It took a pandemic, a realignment of NHL divisions and a host of fortuitous circumstances for the Montreal Canadiens and the Vegas Golden Knights to meet in a playoff series that is not the Stanley Cup Final, and this probably never would have happened if not for the players who traded places in September 2018.
So yeah, the Max Pacioretty-Nick Suzuki trade doesn’t look like a side show right now. It’s a main card event – although Pacioretty said on Sunday that he doesn’t think it makes a difference who you play in the playoffs.
There was definitely some truth to his comment – the Golden Knights have to go through someone, so it might as well be anyone – but we’re not convinced that’s his truth. Pacioretty was drafted by the Canadiens, played for 10 years with the team, was his captain for three seasons, and we don’t believe for a second that playing against them will mean the same to him as playing with any other team.
Neither did Pacioretty’s teammates in Vegas, many of whom have suggested in recent days that it means a lot to him, nor Brendan Gallagher, former Pacioretty teammate, who recalled on Sunday that “Patch has been through a lot in Montreal.”
None of this was good towards the end. Pacioretty followed a scoreless playoff in 2017 with a production of 17 career goals in the 2017-18 season. He was the head of a Canadiens team that had fallen to the bottom of the NHL standings by the time it was decided he was going to be moved with one year left on his contract.
Pacioretty denied a deal with the Los Angeles Kings in the 2018 draft, then had an uncomfortable summer before Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin arrived at the annual Canadiens golf tournament in September and announced that he traded it in Vegas for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki. and a second-round pick in 2019. By the time he landed in Sin City, with a four-year, $ 28 million contract, his first comments revealed what it meant for him to leave all that acrimony behind.
“I feel like I have the opportunity right now to go back to what I loved to do as a kid,” Pacioretty said, “and it’s just going out there and having fun and playing golf. hockey. “
This became impossible for New Canaan, Connecticut, originally from Montreal. As the narrative around Pacioretty grew more and more toxic, he surpassed all the good he has done for the Canadiens – the four consecutive 30-goal seasons leading up to his declining year, the brave return of a concussion and neck fracture suffered in horrific 2011 crash -Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, the charity work he did and how he endeared himself to the locals of the city – and it must have burned him inside.
Pacioretty is now on the brink of his very first trip to the Cup final, with the Canadiens on his way and a referendum on his worth against Suzuki’s in Montreal in sight. This scenario is in the foreground, especially as both players have been integral to the success of their respective teams.
Pacioretty enters Game 1 on Monday after erasing the idea that he was unable to play to his capacity in the playoffs. His 31st postseason game with the Golden Knights gives him the opportunity to build on the 14 goals and 27 points he accumulated in his first 30.
The 32-year-old, who missed Vegas’s first six games of these playoffs with injury, has four goals and scored at least one point in the seven games he’s played.
The fact that Pacioretty scored just 10 goals and 18 points in 32 playoff games with the Canadiens played a big part in Bergevin’s departure, but the Golden Knights felt he was a piece that could tip them over when ‘they acquired it.
Coach Peter DeBoer believes Pacioretty has confirmed this.
“If you look at our squad this year with Max Pacioretty out of the roster for the first six games against Minnesota, there were long stretches where we struggled to score against a big, heavy and playoff team. lasts, ”DeBoer said on Saturday. “Max comes back and, for the seventh game, scores. And then we go up against the best team in the league on paper and in the standings (the Colorado Avalanche) in the second round, and he’s a factor every night for us.
Suzuki, who only spent one training camp with the Golden Knights after being drafted 13th overall in 2017, has been one almost every night for the Canadiens, helping to justify Bergevin’s initial claim. that he was “the centerpiece” of the trade.
“We liked Nick’s advantage,” Bergevin said on Saturday when asked to review the deal. “But when you look at an 18 or 19 year old, it’s never a finished product. There are always stages that the player must take to level up.
For Suzuki, that meant returning to the Ontario Hockey League, where he followed a 100-point season with the Owen Sound Attack with 94 points, one game in five fewer, split between Attack and the Guelph Storm.
The London, Ont. Native then led the Storm in a championship run – with 16 goals and 42 points in 24 playoff games – and laid the groundwork for what he has done in two years with Canadians.
“There are players who, under pressure, go to bed,” said Bergevin, “but Nick, for a very long time, has been raising his game more and more with the growing scene. That’s one thing, even at the Memorial Cup, when I went to see him (with Guelph) against Ottawa, he really impressed me in the big games by the way he behaved. And that’s the same thing we’re seeing pretty much now. And Nick still has a lot of potential to improve and take it to the next level.
“Where he’s at today, I think he’s a player that with his way of thinking and his abilities we’re really proud to have. “
Suzuki is a player who had 13 goals and 41 points in 71 games last season and 15 goals and 41 points in 56 games this season. He raised his level of play in the Montreal bubble last August – scoring four goals and seven points in 10 games – and he comes back with four goals and eight points in 11 games of these playoffs.
“He’s a player, he loves being in these big situations,” Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot said on Sunday. “I think the maturity, and just the fact that he enjoys being on the big stage, is the reason he’s been so successful for us. “
Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said on Saturday he felt the potential was still there for Suzuki.
“Nick has a great hockey sense, so when you look at these players who have an elite hockey sense – obviously our own player, Mark Stone, but Paul Stastny’s career has been based on his intelligence – it’s what our scouts saw in Nick Suzuki, ”he began. “I think the other thing with Nick is when you watch him play the puck really comes off his stick. He can shoot the puck from the wrist or shoot the puck in the blink of an eye, it really comes out of his stick. But it’s also like that when he passes the puck, and that’s what I call special hands.
“He went into a situation where he had a really good opportunity and he was ready for it and flourished. “
Admittedly, Suzuki must have wondered in 2018 why the Golden Knights weren’t sure he would be able to do the same with them in no time.
There must be a part of him that relishes the opportunity to show it was a mistake, even though he’s more interested in continuing to prove Bergevin right.
“When Marc called me up and told me I was a big hunk they wanted, I just wanted to show that Montreal made the right decision in bringing me in,” Suzuki said on Saturday. “I wanted to do everything I can for this franchise. “
The opportunity to help the Canadiens take their biggest leap in 28 years lies right in front of the 21-year-old. It’s as big as Pacioretty’s.
It’s as if fate had brought both players into this situation, as it seemed impossible for them to get here for some other reason.
“It’s exciting,” said Suzuki, and we totally agree.