Revisiting the Max Pacioretty trade three years later

Back in September of 2018 the Canadiens completed one of the most significant trades of the Marc Bergevin era when they sent one of their longtime core players, Max Pacioretty, to the Golden Knights for a second-round draft pick, Tomas Tatar, and Nick Suzuki.

It was such a significant trade because it gave Vegas a top-line finisher to help build off its historic inaugural season, and because Montreal was shipping away another cornerstone player. For 10 years Pacioretty had been one of the faces of the Canadiens’ franchise and a key building block for its roster. It came during a three-year stretch where there was significant turnover at the top of the roster.

That trade is now one of the interesting subplots to the NHL’s Stanley Cup Semifinal series as Pacioretty and the Golden Knights will be playing the Canadiens for a trip to the Cup Final.

So let’s go back and revisit how that trade has turned out for everybody involved.

It is one of the blockbuster trades you can look at in the NHL and make a pretty strong argument that everybody got something worthwhile out of it.

[Golden Knights vs. Canadiens semifinal preview]

Pacioretty and the Golden Knights

At the time, Vegas was coming off of a Stanley Cup Final appearance in its very first season and had seen a couple of top forwards (James Neal, David Perron) leave in free agency, while their big trade deadline acquisition from the previous season (Tatar) did not pan out as they had immediately hoped. They were in the market for a goal scorer, they had salary cap flexibility to work with, a lot of tradable assets, and Pacioretty fit the bill.

It all worked out.

Pacioretty has been exactly as advertised for the Golden Knights and in his first three full seasons with the team has been their best offensive player, leading the team in almost every major offensive category (goals, total points, even strength points, even strength goals power play goals, power play points) except for shots on goals. In that category he is second, just 17 behind Jonathan Marchessault. He has done all of that despite playing in just 185 of the 203 possible regular season games.

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He has also been outstanding in the playoffs, entering Game 1 on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock) with 27 points (including 14 goals) in his first 30 playoff games with the Golden Knights. Since returning to the lineup in Game 7 of the First Round he already has four goals, including three game-winners, in his first seven games this postseason.

His contract has also been a strong investment, counting $7M against the salary cap for two more seasons. He has probably already outperformed that cap value, and even though he turns 33 in November the term is short enough that it should not become a burden in future seasons.

The Golden Knights got everything they could have hoped for here.

But when one team lands a star player in a trade, there is a good chance the other team is coming out on the losing end, or is hurting as a result.

That has not entirely been the case here.

Montreal got the best return it could have hoped for

The most important player here is Nick Suzuki.

Suzuki was one of Vegas’ three first-round picks in its first draft, and it is pretty clear that out of the three (Cody Glass, Erik Brannstrom) he has been the most impactful NHL player so far. In his first two years in the NHL Suzuki has not only shown consistent improvement, he has been extremely productive and looks like a long-term building block for the Canadiens.

He is still only 21 years old and has already score at a 20-goal, 60-point pace over 82 games, has been an outstanding playmaker, and has been one of the most impressive players on the roster in both playoff runs he has appeared in. He figures to be one of the most important long-term pieces in the Canadiens’ organization right along with Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. A potential impact player, and he is already on his way to being that.

He makes the trade worth it in the long-term.

In the short-term, Tatar has also been very useful.

He only spent a couple of months in Vegas after it acquired him from the Red Wings for three draft picks at the 2018 trade deadline. He never quite fit the way they had hoped, and he was quickly deemed expendable. Since arriving in Montreal he has been the Canadiens’ top scorer (by more than 20 points) and a very underrated all-around player. He has also been a part of one what has been one of the league’s best lines alongside Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault.

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Over the past three years that trio has spent more than 1,500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together. In those minutes the Canadiens have controlled more than 62% of the total shot attempts, expected goals, total scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances with them on the ice. They have also outscored their opponents by a whopping 94-49 margin. By every objective measure it has been one of the league’s best, most productive lines. Tatar has been a significant part of it.

His playoff production has been rough the past two years, and he has only appeared in five games this season (with just a single assist), and he is also probably going to leave via free agency after this season. But even with all of that he has still given the Canadiens three very productive seasons with a lot of value that helped soften the blow of trading a player as good as Pacioretty.

In the end, a contending Vegas team got the best player and a player that could help it win the Stanley Cup. That is a win.

Montreal, not a contending team at the time, got a very strong return for a star, including one player that could be a franchise cornerstone for the next decade, long after Pacioretty is still productive. That is also a win.

CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTSseries livestream link

Game 1: Mon., June 14: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 16: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. June 18: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 4: Sun. June 20: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 5: Tues. June 22: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)

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