The Vegas Golden Knights announced Thursday that forward Max Pacioretty is out indefinitely after undergoing successful wrist surgery.
The news is a massive setback to a Golden Knights team that has experienced injury adversity all year.
Pacioretty missed 17 games earlier this season after suffering a broken foot in October, limiting him to just 16 games.
However, he has made the most of them.
The 33-year-old has been sensational, recording 12 goals and 21 points in those 16 games, including 10 goals and 16 points during a nine-game point streak when he returned to the lineup Nov. 24.
Pacioretty is second on the Knights in goals despite playing between 12-17 fewer games than the other team leaders.
His 1.31 points-per-game average is good for sixth overall in the NHL among skaters with at least five games played, trailing only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nazem Kadri, Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon.
Pacioretty’s 0.75 goals-per-game rate ranks second behind only Draisaitl, and he has averaged more shots per game than anyone in the league (4.81). He was on pace to smash previous career highs.
To say he has been vital to Vegas’ turnaround would be a massive understatement; it’s no coincidence that the Knights have gone 10-4-0 since his return.
Pacioretty was a game-time decision ahead of Tuesday’s road tilt against Los Angeles but was able to play; he managed two shots and two hits with a minus-one rating in 17:24, just 32 seconds short of his season average (17:56).
But secondary to the effects his absence will have on the lineup on a nightly basis are the potential salary cap implications his injury may present.
Acquiring Jack Eichel and his $10 million cap hit would have necessitated a trade once Eichel was ready to return from long-term injured reserve (LTIR), which enables teams to exceed the salary cap ceiling during the regular season.
However, if Pacioretty’s injury keeps him out of commission for the remainder of the regular season, the Knights would be able to avoid that step by putting Pacioretty and his $7 million cap hit on LTIR. Ultimately, Vegas would not be forced to part with a key player, and Pacioretty would be able to return at the start of the postseason, where the salary cap is no longer in effect.
That would still leave Vegas without a core member of the team, as Pacioretty has been an integral part of the club’s offense since his arrival in 2018, but theoretically it would afford the Knights more cap flexibility.
Much was made of Tampa Bay’s use of this measure with Nikita Kucherov’s injury last year; Kucherov spent the entire regular season on LTIR and returned for the playoffs, where he helped a stacked Lightning team win the Stanley Cup.
This situation is quite different considering Pacioretty’s injury and the Eichel acquisition both came unexpectedly during the season.
However, it’s a situation that could come into play down the road.
But that’s only true if Pacioretty’s injury keeps him out through the start of the playoffs; the Knights have yet to offer a timetable for his recovery or potential return.
Regardless of any potential cap relief such an injury could yield, losing Pacioretty is a major blow to the Knights, who will close out 2021 with a fight for first place in the Pacific Division tomorrow against Anaheim.