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.