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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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Flyers need more from Nolan Patrick

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s been a miserable year season for the Flyers, as they’ve accumulated just 40 points in 46 contests. Only the Ottawa Senators are below them in the Eastern Conference standings right now. Many players have failed to live up to their potential, including second-year forward Nolan Patrick.

The Flyers made Patrick the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He was able to crack the lineup in his first year, but he put up a modest 13 goals and 30 points in 73 contests. Coming into this season, the Flyers expected him to take a big step forward.

The 20-year-old has gone through some lean times this season. Heading into last Monday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, Patrick had gone 24 games without a goal. During that stretch, he managed to pick up just two assists. But on Monday night, he came up with a huge performance, as he managed to score two goals and he added two helpers in 14:02 of ice time.

“To be honest, it weighs on you quite a bit,” Patrick said after the game. “It’s something you think about when you go through a slump like that. You just have to believe in yourself and do things to help the team if it’s not scoring…I was just trying to play a good two-way game. I knew it would eventually come. I didn’t think it would take that long, but it happens.”

Even though the Flyers are out of the playoff picture, they can use the second half of the season to lay the groundwork for 2019-20. Patrick, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov are just a few of the younger players that need to have strong performances down the stretch.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Interim head coach Scott Gordon may have to win to keep his job, but leaning on his young center should be one of his priorities. Assuming he can build off of his last performance, Patrick should start seeing more ice time. Through 39 games, he’s averaging just 14:35 of ice time.

“I think the biggest change for him will come as soon as he identifies, and he actually said the term, get to fifth gear,” Gordon said, per NBC Sports Philadelphia. “A lot of times he’s playing in third gear. He’s got another speed and we saw that. When I show him video or we talk about his game, let’s make sure we’re playing in fifth gear tonight.”

In his short career, Patrick has picked up a goal and an assist in four games against the Bruins.

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Top NHL-affiliated prospects; Rookie dinner stories

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• TSN hockey analyst Craig Button released his list of top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects. A couple of Russians are at the top of this list. (TSN.ca)

• Find out of Devils defenseman Damon Serverson became a fan of rodeo and bull-riding. (NJ.com)

• The Islanders have received some solid contributions from their fourth line, which is made up of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck. (Newsday)

• Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt did a little digging to find out what some players’ rookie dinner looked like. (Sports Illustrated)

• Coming into this season, Rasmus Dahlin was expected to be the top rookie defenseman in the NHL. Let’s just say that Miro Heiskanen is giving him a run for his money. (The Score)

• Where do the Minnesota Wild go from here? (The Hockey News)

• NHL.com had a sit down with Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. (NHL.com)

• The Nashville Predators should look into trading for Panthers forward Mike Hoffman. (Predlines)

Patrick Maroon going home to St. Louis was a nice story, but it hasn’t worked out for either side. (St. Louis Game-Time)

• Over the course of the 1,000 games Brooks Orpik has played in his career, he’s had to adjust his game. (NBC Washington)

Jake Gardiner and Larry Murphy have a few things in common. First of all, they’ve both been booed by their home crowd in Toronto. (Canadian Press)

Matt Duchene plays “What’s in the Box” against Paul Bissonnette:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Pro Niemi; Odd night for the Blues

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Three Stars

1. Antti Niemi

After floundering with the Stars and flopping briefly with the Penguins, it sure seemed like last season would be Niemi’s last in the NHL.

Niemi even played two forgettable games for the Panthers team he frustrated tonight, so you can forgive his former teammates for wondering where this guy was. (Stars management might be doing that, too, if they’re not cursing Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for losing to the Lightning.)

Niemi set a new career-high with 52 saves against Florida, with only Mike Hoffman‘s Forsberg-like goal beating him.

That performance stands taller than some other great goalie performances that should get at least honorable mentions. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched a 35-save shutout against Benn and those Stars. Laurent Brossoit continued his brilliant work as Winnipeg’s gem of a backup, making 43 out of 44 stops. But Niemi’s 52 saves fell one short of tying a franchise record for the NHL’s most storied franchise. Seems fair to give him the top spot.

Not bad for a guy who legitimately seemed to be done last season.

2. Mika Zibanejad

As much as the Rangers’ opponents from Carolina rank as a team to watch at the trade deadline, the Rangers are no slouches themselves in sell mode.

It would be surprising to see Zibanejad go in such a liquidation, at least if the Rangers don’t want this to be a lengthy rebuild. He’s a prime-age scorer, with Tuesday’s two goals and two assists pushing his season total to an impressive 41 points. Zibanejad only had 47 points all of last season, and 2015-16’s 51 represent a career-high, so he could really set a new bar for himself. The talent’s seemingly always been there, so it’s pretty exciting to see such growth, and it must be painful to compare his work to that of trade partner Derick Brassard.

