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Canadiens have wasted Max Pacioretty

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Barring an unforeseen change in the coming weeks, it seems obvious that Max Pacioretty‘s time with the Montreal Canadiens is coming to an end. The organization has seemed hell-bent on trading him for months, his agent says there has been no contract offer as he enters the final year of his current deal, and earlier this week it was reported that he will not be negotiating a new contract once the 2018-19 season begins in an effort to avoid any additional distractions. The only reasonable conclusion that a reasonable person should reach given all of those circumstances is that Pacioretty’s remaining time with the team should be measured in months or weeks (if not days) as the team seems ready to embark on what could be another non-playoff season (this would be the third in four years).

Whenever and however his time with the Canadiens comes to an end, it will be a sad end to a sad story that has seen one of the NHL’s most prominent teams — even if in name only, and not actual results — waste and squander what should have been a franchise-changing gift from the gods.

Pacioretty isn’t a superstar on the level of a Crosby, Ovechkin, or McDavid; he’s not that kind of generational talent. But what he has been over the past seven years is one of the league’s top goal-scorers and a true front-line winger that has been playing on a laughably below market value contract. This is the type of gift that a smart team should have been able to exploit and capitalize on when it comes to building a contender. One of the most valuable commodities in a salary capped NHL is a young, front-line player on an entry-level contract because they are giving their team the most bang for the buck. You’re getting top-level production for a fraction of its true market cost which, in theory, should allow that team to load up elsewhere on the roster.

[UPDATE: Canadiens deal Pacioretty to Vegas]

Pacioretty hasn’t played on an entry-level deal since the 2010-11 season, but ever since then he has still given the Canadiens all-star level production at what has mostly been second-or third-line price in recent years.

At the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, Pacioretty, still relatively unproven, inked a two-year bridge deal that paid him $1.625 million per season. In the first year of that contract he offensive breakout with 33 goals, prompting them to sign him to a six-year, $27 million contract.

It has proven to be a disastrous deal for Pacioretty financially because he has outperformed it from the minute he put pen to paper. Meanwhile, it has been a financial godsend for the Canadiens when it comes to the production they have received for the price they are paying.

Pacioretty’s 206 goals since the start of the 2011-12 season are the ninth most in the NHL during that stretch (even with his down year this past season that saw him score just 17 goals in 64 games), and it is almost comical to look at how little he has been paid compared to the other top goal-scorers in the league during that stretch.

Here, we see the top-10 goal scorers over that stretch and how much they have made to this point.

Shortly after Pacioretty’s agent, Allen Walsh, took to Twitter a little more than a week ago to proclaim his client’s love of Montreal and desire to remain with the team, one of his former Montreal teammates, Lars Eller, also Tweeted his support for Pacioretty with a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.

Wrote Eller in two separate Tweets: “As a friend, I hope Max Pacioretty’s situation is resolved soon. He has shouldered one of the toughest jobs in hockey wearing the C for the CH, taking responsibility and blame for things beyond his control. At the same time being one of the top goal scorers in the game. He is as committed and cares as much as anyone I’ve ever played with. Any team would be lucky to have him.”

There is a lot of truth here, especially as it relates to the job of being the Canadiens’ captain and shouldering blame when things go wrong. If Pacioretty goes seven or eight games without scoring a goal it’s like the whole place goes insane and everything that is going wrong is his fault. But it is truly remarkable how much responsibility Pacioretty has had to take when it comes to carrying the Canadiens’ offense, and how much of it has run through him.

Here is an organization that has had — and this fact can not be stated enough times — one of the best goal scorers in the NHL playing for a fraction of what his peers at the top of the league are making, while also typically spending fairly close to the salary cap. This should have been a massive advantage when it comes to building a team around him. Despite that, the Canadiens never found a true No. 1 center to play alongside him. Outside of one year of Alexander Radulov, they never really managed to bring in another top-line offensive talent that could be a suitable running mate at the top of the lineup. They also developed a habit of trading skill for grit and toughness by shipping out the likes of P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, and most recently, Alex Galcheyuk.

The result has been a team that, independent of Pacioretty, has consistently been a dull, boring and — at best — mediocre offensive hockey team.

