Is Pacioretty at The Point of No Return?

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He was rumoured to be traded all year… then the trade deadline came and went, only to see him continue his miserable season, as did the rest of the Montreal Canadiens. Rumours got even stronger in the off-season, particularly heading towards the NHL Draft. News came out that he was traded but when the New York Islanders realized who they could pick at 11th and 12th, they pulled the plug on a 3-way deal which would have see Ryan O’Reilly continuing his career in Montreal. Boom! He fired his reputable players’ agent Pat Brisson, and replaced him with Allan Walsh. Then the news came out that he was traded… but wait. No, he couldn’t agree to a contract extension with the L.A. Kings. 

It’s been a busy stretch for the Max Pacioretty, one that no professional athlete wishes to have to go through. You see, he genuinely loves Montreal. He truly cares. Unfortunately, hearsay is a mode of life amongst Habs’ fans and some of the low-life media who follow this team, and story have been told, most of which a result of make-belief, due in big part because the Canadiens’ GM dared trading a player who was an expert at acting like an angel when the cameras were in his face, but not so much when the spotlight was away. As a matter of fact, he and then coach Michel Therrien took the majority of the blunt from those for whom the number in the back of the jersey is more important than the logo at the front. But it certainly wasn’t the Captain’s doing.

Marc Bergevin‘s pundits will be quick to make up stories about a strained relationship between the two men and that, with zero supporting evidence. Some will go to great lengths to “prove their point” by claiming a lack of respect by the GM towards the player, based on the fact that he did try to trade him. Guess what folks? A GM who does his job will always be looking at trying to improve his team, a fact particularly true after the dismal prestation displayed last season. And when you have an asset like Pacioretty, who is entering the final year of a contract paying him a well under-valued $4.5M cap hit – contract given by Bergevin himself, might I say – you have a very tradable and valuable asset in your hands, one that can bring a quality return. But it’s far from personal.

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Pacioretty was voted team captain by his teammates in 2015

Pacioretty has been a model citizen in Montreal. In a year when Golden Boy P.K. Subban pledged $10 million to the Montreal Children Hospital, it’s the captain who was voted by his team as their representative for the King Clancy award, given for charitable work and leadership. He faces the cameras in good and not so good times. Calm and collected, he faces the music, a feat particularly difficult on him last season when not only the team didn’t fair well, but his own production took a serious hit. He was still there, answering questions.

Between 2011 and 2017, only Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Joe Pavelski had scored more goals in the entire NHL than Pacioretty and even after his poor production of last year, he’s ninth in the NHL in that category since 2011. The most amazing part of this is when one looks at whom he had at centre all of those years… David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Philip Danault, in all due respect to those guys, aren’t considered anywhere close to number one centres in this league. But Patches produced at a top-level rate.

The Future

But what does the future hold for Pacioretty? According to Marc-Antoine Godin of The Athletic, the team informed Pacioretty’s agent that they would not negotiate a new contract and they would try to trade him as soon as possible. But that was almost a month ago.

Hockey is a business today, and no one knows that better than professional athletes. Unlike keyboard warriors, they know that things aren’t personal when it comes to guaranteed contracts in a hard salary cap era. While some players are traded because of on and off ice issues – see Beaulieu, Subban, Galchenyuk – teams regularly make moves based on business and financial decisions, which have absolutely nothing to do with the relationship between players and management.

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Pacioretty is a family man living in Montreal 12 months of the year.

Seeing that Bergevin could not get full value for his captain, he doesn’t have to trade him. Yes, Pacioretty can face the media, even the sharks in Montreal. Yes, he is well liked by his teammates who don’t like seeing their captain, one of their leaders, being in trade rumours. But rest assured of one thing: Pacioretty can return to the Canadiens to, at the very least, start the season. No, the Habs don’t have to trade him. As a matter of fact, on a team desperately looking for goals’ scoring, a motivated Pacioretty in the final year of his contract, wanting to improve on a bad season, might just be what the Canadiens need.

Seeing what the Carolina Hurricanes received for Jeff Skinner, perhaps we can better understand why the American left winger is still property of the Canadiens. Contrarily to what some want you to believe, the team doesn’t have to trade him. He’s the captain of the Canadiens. He loves Montreal, where he lives year-round. He’s a multiple times 30-goals’ scorer. Aside for perhaps some vendetta against the team’s GM, perhaps even misplaced blame for the Subban trade, why are people turning on him? If the team isn’t in contention for a playoffs’ spot in February, then perhaps a trade could be considered? But to trade Pacioretty for the sake of trading him is definitely not what Bergevin should, or wants to do. Go Habs Go!

