Though trade rumors have swirled around Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty for the better part of a year, there may be more evidence to support an upcoming contract extension. Darren Dreger of TSN reported on Insider Trading that GM Marc Bergevin and agent Pat Brisson of CAA have had “preliminary discussions” about a potential extension for Pacioretty. While Dreger can’t handicap the chances of it happening, the idea of Pacioretty being moved this summer may not be as likely as some had believed. The two sides could sign a contract extension as early as July 1st, though terms can be agreed upon at any time.
Entering the final season of his six-year $27MM contract, the 29-year old Pacioretty is coming off arguably the worst offensive season of his career. After scoring at least 30 goals in each of the four seasons between 2013 and 2017, he registered just 17 goals this year and his lowest assist total since becoming a full-time NHLer. Those low totals were partly caused by injury, but also by the ineffectiveness of many of the other Canadiens forwards this season. Though he’s been waiting for a true first line center for much of his career in Montreal, Pacioretty failed to drive even-strength play at his usual high level this year, and couldn’t rely on his linemates to pick him up. Should Montreal go out and acquire such a center, or see substantial improvement from Jonathan Drouin in the role next season, there is plenty of reason to believe that Pacioretty’s numbers will rebound in 2018-19.
If that’s the case, signing him now to an extension could be the most prudent option for Montreal. If Pacioretty is willing to negotiate, he won’t be able to demand quite as much as he could have following one of his 35-goal campaigns and could be locked up for a reasonable cap hit. His $4.5MM deal has been one of the better bargains in the league for several years, and if Montreal could avoid a huge raise a long-term extension certainly makes sense. Acting as captain, Pacioretty has always spoken highly of Montreal and only really mentioned playing somewhere else when trade rumors peaked this last season, knowing he could potentially move at the trade deadline. The fact that he’s considering signing an extension at all after the season he had proves that he’s willing to stay and help the Canadiens win, as it’s likely not in his best financial interest.
Though the 2019 class of free agents is currently projected to be one of the best groups of all-time, Pacioretty would certainly have suitors all around the league. As we recently saw with Evander Kane and will likely see with James van Riemsdyk, James Neal and others this summer, goal scoring is well paid on the free agent market. Pacioretty is scheduled to hit that market at the age of 30, meaning he’ll have to prove he’s not in a rapid decline this season if he wants a long-term deal.
On the other hand, the Canadiens could feel as though a change is needed for the big winger. With the third-overall selection in the upcoming draft, and good young players like Drouin and Victor Mete to build around, the team may decide to move Pacioretty for some younger assets and try to build a core with a longer window of contention. Even with Carey Price and Shea Weber heading into the back half of their careers, the team doesn’t necessarily have to rush to contention in the next few seasons.