The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens aren’t a match for a Max Pacioretty trade. No matter how much the Penguins may like Pacioretty, or how perfectly he would fit beside “Sid,” “Geno,” or “Brass,” the acquisition puzzle doesn’t fit.
The Pacioretty-for-Derick Brassard bandwagon makes perfect sense in the armchair GM world. A first or second line center for a first or second line left wing. Both contracts expire after this season. Easy! Unfortunately, Montreal has little reason to chase Brassard’s expiring contract. Things may have been different if Canadiens top defenseman Shea Weber were healthy and the Canadiens were able to add to their roster via free agency. Or if a few of their prospects, like Charles Hudon or Nikita Scherbak, reached their potential, and the Canadiens would be chasing a playoff spot.
Instead, Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin is staring at a rebuild which he doesn’t want to admit, at least publicly. Bergevin is trying to “retool” on the fly, instead.
A (soon to be) 31-year-old center like Brassard on an expiring deal just wouldn’t help the Canadiens. They are not in “win now” mode, yet.
Conversely, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford is out of salary cap space. After they sign Jamie Oleksiak, via voluntary agreement or arbitration, the team will have less than $1 million of cap space. So, any deal to acquire a left winger must be balanced by trading commensurate salary. The problem is the Penguins don’t have many big salaried players who aren’t core pieces or are expendable.
Olli Maatta, Carl Hagelin, Brian Dumoulin, Bryan Rust, and Justin Schultz make between $3.5 million and $5.5 million.
Forgive Bergevin if that entire list except for Schultz wouldn’t be enough for a gritty left wing captain who scored 30 or more goals in four straight seasons. The Canadiens need many things but they will also need to replace a huge chunk of offense when they deal Pacioretty.
If we flip the script and look from the Canadiens perspective, they would be justified asking for players like Jake Guentzel or Schultz. And more. The Penguins’ most notable prospect is Daniel Sprong, who is more tantalizing to Pittsburgh fans than rival GMs. Sprong has trade value but the Penguins prospect list is short, and there is no one else waiting in the wings to chip in on the score sheet, either.
Last week, sources told Pittsburgh Hockey Now the Penguins did inquire about Pacioretty but talks went nowhere. The Canadiens’ asking price was out of the Penguins range.
The situation could change, however, because the Canadiens made an unforced error. Tuesday, the Canadiens told Pacioretty he would not be re-signed, and he would be traded as soon as possible. Nothing like telegraphing a move and taking options off the table, eh?
So, now the race is on. Bergevin may have elicited a spike in chatter and phone calls, but the clock is now ticking. There will soon come the point at which Pacioretty’s trade value declines as interested parties dwindle and the season approaches. No team or player wants to go through the constant distraction of wondering when the trade is coming.
Perhaps the price could fall into the Penguins range. That is the only real chance Pacioretty becomes a Penguin. As implausible as that may seem, Bergevin has painted himself into a corner. He may need a magician to get him out of it. But the reality is likely that another team will get closer to Montreal’s asking price than the Penguins ever could.
Some team can and should offer a top prospect, a top pick and a good player for Pacioretty. The Penguins just don’t have that much to spare.