By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter: @BostonDiGiorgio
News broke that the Vegas Golden Knights are trying to unload contracts to stay cap compliant after the signing of Alex Pietrangelo. The Knights signed Pietrangelo, knowing they’d need to trade one of their other mainstays to come in under the cap this coming season.
Bruins fans have a significant amount of familiarity with Pacioretty from his 10 years in Montreal. I took to Twitter once the news broke to plead that General Manager Don Sweeney, at least, make the call to Vegas to see what Pacioretty’s price is. This sparked a conversation with fellow Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast colleague, Andrew Johnson.
We had a friendly conversation about why we disagreed with each others’ midset on Pacioretty and his trade value, which inevitably led to a Twitter poll. After the poll, we agreed that we’d each write about the results in our own words explaining the results.
Our initial conversation surrounded the Bruins package to attain Pacioretty. My initial package to Vegas would be Jake DeBrusk, a first-round pick, and at worst, Urho Vaakanainen. Andrew was quite reluctant to give up DeBrusk in this deal. The poll ran for 24 hours, and we only had 39 people participate, but the results weren’t close. I certainly expected a much different outcome, given the urgency Bruins fans have expressed this past off-season.
Max Pacioretty was selected 22nd overall in the 2007 NHL draft. The 32-year old spent 10 seasons in Montreal, scoring 448 points in 626 games. He was the Canadians’ top player for the majority of the 10 years. He has scored over 30 goals six times in his career and has eclipsed a career-high 67 points twice in his NHL tenure. He is the left-winger the Bruins have been seeking to pair with David Krejci.
Pacioretty was traded to Vegas in 2018 for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick. Subsequently, he signed a 4-years, $28M deal with the Golden Knights, which carries a $7M per-year cap hit. He does have a modified No-Trade Clause, which means he has some say of where he’ll land in a trade. He currently plays on the Knights’ second-line with fellow ex-Eastern Conference star, Mark Stone. Additionally, Vegas owner Bill Foley addressed the rumors and denied Pacioretty’s availability. For the sake of the article, let’s assume Pacioretty is available and would accept a deal to Boston.
To acquire a player of this caliber, the Bruins need to give up at the very least a top-six forward. Jake DeBrusk just recently signed a new contract, which keeps him in Boston for the next two years.
After this deal, he will still be a restricted free agent who is an enticing team situation. DeBrusk plays on Krejci’s left side, which would be an easy switch if the Bruins could acquire Pacioretty. Max would take DeBrusk’s role on the second-line. Andrew’s point was DeBrusk is too valuable to the Bruins because of his age, potential, and contract.
Many have said that DeBrusk’s contract is extremely team-friendly, which is true. The problem with DeBrusk is his inconsistency in his three years on the Bruins. In his rookie season, DeBrusk scored 16 goals ending with 27 assists. He did not hit the vaunted sophomore slump after scoring 27 goals the next year.
DeBrusk looked to be coming out of his shell and living up to the first-round pick used on him. However, in the 2018-2019 playoffs, Jake only scored four goals in 24 games. He was too streaky for a second-line winger. This past year was his worst, where he only had 19 goals and a career-low (so far) of 35 points.
While DeBrusk has shown flashes of what he can be, and he is not the player that puts the Bruins over the top at this moment, yet. He is a 24-year old top-six winger who has the potential to be a 25-30-goal scorer, who is still finding his game. Pacioretty already is that player to give the Bruins a major boost upfront and can put this team over the top.
Unfortunately, if the Bruins want to win now, they don’t have the luxury of waiting and see if he’s ready for the next step if they want to win now. Players like Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask. This foursome only has one Stanley Cup win in three appearances. The Bruins have been one of the most dominant teams in the past 10 years.
Chara is likely entering his last year in the league, Krejci and Rask are entering their final contract with the Bruins, and Bergeron is 36 in July. The window is closing fast on a group of players who’ve had immense success over their careers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and St Louis Blues bounced the Bruins out of the playoffs for a few reasons, one being inconsistent scoring by the Bruins. The Bruins signed Craig Smith this past free agency, who will help the roster but in a top-nine role. David Krejci has had a revolving door of wingers since Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic’s departures.
Pacioretty’s resume speaks for itself when it comes to goal-scoring and play-making ability. The 6’2, 206-pound forward could go toe to toe with defenseman like Victor Hedman in an offensive battle. In his two years with Vegas, Max has 55 hits and 209 blocks, which shows he’s willing to put his body on the line for the good of the team. This isn’t to say DeBrusk is not willing to do that, but rather to debunk the notion that Pacioretty is a “soft” player.
Acquiring Pacioretty would put the Bruins in a position similar to Vegas and Tampa Bay, where they’d have to unload a contract for pennies on the dollar to be cap compliant. The Bruins currently have $2.98M in cap space, with DeBrusk’s new deal. Trading DeBrusk’s $3.675M deal for Pacioretty’s $7M cap hit puts the Bruins approximately $400K over the cap. John Moore’s contract is one that would almost certainly have to be dealt with. Moore’s contract is already one that has been discussed to keep the Bruins cap compliant, though the problem is he’s the only left-handed defenseman behind Matt Grzelcyk on the roster.
The Bruins’ left-side of the defense is another glaring hole, especially if Chara decides not to re-sign. Noah Hanifin of the Calgary Flames has been mentioned as a trade rumor for the Bruins. But if we’re trading DeBrusk, I’d rather it be for a guy like Pacioretty who will certainly show up consistently when he’s needed.
Let’s play out the other side of the poll. The poll suggests that the Bruins have other pieces to trade for Pacioretty that isn’t DeBrusk. This is true, but the Bruins would probably have to attach Moore’s contract and, in doing so, add another pick to sweeten the pot for Vegas.
If Pacioretty comes to Boston, where does DeBrusk play, and the few prospects who are ready for the NHL level, such as Jack Studnicka? The Bruins’ pipeline is filling up with prospects ready for the next level. There isn’t enough room for players to go through inconsistent years and slumps. One could argue this is the last “go for it” the year that the Bruins have given players’ contracts and ages. With all of that said, is DeBrusk really worth holding on to, and is he going to put this team over the top to another Stanley Cup victory? Time will certainly tell.