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Who Is Jonathan Drouin?

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Contrarily to what some want you to believe, trading in today’s National Hockey League is far from easy. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of the hard salary cap back in 2005, the number of trades completed have dropped more than half of what they were prior to it. It’s easy to understand why. Teams obviously have to look at the fiscal impact on their team, and they also have to plan ahead, looking at whose contracts will need to be renewed in the foreseeable future. Hockey is a business more than ever and Habs’ fans had a hard reality of it when team General Manager Marc Bergevin had to let lifetime defenseman Andrei Markov walk away to the KHL late this summer.

Getting some young and productive talent at a reasonable cap hit is what will often make the difference in the mid to long term and Bergevin understands that. When he completed yet again one of the biggest trades of the summer in acquiring 22 year-old Jonathan Drouin, in exchange for blue-chip prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ GM landed a top-end offensive juggernaut for a player who might (or not) become a stud on defense… but there is no denying that he is the one who received the proven asset versus potential.

Immediately after the trade was announced, Bergevin was on the phone negotiating a shiny new contract with Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh (yes, him), agreeing to a six year, $33 million contract, ensuring that there was no doubt about the commitment between the team and the newly acquired fan favourite.

Who exactly is Drouin?

Jonathan Drouin was born on March 28, 1995 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. Few people remember that as a 17 year-old, he failed to make the roster to start the season with Halifax in the QMJHL despite being the second pick in the entry draft, so he had to return to play AAA midget hockey, until he was called up by Halifax December 9, 2011. Drouin made an immediate impact, getting two assists in his first game, including the primary assist on the winning goal. From that point, Drouin proved to be one of the top players in all of junior hockey. As a matter of fact, Drouin was named player of the year in the CHL. He was then chosen with the third pick overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, two spots behind his Halifax linemate Nathan MacKinnon.

Drouin was among the final cuts in his first training camp with the Lightning and was returned to Halifax for another season, where he finished with 108 points in 46 games in 2013-14 and had 41 points in 16 playoff games. He joined the Lightning in the 2014-15 season, playing in 70 games, and enjoyed a breakthrough in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 14 points in 17 games, including four goals in the Eastern Conference Final.

Dispute with Tampa Bay

In a much publicized even, Drouin’s dispute with the Lightning drew a lot of negative attention on himself starting in January 2016. It was no secret that there was a relationship issue between Drouin and Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and one day after being reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, Walsh issued a statement on behalf of his client. The agent revealed that Drouin had made a trade request back in November, but had kept the matter private. Walsh referred to it as an untenable situation and that it was in everyone’s best interest that Drouin be allowed to move on and play hockey.

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While some people claimed that he was a head-case, others said that he was given bad advice from the people around him. Either way, this wasn’t good news for either the Lightning or the player. But Lighting GM Steve Yzerman stuck to his guns and on January 20, 2016, he suspended him indefinitely without pay for a failure to report to the Crunch’s game against the Toronto Marlies. It’s not until March 8, 2016 that Drouin finally reported to Syracuse for the first time since being suspended. On April 4th, the Lightning called up Drouin from the AHL after a nine-game stint, a stretch in which he recorded nine goals and an assist. The young forward wasted no time making his presence felt as he scored the game-winning goal in his first game back with Tampa Bay.

Impact of the trade for the Habs

No one understands better the need for local talent with the Canadiens than Bergevin and team President Geoff Molson, and getting arguably the best young Quebecois in the entire NHL was a very impactful feat in itself. As we have touched on this very blog back in May, there was no doubt that if Drouin was made available, the Habs would be all in… and they were!

As much as people loved P.K. Subban, Jonathan Drouin will have an even bigger impact. He’s a mature young man, well beyond his age, and he speaks the language of his fans in his home province. Before even putting foot on the ice, he has already been utilized by the organization for many public appearances and marketing events, and fans have responded to him in a very positive manner, making him feel welcome. Of course, what he does on the ice is what will matter most, but judging from what he has already shown in the NHL, at such a young age, the future certainly appear to be bright for both the player and the Canadiens’ organization. Training with team captain Max Pacioretty, Drouin seems to have already found a home in Montreal. Until we get to see him work his magic in a Habs’ uniform, let’s enjoy together a few highlights of what he has done and what’s to come for the fans. After watching this, you will join me in wishing that the season started now! Go Habs Go!