It’s interesting to see the opinions flying around right now when it comes to a Max Pacioretty trade for the Vegas Golden Knights. It seems several hockey pundits are sporting varied versions of the same take: a Pacioretty trade would be bad for the Golden Knights.
I couldn’t disagree more.
First, allow me to say I’m in no hurry to see a Pacioretty trade happen. I like the player, I think he has massive value and brings a lot to the VGK. Plus there’s something to be said for keeping a core intact so they can continue to grow and mature.
That said, we are not only in the salary cap era, but in the COVID cap era. A lot of teams have run out of room or are gasping for air very close to the cap. There won’t be any real increase to speak of for a few years yet, meaning teams have to look farther down the road than previously thought. It’s not that paying Pacioretty an AAV of $7M is too much or a bad contract. In fact his cash outlay goes down to $7M this year and $5.25M for the last two years after that. But with Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract unable to be moved off the books, Pacioretty becomes the sacrificial lamb.
I think a lot of the fear surrounding a Pacioretty trade is based on production. It’s hard to deny how effective Pacioretty and Mark Stone have been together for the Golden Knights. They make every center who plays with them better. And he’s coming off his best offensive season since 2016-17 with Montreal after scoring 32 goals and 66 points in 71 games.
On the surface that seems like a lot to lose. However, I believe Vegas already has the answer on the roster in Alex Tuch. Tuch was having a breakout year in 2018-19 prior to the arrival of Mark Stone in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. Tuch was rightly bumped down the lineup to make room for Stone, but his production suffered. After motoring along at a .78 points-per-game rate through his first 55 contests (16-27-43) Tuch’s production flagged, notching just 4-5-9 in his final 19 games for a .47 ppg rate.
Last year was also a disappointment for Tuch in the regular season when he managed just 8-9-17 in 42 games while dealing with injuries. He did rebound nicely in the playoffs, leading the team in goals with eight and showing as one of the best Golden Knights in the return.
Previously I asked the question which Alex Tuch will show up for the VGK this year. A Pacioretty trade opens up a spot on the second line for Tuch once again, and I’m willing to bet the 24-year-old forward’s production goes back up. In fact, it might even supercede the expectations his 18-19 season set.
Of course this will tie into who ends up as the 2C this season as well, but Stone is one of the best all-around players in the league. He will elevate the play of Cody Glass, Chandler Stephenson, or whoever might end up in the middle of the second line. A line of Tuch-Glass-Stone could turn out to be a tremendous producer for the Golden Knights and head coach Peter DeBoer.
The other possibility, if the Golden Knights do not wish to elevate Tuch to the second unit, is free agency. I feel like a Pacioretty trade will loosen the purse strings again if the Golden Knights bring back a mix of prospects and picks. And keep in mind after trading away some top prospects the last few years, the VGK may be primed to do just that. With the extra cash on hand, they could pursue Mike Hoffman and his 30+ goal potential as well.
Either way, Vegas is in the driver’s seat once a deal is made. I can see the Golden Knights choosing to promote from within. That was the answer given this off season for how to fill the hole at center. It makes sense they’d take the same approach on the wing for the second line.
Finally, there’s Bill Foley shooting down the Pacioretty trade rumors on local TV. Make what you will of that, but Foley is more outspoken than most owners in a good way.
One thing is for certain, the Pacioretty trade rumor mill will continue to churn until the VGK make a deal. With him or without him.