What the Max Pacioretty trade means for the Golden Knights

There’s a lot to digest here. Grab some food and get comfortable.

UPDATE: Max Pacioretty has signed a four-year extension worth an AAV of $7 million with the Golden Knights.

George McPhee is a firm believer in breaking Vegas Twitter in the dead of night.

Moments after the Vegas Golden Knights wrapped up their second game in the Vegas Rookie Faceoff on Sunday, the Golden Knights acquired Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty in a three-player deal.

Vegas sent back forward Tomas Tatar, former No. 13 overall pick Nick Suzuki, and a 2019 second-round pick that was formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets (which was the pick Vegas was given to select William Karlsson in the expansion draft).

Good morning to all of you who were asleep when this happened.

There’s a lot to process here. The Golden Knights are getting a proven goal scorer — Pacioretty has eclipsed 30 goals five times in his 10-year Montreal career. Vegas is also hoping Pacioretty stays healthy (played 64 games last season) and could benefit from a fresh start after a 29-win campaign from the Canadiens in 2017-18.

Let’s break this down.

Vegas cap space, possible extension for Pacioretty

The Golden Knights acquired Tatar in a trade deadline deal with the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 26. Vegas gave up a steep price to get someone it believed could bolster the offense on the bottom six — a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 second, and a 2021 third. The Golden Knights also took back a player making an AAV of $5.3 million for the next three years.

Tatar’s end result was 20 regular season games, eight playoff games, six goals (four regular, two playoff). All in all, not the return the Golden Knights were hoping for after trading third-line forward Brendan Leipsic the same day to the Vancouver Canucks.

Whether or not they feel the Golden Knights can get a better return in production from Pacioretty is unknown, but he has a cap hit of $4.5 million this year and will hit unrestricted free agency next season. Vegas essentially saves $800,000 for a better player with more team flexibility next summer.

There’s also the possibility of Pacioretty receiving an extension from Vegas. David Pangotta of The Fourth Period said the Golden Knights and Pacioretty have engaged in talks on an extension, but nothing is set in stone right now. If Pacioretty wants to stay, however, he loves the place.

“Best road game I’ve ever played in,” Pacioretty said, via the Associated Press, after Vegas defeated Montreal, 6-3, on Feb. 17. “When you experience it for yourself, that was a treat to play, and I wish we played them more than once a year. It was unbelievable. Everything was top notch. Couldn’t ask for better music, better atmosphere, better fans.”

The kicker to a Pacioretty extension is it enters the territory of what Vegas went through with James Neal — a player entering his 30s and will command a hefty payday. More on this later.

Vegas’ revamped second line ... and third line?

Whatever the Golden Knights have planned for lines 2-4 is a mystery. That doesn’t mean it’s terrible.

Pacioretty should slide into the second line with Alex Tuch and the newly-signed Paul Stastny. Since the 2011-12 season, only two players have scored more even-strength goals than Pacioretty — Alex Ovechkin (175) and John Tavares (153). That kind of production helps a playmaker like Stastny and opens up the ice for a young star in the making like Tuch.

Pacioretty and Stastny replace two-thirds of Vegas’ second line left behind by Neal and David Perron, with the odd man out being 29-goal scorer Erik Haula.

Haula, who centered the second line last season, could give Vegas the luxury of having a near-30-goal scorer leading its bottom six in 2018. Does Haula move to wing and Cody Eakin remains at center? Gerard Gallant will have his options. This could be a prove-it year for Haula, who benefitted greatly from having two veteran playmakers along his side.

The triplets are no more

In hindsight, this is going to look like an overpay for the Golden Knights — not because of giving up Tatar or a second-round pick they didn’t care for. Trading Suzuki and ending the era of the Vegas triplets is the most noteworthy bulletpoint in Montreal’s return.

Suzuki was taken 13th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, one of three first-round picks by Vegas along with Cody Glass and Erik Brannstrom. They were pinned as the future cornerstones of the franchise, each expected to be called up to Vegas together in the near future.

That will not be the case.

Suzuki played left wing in Saturday’s rookie faceoff game against Colorado and was relatively quiet. After the game, coach Rocky Thompson said Suzuki would move back to his strong side (right). He wound up playing second-line center on Sunday against San Jose in what might have been an audition for Montreal to showcase his versatility.

Nevertheless, Suzuki is gone, but Vegas will always have this.

But what about Erik Karlsson?

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, because it’s not as farfetched as it sounds.

Would the Golden Knights like to get a new deal for Pacioretty done? Absolutely. Would they include him in any possible trade to Ottawa for Erik Karlsson? In a heartbeat.

This isn’t to say the Golden Knights are going to rush into more supposed talks with the Senators for Karlsson now that Pacioretty could be an interesting trade chip — expiring contract, scores a lot of goals, etc. But Pacioretty could entice the pot for Ottawa to stay away from Glass in any Vegas-Ottawa trade talks — talks continue to be revolved around Glass and Vegas continues to not budge on that front.

It wouldn’t be a shock if Vegas flipped Pacioretty for Karlsson and, still more than likely, Bobby Ryan. I’m of the mindset that if nothing happens before the start of the regular season, nothing happens until the deadline with Ottawa.

The Golden Knights are fond of high-character, really-good-locker-room guys, and Pacioretty fits that mold. Outside of his goal scoring, they’re reasons why Vegas wanted him. Vegas, however, is going to have to manage this situation carefully if they want Pacioretty long term. It’s the same sticker shock that came with Neal, and it will surely happen with Pacioretty.

Both sides don’t appear to be in a rush in reaching a new deal, but it’s a situation worth monitoring.

Who won the trade?

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