Hockey is a business, particularly since the implementation of the hard salary cap. This may sound like a cliche but it doesn’t make it any less the truth. Today’s teams have to not only manage their assets, but they now have to manage their payroll and that, not only for the season to come, but by having a plan for years ahead. And every year, teams have to make difficult decisions on player-personnel based on money, trying to balance icing a good team and keeping within the mid to long term financial plan. And that’s a situation not unique to Montreal.
But when it does happens in Montreal, things seem to take a life of its own, particularly when you have a group of reporters and fans who appear to have an axe to grind for the team’s General Manager, Marc Bergevin. He gives canned answers, he gets blamed. He comes up with lines like “If you want loyalty, get a dog”, he gets blamed. He makes a trade, he gets blamed. He doesn’t, he also gets blamed. He signs someone, he gets blamed and you guessed it, he doesn’t offer someone a contract, the same people point the finger at him. Oh I know, it comes with the job but folks, knowledgeable hockey people see right though that behaviour.
So much has been said, written, that this contract, non-contract or trade talks about Max Pacioretty is getting old in a hurry. Let’s try to not take sides for a second here. What actually happened out there? Here’s what’s been reported so far…
Trade Deadline 2018
Since the rumours started before the trade deadline last season, Pacioretty has been adamant: he loves Montreal and says wanting to play in Montreal. Even if we had doubts, who are we to go against what the player himself says?
On February 24th, Nick Kypreos reports that the Los Angeles Kings were pushing hard to get Pacioretty.
“We believe the Montreal Canadiens have asked for guys like Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli,” he said. “I’m not sure if that gets it done, but at least a first-round pick would be out there involved, and perhaps L.A.’s first pick last season – 11th overall, Gabe Vilardi — is out there as well. Perhaps he might be the piece that gets the deal done.”
In the same article, Elliott Friedman stated that there was a “belief” that Pacioretty had asked to be traded.
As we know, nothing happened at the trade deadline. No offers were good enough to convince Bergevin to give up his captain and best goals’ scorer. As Joe Sakic did with Matt Duchene, Bergevin preferred keeping his asset than giving him away.
Now jump to June, at the Draft. Talks have been ongoing, with multiple reports that Bergevin was the most active GM out there, trying to wheel and deal. According to some reports, he didn’t have one, but two deals in place for Pacioretty that weekend.
According to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, there was a 3-way deal in place between the Habs, the Sabres and the Islanders, which would have seen Pacioretty head to New York (and help convince John Tavares to re-sign), and Ryan O’Reilly pivoting a line with the Canadiens. But when Islanders’ GM Lou Lamoriello saw who was available with the 11th and 12th picks at the draft (Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson), he pulled out of the deal, as one of those picks were destined to Buffalo. We know the rest, Tavares ended up signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
We have also learned that the Kings did indeed have a deal in place with the Canadiens for Pacioretty, information recently confirmed by the Canadiens’ captain’s agent himself (see below). Whether the player(s) involved were what Kypreos advanced at the deadline or not, that we don’t know, but it’s been reported that the reason why the deal fell through is Pacioretty’s unwillingness to sign a contract extension estimated at $36 million for six years, according to Tony Marinaro at TSN690. Further, according to Pat Hickey of The Gazette, there was a time element involved because Los Angeles’ first-round pick (20th overall) was part of the return to Montreal. And add the following from TSN:
“The belief is that there was a deal in place with the Los Angeles Kings for Max Pacioretty, and that it didn’t get done because there wasn’t the ability to get a contract extension done,” [Bob] McKenzie told TSN Radio Montreal 690. “And obviously complicating things was that, as I understand it, the contract offer that Pacioretty got went through his agent, Pat Brisson, on Friday and by Saturday morning, Max Pacioretty had changed agents, and had gone to Allan Walsh.
He said, she said
SRC’s Martin Leclerc threw a bomb this week, quoting not one, but three rock solid sources from within the organisation stating that Pacioretty asked to be traded last year.
Allan Walsh was, as he usually is, quick at denying the rumours although did he really deny anything?
Perhaps Walsh could have added: “at the right price”… but what is that price? And since Walsh acknowledges that the sources are coming from the Habs, can we assume that they are true? Is it possible that Pacioretty asked for a trade but would stay pending an overpayment?
At the same time, Kings’ Luc Robitaille was interviewed on 91.9 Sports radio in Montreal, confirming the talks between the Canadiens and the California team.
«Ça n’a jamais été aussi loin (les discussions avec le CH). On était intéressés à Max. Marc sait qu’il a un très bon joueur. Nous étions plus intéressés à l’obtenir que Marc de s’en départir» – Luc Robitaille au sujet de l’échange avorté entre les Kings et le CH
— Jean-Charles Lajoie (@JiCLajoie) August 29, 2018
Robitaille basically confirmed two things: the Kings and Canadiens had serious talks about Pacioretty, and Bergevin was put in a position to trade him, something he didn’t really want to do. That would go along the lines of what Leclerc is reporting from his sources.
Pacioretty likes Montreal. He’s made that clear. But he wants major money. There are plenty of reports out there stating that Pacioretty (through Walsh) has been upset at his last contract, missing out on major money. For that reason, they’re trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube and make up for lost time. So it is my humble opinion that it would take a severe overpayment to get a deal done with Montreal.
Here’s the bottom line in the Max affair & it should be your starting point for trying to figure anything out.
Max has never received a contract offer from the Habs. How can we know what he will accept if he hasn’t even had a chance to reject a bad offer, never mind a good one.
— Brian Wilde (@BWildeGlobal) August 30, 2018
But here’s the thing. Let’s go with the assumption that Pacioretty didn’t ask for a trade and genuinely wants to stay in Montreal… It’s clear that the Canadiens didn’t make a contract offer. Where is it stated anywhere that the Habs didn’t ask Pacioretty’s agent what his expectations were? Is it remotely possible that the demands are nowhere close to what the team is willing to offer? Is it possible that the team was given non-negotiable numbers and term?
And what if Elliott Friedman’s report from last February and Martin Leclerc’s report this week to the effect that Pacioretty did ask for a trade… why would he receive a contract offer if his desire is to leave? Is it possible that Bergevin was upset to see his captain wanting to abandon ship when it was going through tougher times? Could it be what he was referring to when talking about “attitudes” needing to change?
Now you’re the Canadiens’ GM. You have a 30 year-old player who not only wants the maximum years, but top dollars with the mentality that they had him on a club-friendly deal for the past six years. Hockey being a business, do you do it?
No matter what, it certainly looks like we have reached the point of no return with this story and it’s unfortunate, really. Having said that, don’t come and grind your axe against Bergevin or against Pacioretty here. Hockey is a business and both sides know it. Go Habs Go!