The Golden Knights traded for former Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty earlier this week, and, unsurprisingly, most Knights fans seem elated. Pacioretty, despite coming off a down year, is regarded as one of the best goal scorers in hockey and figures to play an enormous role for the Golden Knights this coming season.
To learn more about the newest Golden Knight, we reached out to Eyes on the Prize managing editor Justin Blades (@JustinBlades) for insight on what the 29-year-old winger brings to the table for Vegas.
1. What are Pacioretty’s strenghts?
First and foremost, Pacioretty is a goal scorer. He tends to start out slowly in a new season, but will then score a handful of goals to get his projection back on track. Even last year, when the offense wasn’t there for any member of the Canadiens, he was still getting plenty of quality chances. He has a great shot that gives him the ability to score from medium range, and just needs someone to place the puck in his wheelhouse for him to be most effective.
2. What are his weaknesses?
There were times last year when he seemed a bit disengaged from the action, skating slowly back to the bench after another unproductive shift. For a perennial 30-goal scorer, it’s understandable that a season of halved production would leave him feeling unmotivated.
Relying on his shot for his offense, he needs a player to set him up. He had Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov to do that in 2016-17 in yet another 30-goal campaign, but with their departure, the team consisted mostly of forecheckers and net-drivers rather than playmakers, and it had a significant impact on not only Pacioretty’s offense, but the team as a whole as they finished among the lowest in goals scored.
Needing a setup man can be seen as a weakness, but an elite goal scorer with two-way ability like Pacioretty will be playing with the team’s top players anyway, so that issue should solve itself.
Pacioretty never really had what could be called a top centreman in his time in Montreal, and that probably limited even the top-tier production he managed in his tenure. With his goal total plummeting in what is typically a contract year for elite players (expecting an extension before the final year of his current deal began), he likely felt his value declining as a poor year wore on. Add to that that he was already on a bargain contract making significantly less than he was worth, that would have been weighing on him.
3. What’s he like in the locker room?
He was awarded the captaincy via a vote held among his teammates, but he and the management staff admitted after his first year that the team needed a veteran leader to help in the room (it was one of the reasons given for the Shea Weber-P.K. Subban trade). Last year, as the team sat well outside the playoff picture, Marc Bergevin repeatedly claimed that the answer for a turnaround “was in the room,” and stated at the end of the season the team needed a new “attitude” going forward; both things Pacioretty would have taken as criticisms of his leadership ability.
Last year Pacioretty began talking to the media after games a lot more, speaking at length about his offensive struggles and hinting at how much of a burden the leadership duties were becoming in a losing season.
4. What caused Pacioretty’s downfall in Montreal?
The Canadiens used to have their own behind-the-scenes show (similar to HBO’s 24/7), and Pacioretty was usually seen in the dressing room criticizing the team’s desire and effort level when they were playing badly. In a 2017-18 season when a loss was more common than a win, that wouldn’t have done much to improve morale, and likely began to wear on some players. Being able to take a step back from being in a top leadership role will be a relief for him this season.
5. How did Habs fans react to his departure?
Canadiens fans were largely resigned to his departure (at EOTP we did his season review first expecting him to be traded at any moment). It seemed clear after the end-of-season interviews that the team was planning to go in a different direction.
The earlier trade of Alex Galchenyuk was the latest move in what has become a minor rebuild, and Pacioretty was always the most valuable piece the team had to move. The hope was that he would at least bring back a return based on his typical performance and not just one outlier of a season, and fortunately that turned out to be the case. The return from the Golden Knights definitely helped to mitigate the loss of one of the top goal scorers in the game, and there is a good deal of excitement brewing for the assets brought in.