When NHL free agency opens in less than one month’s time, all eyes will be affixed on the spending spree the league’s 31 teams undertake in their pursuit of bolstering their rosters ahead of the 2018-19 season. But when July 1 comes and those north of the border celebrate Canada Day, players with a single campaign left on their contract will be eligible to ink an extension. And among those headlining the list of extension-ready skaters is Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty.
As it stands, Pacioretty is preparing to enter the final season of his current contract, a six-year, $27-million pact inked with Montreal back in August 2012. The contract is, was and has been quite the steal for the Canadiens, too. Over the lifetime of the deal, which kicked in beginning with the 2013-14 season, Pacioretty has been as consistent an offensive force as any player in the league, even if he did suffer through some dire stretches during his rough 17-goal, 37-point campaign this past season. All told, Pacioretty scored 158 goals and 295 points since his pay increase, which puts him into 10th among all players in tallies over that span and into a tie for 28th in overall scoring.
So, with Pacioretty roughly 13 months away from unrestricted free agency, one would expect the Canadiens would at the very least be beginning to explore a new deal with their captain. And, as reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger late last week, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has at least had some preliminary discussions with Pacioretty’s camp. Lest we go thinking that means Pacioretty is a Canadien for the foreseeable future, though, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported over the weekend that a possible contract extension — or at least discussions about what such an extension could look like — could be part of a potential sign-and-trade type scenario for Montreal.
That said, let’s break this down one piece at a time and start by dissecting what a potential contract for Pacioretty could look like. What we know for certain is that he’s due a raise, and that his current $4.5-million cap hit and $5 million salary is soon to be a thing of the past. How high will Pacioretty’s contract go, though? Well, we can’t know that until the terms are agreed upon or the ink is dry on the deal, but some recent comparisons might help us figure out a range. For that, we can look to a few other high-scoring wingers who have inked deals recently.
One example, and one tied to a player with whom Pacioretty is familiar, is the five-year, $31.25-million contract Alexander Radulov signed with the Dallas Stars last summer. There are ways in which the two players are similar, including age and production level. Radulov, 30, signed his pact when fresh off of his NHL return, a season in which he scored 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games with the Canadiens in 2016-17. Pacioretty, 29, outscored Radulov by 17 goals and 13 points that same season, but he only has seven more goals over the past two combined campaigns and trails Radulov by 22 points.
If that’s not a comparable some are comfortable with, though, how about T.J. Oshie? The Washington Capitals winger likewise put pen to paper as a 30-year-old on an eight-year deal that carries a $5.75-million cap hit, paying him $46 million over the lifetime of the contract. Over the lifetime of Pacioretty’s current deal, the two have somewhat similar numbers, though Pacioretty leads by 41 goals and 26 points since 2013-14. They’re closer over the past three seasons, however, as Oshie has 77 goals to Pacioretty’s 82, and the Canadiens winger leads the Capitals winger by 14 points.
But another comparable scorer, albeit a younger one, might have moved the goalposts for Pacioretty on his next deal. Evander Kane signed a seven-year, $49-million deal with the Sharks after being acquired by San Jose at the trade deadline, and the 26-year-old’s raise could really drive up Pacioretty’s asking price. Consider that over the past three seasons, Pacioretty, even after his down year this past season, has five more goals than Kane and 36 more points. If we run it back to the 2013-14 campaign, Pacioretty has outscored Kane by 52 goals and 100 points. And it feels as though with others such as James Neal and James van Riemsdyk potentially staring down $6 million-plus annually on new pacts this summer, Pacioretty is bound to meet a similar mark on a new deal.
That might set a range at somewhere in the $6- to $7-million mark for Pacioretty. What then of his future, though? We know that during the season, there were rumblings about the Canadiens moving their captain, so much so that he became one of the players most commonly considered potential trade bait heading into the trade deadline. The trade freeze came and went with Pacioretty remaining in Montreal, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Canadiens couldn’t continue to look at him as a trade option, which Friedman noted, adding that Pacioretty might be the type of skater looked at by those unwilling to pay exorbitant prices to outbid others on the open market or those who swing and miss in free agency.
It’s an interesting option, too, because Pacioretty may not come with as high a price tag if he’s not involved in a bidding war, and whereas other teams may be paying increased prices for recent performance, Pacioretty’s down year might help keep the price down. That’s not to mention that if Pacioretty rediscovers his form he’s a safe 30-goal option. It’s hard to bet against a Pacioretty rebound, too, given he scored at a 35-goal pace across the six seasons prior to the 2017-18 campaign, and his 17 goals were still the fourth-most on an offensively inept Canadiens squad.
The tricky part for Pacioretty’s suitors will be finding a way to pry him out of Montreal, particularly if Bergevin is gun-shy about moving his captain. That said, given the Canadiens’ lack of success this past season — Montreal had the fourth-fewest points in the NHL — the front office may be looking to shake things up and refresh the roster. Even with that in mind, though, one can safely suggest that it’s going to take a lot more than a one-for-one deal to get Pacioretty out of Montreal. It’ll take picks and prospects, and maybe even a roster player, for the Canadiens to be convinced that it’s the move to make, and that may be especially true if Montreal is hesitant given some recent trade follies, including the P.K. Subban-Shea Weber swap.
So, as July comes and the summer signing season gets underway, it seems a Pacioretty deal could be in the cards, but it’s hard to feel even half as certain about a swap.
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