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Mired in trade rumours, Max Pacioretty busts scoring slump

With trade speculation swirling and his offensive game sputtering, Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty finally busted out of a career-long goal drought on Thursday.

It was just his ninth tally of the season and first in his last 14 games. A career-worse slump was snapped in the midst of heavy rumours surrounding the Canadiens captain as player and club have taken a nose-dive towards rock bottom in recent weeks.

With the trade winds blowing hard in Montreal and GM Marc Bergevin’s recent not-so-grand transaction history worrying fans, it was ironic that Pacioretty’s slump-busting tally came off an (unintentional) feed from Mikhail Sergachev, the young stud of a blueliner whom he shipped to Tampa this season for Jonathan Drouin – who hasn’t had nearly the impact during his first season in Montreal as the team thought he would.

(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

It wasn’t the Sergachev-to-Pacioretty type play Canadiens fans were wishing to see over the next decade, and the possibility of neither player being a part of the organization by season’s end is a very real one.

It was reported by Hockey Night analyst Nick Kypreos last week that the Canadiens are actively shopping their captain. It’s not all that surprising that a struggling team would be looking to move a struggling player, but did come as a surprise that the club is apparently looking to replace Pacioretty with another top-line forward rather than prospects, picks, or a defenceman.

“While an eventual trade may include draft picks and prospects, it’s been clear to other teams that Bergevin’s top priority is moving him for a top goal-scorer,” Kypreos said on Saturday. “There is a sense that Marc Bergevin will not settle on this. If he doesn’t get what he wants by the trade deadline Feb. 26, he might be willing to wait for the NHL Draft in Dallas, late June.”

Assuming a potential trade is imminent with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, there’s two ways the Canadiens can handle moving their captain.

Trading Pacioretty during this season — which will likely finish off as one of the worst of his career — would mean flipping him when his on-ice value has never been lower, which is, to put it lightly, questionable asset management at best. On the other hand, Pacioretty becomes a free agent in 2019 and has one of the best contracts for a top-line winger league-wide — just a $4.5-million cap hit for a perennial 30-goal scorer. Potential suitors are likely to give up a lot more now or at the deadline with a season-and-a-half of control left than they will at the draft or during the summer when UFA status is within Pacioretty’s reach.

The Canadiens are not only in an organizational predicament, they are in purgatory. Sitting near the basement with a couple massive contracts to aging stars in Carey Price (who’s eight-year deal doesn’t even start until next season) and Shea Weber, plus one of the thinnest systems in the NHL, they are one of those ‘in-between teams’ that has to figure out a direction, and fast.

With Bergevin flat-out dropping the ball on his last couple deals and the pressure cooker turned up to full blast, how he handles this mess will likely make or break his tenure in Montreal.