[Related: Expect huge year from Pacioretty no matter where he plays]

Take another look at that list of players up above. Eight of them (Ovechkin, Stamkos, Tavares, Seguin, Malkin, Benn, Kane, and Marchand) have played on teams that have been among the 10 highest scoring teams in the league since the start of the 2011-12 season, including all of the top-six.

Pavelski’s Sharks are 12th during that stretch.

Where do the Canadiens reside? In the bottom-10 at 21st.

It’s almost organizational malpractice to have an elite goal scorer, at that bargain price, and still manage to build such a bad offensive team around him while relying on him to do all of the heavy lifting. Since the start of the 2011-12 season Pacioretty has scored nearly 15 percent of the Canadiens’ goals (14.5 to be exact). Among the top-10 goal-scorers during that stretch only Ovechkin (19 percent) has scored a higher percentage of his team’s goals, while Tavares, Pavelski, and Stamkos are the only other ones in that group over 14 percent.

This stunning lack of offense around him has resulted in the Canadiens simply … not winning. Over the past seven years the Canadiens have won just three playoff series during Pacioretty’s peak years. The only top-10 goal-scorers during that stretch that have been a member of teams that have won fewer are Benn and Tavares.

Seven of them have played in at least one Stanley Cup Final during that stretch.

At this point it’s almost like picking at low-hanging fruit to continue being critical of the Canadiens’ current front office and its roster decisions. They have been bad. But as long as the tree keeps providing you the fruit, you almost have no choice but to keep picking at it. The way the Canadiens have treated — and squandered — Pacioretty’s career might be one of their biggest disappointments over the past decade.

They should have been able to do more for him. And they didn’t.

Related: Marc Bergevin’s tenure has slowly but surely made the Canadiens worse

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Marchand appears to avert injury scare in Bruins Cup tuneup

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BOSTON (AP) — Boston Bruins scoring leader Brad Marchand returned without missing a shift after appearing to hurt his left hand Thursday night when the team held an intrasquad scrimmage to tune up for the Stanley Cup Final.

Marchand bumped into Connor Clifton in front of the net ”and jammed his … I don’t know what he jammed,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.

”Injury risk was our biggest concern tonight. It will be Saturday when we practice at the regular time, and Sunday,” Cassidy said. ”He’s fine.”

With 10 days off between their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals and Monday night’s opener of the best-of-seven Cup final against the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins scheduled the scrimmage to stay sharp.

”It was good to get out there, and we appreciate the support,” forward David Pastrnak said. ”It’s starting to feel real.”

Tickets were $20 and the 17,565-seat TD Garden was sold out, with the proceeds going to the Boston Bruins Foundation. Fans chanted ”We Want the Cup!” and ”Let’s Go Bruins!” and gave the team a standing ovation after Patrice Bergeron tipped a puck between his legs during a six-on-five, pulled goalie simulation before the buzzer.

Captain Zdeno Chara and Bergeron, the alternate captain, thanked the crowd after the scrimmage.

Marchand skated off flexing his hand near the end of the first 25-minute half. He appeared to be in discomfort on the bench, but was back for his next shift.

Cassidy left it up to the players to decide how much work they needed.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask played just one half. Chara, who missed the clincher of the East finals for undisclosed reasons, played the entire game. David Krejci showed up at the arena with an illness and was sent home, but he should be fine for Monday’s game, Cassidy said.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Sharks head into uncertain offseason with key free agents

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — If Joe Thornton comes back for a 22nd season in the NHL, it would only be with the San Jose Sharks. Captain Joe Pavelski is confident he will get a deal done to stay with the franchise he joined as a draft pick back in 2003.

The situation with the other major potential unrestricted free agent is far less certain. After Erik Karlsson‘s injury-plagued first season in San Jose ended with him sitting at home with an injured groin during a Game 6 loss at St. Louis in the Western Conference final, the star defenseman said he hasn’t thought yet about his plans for the summer.

”I’ve been treated with nothing but class and respect here,” Karlsson said Thursday. ”I’ve seen the best side of what this organization and this city has and I like everything I’ve seen. Now I have to kind of regroup and assess everything. A lot of things can happen. It’s a weird business we’re in. I enjoyed my time here. Whatever happens is going to happen for a reason.”