Mats Zuccarello collected three assists in this one as well, including a truly brilliant one to set up one of Z’s goals. Zuccarello now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game run.

The Rangers really dominate the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden, apparently.

3. Viktor Arvidsson

Arvidsson was one of two players to collect a hat trick on “National Hat Day,” with Tomas Hertl being the other. Arvidsson gets the nod for two reasons: 1) one of Hertl’s three goals included an empty-netter and 2) Arvidsson managed a GWG in his efforts.

(Joe Thornton scored the game-winner in what was his 1,000th game with the Sharks.)

Some of those Arvidsson goals included some great moments from his teammates, much like Zibanejad was boosted by Zuccarello. You can see a great outlet pass from Mattias Ekholm and a falling helper from Ryan Johansen in the highlights of Nashville’s one-sided win against Washington.

Strange, tough night for St. Louis

The Blues lost in overtime to the Islanders, with Jordan Binnington suffering his first defeat. But that wasn’t what made this an unusual night.

Early in the game, Oskar Sundqvist continued his unlucky 2018-19 by losing his edge and falling into an on-ice official, needing help off of the ice. Luckily, he would come back later in the game.

It wasn’t the only unusual reaction between a Blues player and someone other than an Islanders player, as a trainer helped a struggling Zach Sanford to the bench:

Here’s hoping Sanford ends up OK. David Perron extended his point streak to 12 games, but that’s about where the good news ended for St. Louis on Tuesday.

One more great highlight

Click here for that Hoffman goal. It was pretty ridiculous.

Also ridiculous: Hertl’s effort on this tally. The Czech winger grew up idolizing Jaromir Jagr, so it must have felt great to emulate number 68 in overpowering Evgeni Malkin on his way to this tremendous goal:

Apparently Hertl’s hat-trick goal pushed him to 100 career tallies. So not a bad consolation prize for Hertl.

Factoids

Another sign that, yes, scoring is way up this season.

The Islanders are the first team since the 2011-12 Flyers to have eight players score at least 10+ goals through 45 games.

PHT’s Scott Billeck notes that Laurent Brossoit’s 26 saves in the second period set a new Jets franchise record for saves in a single period. So, yeah, Brossoit has a strong argument for a three stars nod, along with quite a few others from a busy Tuesday.

Scores

NYI 2 – STL 1 (OT)
NYR 6 – CAR 2
CBJ 4 – NJD 1
MTL 5 – FLA 1
DET 3 – ANA 1
NSH 7 – WSH 2
MIN 3 – LAK 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – VGK 1
TBL 2 – DAL 0
SJS 5 – PIT 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Wild get crucial, tough win against Kings

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It wasn’t always pretty against the Kings on Tuesday, but if Bruce Boudreau was looking for some fight from his team, the Wild showed quite a bit of it.

Ultimately, Minnesota gritted out a 3-2 shootout win against Los Angeles, improving to 23-20-3 in 2018-19. The Wild are currently ranked as the West’s second wild-card team with 49 points in 46 games, managing a two-point edge against the idle Canucks and Oilers, and also two points ahead of the sprawling Ducks.

[Who has the edge in these races?]

If you’re scrolling through the scoreboard alone, a 3-2 (SO) win against lowly Los Angeles doesn’t seem so impressive, and that’s fair enough.

But for the Wild, it’s encouraging. After all, Minnesota was closing out a back-to-back set after a painful 7-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.

Fatigue must have been weighing Minnesota down, and it must have been frustrating early on, as Jonathan Quick did not make things easier. The Wild weren’t able to score in the first period despite a 14-8 shots on goal edge, and they ended up needing a shootout despite a SOG advantage of 42-33 overall.

Both teams showed a lot of effort on each of their regulation goals, with Alex Stalock stopping 31 of 33 shots, as he’s playing in place of a quietly struggling Devan Dubnyk, who’s not necessarily putting up All-Star numbers.

The Wild got goals from some key players who’ve struggled this season. First, Nino Niederreiter finally broke through midway through the second period on a nice second-effort:

Not long after being the target of Boudreau’s ire, Eric Staal was credited with the Wild’s second goal after Ryan Suter‘s shot/pass/shot-pass bounced off of him:

Grinding out a win like this won’t really “wow” many people, and it is unlikely to silence the Wild’s critics.

[Pondering Boudreau’s future in Minnesota.]

Still, it says quite a bit about this team that, instead of giving in to frustration and fatigue, they found a way to eke out this win. As much as postseason runs hinge on beating other bubble teams and contenders, it’s also important to win against teams that are languishing lower in the standings, and the Wild put the work in to do just that on Tuesday.

For all we know, getting those extra two points could end up making all the difference as these tight races go along.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.