The seemingly never-ending saga between Max Pacioretty and the Montreal Canadiens finally is over, but not before one final twist.
After months of rumours, speculation, leaks, denials and conflicting reports, the Canadiens traded their former captain to the Vegas Golden Knights late Sunday night.
Contrary to what Pacioretty and his agent Allan Walsh had repeatedly claimed, the Canadiens say the winger had requested to be traded as early as last season.
Montreal dealt Pacioretty to the defending Western Conference champs for forward Tomas Tatar, prospect forward Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick in 2019.
“We’re just going to focus on telling the truth, and that’s that a request was made,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said at the team’s annual pre-training camp golf tournament on Monday. “It’s been going on several months now that we’ve been trying to make this happen.
“When the request was made to look at making a trade, we started to actively go after that. And the player and the organization agreed that it was probably in the best interest of Max and the organization to start to look for a trade.”
The transaction puts an end to a messy situation between Pacioretty and the Canadiens.
Back in February, an emotional Pacioretty said he was relieved not to be leaving Montreal at the trade deadline.
On draft day in June, it looked like the 29-year-old had been traded to the Los Angeles Kings, but that deal fell through due to contract negotiations.
A report just weeks later claimed general manager Marc Bergevin had no intention of extending his captain’s contract. Bergevin confirmed that report on Monday.
Pacioretty had one more season left on a six-year deal worth an annual US$4.5 million. On Monday, the Golden Knights announced they had signed Pacioretty to a four-year, $28-million extension.
“Both parties agreed that the best thing was to move on and we were able to do that last night,” said Bergevin. “Last season, he asked for a trade. I will not go into details. But that’s a fact.”
The Canadiens drafted Pacioretty in the first round in 2007. The Connecticut native made his NHL debut the following year. He was named captain in 2015. He scored 226 goals and added 222 assists in 626 career games, all with Montreal. Pacioretty had five seasons with at least 30 goals.
“It’s unfortunate to see a player go like Max,” said goaltender Carey Price. “I’ve played with him for 10 years. I wish him all the best. I’m sure he’s probably excited about going to Las Vegas.
“It’s definitely not the way we wanted things to turn out. But at some point, if a player feels like he needs a change, that’s his choice. It just wasn’t working out.”
In return, Montreal got a proven veteran in Tatar. The 27-year-old from Slovakia played six seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before being traded to Vegas last season. He had 34 points in 2018-19.
The other part of the deal is 19-year-old Suzuki. Bergevin calls him “the key piece” in the transaction. Selected 13th overall in 2017 by the Golden Knights, Suzuki can play both on the wing and at centre.
Suzuki has yet to make his NHL debut. He has scored 107 goals in 192 games with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League
“We gained some good potential in Suzuki,” said coach Claude Julien. “And we’d like to see Tatar come in and score 20 or 25 goals like he normally does. And there are a lot of good second-round picks in the league.”
“We have a lot of good young players that we can build around and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Bringing in Suzuki is a clear sign that the Canadiens are getting younger, though Molson refused to call it a “rebuild.”
“There’s no question that Marc (Bergevin) has made an effort, especially this summer, to become younger, faster, and to build a pipeline of young players that are going to allow us to be successful over the longer term,” said Molson. “But he’s also identified the players that he wants to keep in the organization and build around them.
“Slight re-tool, rebuild, whatever we want to call it.”
Pacioretty’s departure also means the Canadiens have no captain. The likely candidates are veterans Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher, though the organization has not indicated when it will make that decision.
“That’s not really something that’s crossed my mind all that much,” said Gallagher when asked about the captaincy. “The leadership group is going to have to stand up. Regardless of who’s wearing the ‘C’ — if we even have a ‘C’ — for us as a group, it will be important for us to have internal competition and accountability. And that’s not just on one guy.”
Meanwhile, the Canadiens re-signed forward Michael McCarron to a one-year, two-way contract on Monday.