbase that he praised following a February game in Las Vegas.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Everything was top notch. Couldn’t ask for better music, better atmosphere, better fans.”
As if that weren’t enough to revitalize Pacioretty, McPhee made sure his newest forward will have a chance to tune out all the extra noise and pressure that came with playing in Montreal.
"Max can come here and just play hockey now," McPhee said. "Doesn't have to be captain—won't be the captain, we've got 23 captains—we're going to play and he's just going to play.“
Back in Montreal, Canadiens players are eager to move forward after a busy summer that also saw Bergevin move forward Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi.
"You know, it is what it is," goalie Carey Price said. "It sounds like both sides are going to be happy. And it's unfortunate to see a player go like Max. I played with him for 10 years. I wish him all the best. I'm sure he's probably excited about going to Las Vegas, and we got a good player in return and we'll see how it turns out."
In Tatar, the Canadiens got themselves a former second-round pick (2009) who has shown plenty of skill, though he’s yet to capitalize on all his potential. McPhee was willing to pay the price of three draft picks for him at the trade deadline, though his showing the Vegas down the stretch left a lot to be desired. Still, Bergevin is pleased to add a player who has tallied 20-plus goals in each of the last four seasons.
“I’m not going to deny it, you guys; he didn’t perform up to par in Vegas,” Bergevin said. "He's a player who brings an offensive aspect. With Max's departure we felt we needed to replace that, which we did, and we also got a second-round pick, so now we have 10 picks at this point for 2019."
Stockpiling picks is a good sign for Montreal, which expects to be competitive with a rebuilt offense and healthy seasons from Price and top defender Shea Weber. Adding a prospect like Suzuki, the 13th pick in the 2017 draft who scored 42 goals and 100 points with OHL Owen Sound last season, will strengthen the Habs’ efforts going forward.
"One point that was very important for us was to get a young prospect, what we call an 'A' prospect. That was a key that was very important to the organization and that's what we were able to get in Suzuki," Bergevin said. “He’s a player who can play all the forward positions. I can’t say exactly where he’ll be on the day he ends up playing for the Montreal Canadiens, but I’m confident that he’s going to help us. We have some good centers coming through the system, and with the departure of Max there’s room on the wings too."