Karlsson had a less-than-ideal season after being acquired as potentially the final piece needed for a championship in a trade from Ottawa on the eve of training camp. He struggled to adjust to his new team early in the season before playing at an elite level for about six weeks when the Sharks looked as good as any team in the league.

Karlsson then injured his groin and missed 27 of the final 33 regular-season games before returning for the playoffs, lacking his usual burst as a skater. Even at less than 100% in the postseason, Karlsson showed flashes of his playmaking with 14 assists and two goals, including the overtime winner in Game 3 against the Blues.

But he was unable to play for a long stretch late in a Game 4 loss and was limited in a Game 5 loss before sitting out the third period. He couldn’t go at all in Game 6.

In the final game, the Sharks were also without Pavelski, who re-injured his knee in Game 5, and forward Tomas Hertl, who had a concussion. That left little in the tank for a team that won a pair of Game 7s already in the playoffs, including an epic three-goal comeback in the final game of the first round against Vegas after Pavelski left with a bloody concussion.

”If you lose your difference-makers, it’s difficult,” general manager Doug Wilson said. ”But this group always bounced back and found a way, for that we’re extremely proud. No excuses, line up, next man up, all those things that you hear, this group lived that. I’ll be honest: I’ve been in this business 40 years. I think the thing that epitomizes this group is the Vegas game, Game 7 where you see the emotional chaos of your captain going down, being carried off and how the group responded, showed you everything you needed to know about this group. I’ll remember that moment forever.”

Pavelski and Thornton have been integral parts of the Sharks for years. Pavelski was a seventh-round draft pick in 2003 and has scored 355 goals in 13 seasons, becoming captain and a fan favorite during his journey.

Thornton arrived in a franchise-altering trade from Boston on Nov. 30, 2005, turning the Sharks into a perennial Cup contender that can never quite win it all.

”They drive the environment,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”They drive the messaging every day in here. From a coach’s perspective, those guys are invaluable people for us.”

Whether they come back is not yet certain.

The Sharks opted not to extend Pavelski’s contract last summer when he came off a 22-goal season hampered by injuries. But his level of play rose this year with a team-leading 38 goals and he will be eligible to hit the open market in July, shortly before his 35th birthday.

”I know I’m going to be playing hockey next year. Hopefully it’s going to be here,” he said. ”We love it here. I think something will happen, who really knows, but coming off a lot of emotions coming through the playoffs and that round, we’ll sit down and take a look at what will happen here.”

The situation with Thornton is simpler. If he wants to come back for another season at age 40, it would only be with the Sharks. He plans to sit down with his family and Sharks management before making his decision.

Thornton finished this season for a change after needing major knee surgery the past two years. He’s accomplished almost everything in a career, ranking eighth all-time with 1,065 assists and 14th with 1,478 points but hasn’t won a championship.

His teammates and coaches talked all postseason about wanting to win for Thornton and came close before ultimately falling six wins short.

”I didn’t buy into that,” Thornton said. ”I think that was more for you guys. I think this whole area needs a Cup. They’re definitely on the right track, and just disappointing for this area not to be playing, like I said, next week, but this was a really fun team to watch, entertaining team to watch, and an inspirational team to watch.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Arbitrator upholds Voynov suspension but says he served half

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — An arbitrator upheld Slava Voynov’s one-season NHL suspension Thursday but is giving him credit for serving half of it in 2018-19.

Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended the former Los Angeles Kings defenseman for the upcoming season and the 2020 playoffs after determining he committed acts of domestic violence. The NHL Players Association appealed the ruling.

Arbitrator Shyam Das upheld Bettman’s decision that Voynov should be suspended for the equivalent of one NHL season but found he should be credited with having already served 41 games of the suspension last season. So Voynov will now be eligible to return midway through next season.

This marks the third time Das has reduced a suspension in the past eight months. He reduced Nashville forward Austin Watson‘s suspension for domestic violence from 27 to 18 games and later shortened Washington enforcer Tom Wilson‘s suspension by six to 14 games for repeated on-ice hits to the head.

The Kings, who terminated Voynov’s $25 million contract in 2015 but retain his rights due to his status on the voluntary retired list, said in a statement Thursday that he will not play for Los Angeles.

