The Montreal Canadiens should wait to trade Max Pacioretty

Aug 8 2018, 3:17 am

Decision time is coming up for the Montreal Canadiens.

They’re faced with two options concerning captain Max Pacioretty, who is entering the final year of a five-year deal that will pay him a bargain $4.5 million. The Habs can try to re-sign Pacioretty to a long-term deal, or trade him to the highest bidder.

If they do neither, they could lose him for nothing as a free agent next summer.

A report last month suggested that the Canadiens intend on trading their 29-year-old winger sooner rather than later, but we’re still waiting.

TVA insider Renaud Lavoie shot down rumours that Pacioretty might boycott training camp in light of this ordeal, but the mere fact that this chatter surfaced in the first place is a red flag.

The problem is that a move right now would likely require selling Pacioretty for pennies on the dollar.

Everyone knows the Habs want to move Pacioretty, which won’t exactly give them leverage in negotiations. Further complicating matters is that Pacioretty is coming off a disastrous 2017-18 season that saw him register just 37 points – his lowest scoring rate in seven years.

Things go from bad to worse when you peel back the layers of that performance. Pacioretty was his usual self on the power-play, but during five-on-five play, he finished 14th among Canadiens’ forwards with just 1.06 points scored per 60 minutes.

That five-on-five scoring rate is commensurate with a typical bottom-six forward. After years of producing at an elite level, it’s a shocking decline.

A poor season will be concerning for potential trade partners, but a deeper look into the results suggests that lady luck that undermined Pacioretty’s production. 

Pacioretty’s misfortunes are glaringly obvious when looking at his shooting percentage. His conversion rate at five-on-five last season (4.7%) was less than half of last year’s clip (11.2%).

Moreover, Alex Radulov’s departure last summer meant that Pacioretty was forced to play with the offensively challenged Andrew Shaw as his most common wing partner last season. For all his talents, Pacioretty is not a playmaker; he needs someone to distribute the puck to him.

Should Pacioretty stay in Montreal next season, he’ll have a capable distributor to play alongside him in recently-acquired Max Domi, who had 36 assists in Arizona last season – more than any Canadiens player in 2017-18.

Of course, other teams will choose to ignore these extraneous factors in an attempt to scoop Pacioretty at a bargain price now. Delaying a trade not only gives Pacioretty an opportunity to rebuild his value, but it also gives time for increased demand.

Allowing demand to build is crucial for a worthwhile return because as it stands the price for scoring wingers isn’t all that high.

Just last week, the Carolina Hurricanes traded their own long-tenured former 30-goal scorer in Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres. The return was underwhelming.

Teams that are hit with injuries or mired in the thick of the playoff race will always be desperate to add a two-way winger of Pacioretty’s calibre at the trade deadline. Look no further than the steep costs for Tomas Tatar, Rick Nash and Evander Kane at last year’s trade deadline as prime examples.

It’s often said that patience is a virtue; in this situation, it could mean the world when it comes to the haul the Canadiens bring home if they choose to move their captain.

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