”We will now determine the impact of the arbitrator’s decision on our rights to the player and consider our options going forward,” the team said.

The league said in a statement that it was satisfied the arbitrator supported the penalty in regards to the severity of Voynov’s actions.

The league added that ”while we do not believe Mr. Voynov was entitled to any ‘credit’ for time missed, we accept Arbitrator Das’ conclusion that the precise factual context here was unusual – including the fact Voynov has not played in the NHL since October 2014, and that he did not play professional hockey at all during the 2018-19 season.”

The NHLPA said in a statement that ”this fundamental due process right is designed to ensure that, even in difficult cases involving domestic violence, the NHL’s disciplinary procedures and decisions are fair and consistent. The NHLPA continues to work with the NHL to educate players about domestic violence.”

Voynov’s agent, Roland Melanson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Voynov was suspended indefinitely in October 2014 after being arrested and accused of abusing his wife. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, left the United States to go back to Russia and in July had the conviction dismissed by a judge in Los Angeles. His most recent suspension was imposed in April after he applied for reinstatement.

The 29-year-old Russian last played an NHL game on Oct. 19, 2014. He won a pair of Stanley Cup titles with the Kings in 2012 and 2014.

Since his last NHL game, Voynov played three seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and won a gold medal at the 2018 Olympics. NHL players didn’t compete at the Pyeongchang Games.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Canada escapes; U.S., Sweden fall at IIHF World Championship

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KOSICE, Slovakia (AP) — Damon Severson and Mark Stone helped Canada escape to the world hockey championship semifinals while the United States and defending champion Sweden dropped out.

Canada beat Switzerland 3-2 in overtime Thursday night. Severson tied it with 0.4 seconds left on a goal confirmed by video review. Stone ended it at 5:07 of the 3-on-3 overtime off a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois.

”In these elimination games, you need to have guys step up. (Severson) stepped up for us to get the game tied, and then Dubois makes a ridiculous play to get it finished for us,” Stone said. ”Pretty big goal. It sends us to the semifinals, but I didn’t really have to do much. I just put my stick on the ice, went to the net and Dubois makes that winning goal happen.”

The tying goal came with goalie Matt Murray off an extra attacker. Severson’s shot from the point dribbled over the goal line after it hit goalie Leonardo Genoni’s pad and blocker.

”It’s one of those things that you can’t really make it up. We were very fortunate to get that late goal,” Severson said. ”It was a 2-1 hockey game the entire third period and the goalie was playing great. We got a lot of chances but we just couldn’t seem to sneak one by him. With under a second left I just took a shot and it ended up bouncing in. To score a goal like on a big stage like this is definitely very exciting.”

Stone had a goal and an assist in regulation. Nico Hischier and Sven Andrighetto scored for Switzerland.

In the semifinals Saturday, Canada will face the Czech Republic, and Russia will play Finland.

In Bratislava, Nikita Gusev and Mikhail Sergachyov each had a goal and two assists in Russia’s 4-3 victory over the United States. Kirill Kaprizov and Mikhail Grigorenko also scored. Brady Skjei, Noah Hanifin and Alex DeBrincat scored for the Americans.

”It’s disappointing because we had high expectations, so we’re not happy our tournament’s done so quickly,” Skjei said. ”You know, they’re a really good team. We know that, but we’ve got a good team, too, and we thought we could beat them, and I still think that we could have.”

Finland beat Sweden 5-4 in overtime in Kosice. Marko Anttila tied it for Finland with 1:29 left and Sakari Manninen won it in overtime.

”We always believed,” forward Juho Lammikko said. ”We had a lot of chances to put the puck in the net. You never quit until the final whistle. The game before us, you saw Canada score the tying goal with less than a second. It’s a 60-minute game. We didn’t let it bother us when they had the lead. Good things happen when you never give up.”

The Czech Republic topped Germany 5-1 in Bratislava. Jan Kovar scored twice for the Czechs.

”It’s good that we were able to score some goals and, in the end, we were able to put some space between us, but it wasn’t a one-sided win and we all know that,” Kovar said. ”We’re glad that we won, but we’re not really all that excited about the way we played for the most part. We can play better and we’ll need to play better.”