AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 | 2:10 p.m.
If he had been playing poker, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee on Sunday shoved his stack of chips to the center of the table.
No one saw it coming, but the team, entering its second year of play, is a Stanley Cup contender, and McPhee has gone all-in to win by trading for Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty.
The Golden Knights acquired Pacioretty late Sunday in a deal that sent Tomas Tatar, former first-round pick Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick to Montreal.
Pacioretty is an elite goal scorer, ranking third in the NHL in even-strength goals since the 2011-12 season behind only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pacioretty’s 152 goals at even strength are more than superstars like Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (137) and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning (151).
“We did it because we thought we’re a better team today than we were yesterday,” McPhee said. “We think he’s going to be a good fit. We have a coach that had him in the past, knows what he brings and believes he will work well here.”
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant coached Pacioretty as an assistant in Montreal from 2012-13. Pacioretty, 29, has topped the 30-goal mark five times in his career, including four-straight seasons before last year, which was shortened due to an injury.
“He can score goals,” McPhee said. “He’s a productive player. He brings speed, he brings some size, and he fits our club. He fits the personality of this club. He’s a very good two-way player.”
In 2014-15, Pacioretty led the NHL in plus-minus at plus-38, and finished sixth in voting for the Selke Trophy given to the league’s best defensive forward. That aspect of his game was particularly important to McPhee, who wasn’t happy with the defensive results from his second line last season.
“You can use him in different situations. If you need a goal, you can play him or if you’re protecting a lead you can play him,” McPhee said. “We’ve added a couple players in (Paul) Stastny and Pacioretty that are very good two-way players, very good character people. I hope that we’re a better team than we were last year, but time will tell.”
The trade was contingent on Pacioretty signing a long-term deal with Vegas, which he did this morning. The winger inked a four-year, $28 million extension that will keep him in Las Vegas through the 2022-23 season when he will be 34 years old. While McPhee has steered away from signing aging players, he said he doesn’t have the same worries about Pacioretty.
“I think you have to look at the players and their physical makeup and their skating ability,” McPhee said. “When you have a guy with speed, they can typically play longer. If they lose half a step, then they’re just average instead of slow, and that makes a difference.”
McPhee said he was reluctant to send Suzuki to Montreal in the deal. The 19-year-old was selected 13th overall by the Golden Knights in the 2017 draft and recorded 100 points last season in junior hockey.
“It’s not easy trading young players, and there’s some sentimental value there,” McPhee said. “We’re not going to get a player like Pacioretty without doing something like that. Fortunately, we’ve drafted well enough that we can do that. We have the assets to do it, and we landed the player.”
McPhee gave up a lot in the trade, including Tatar, whom he sent a first-, second- and third-round pick to Detroit for just seven months ago. Including Suzuki, McPhee has now traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a third-rounder, which is not typical for such as young team.
But the Golden Knights have been far from typical. They appear ready to win now, and McPhee is trying to give them the best chance to do it.
“What we tried to accomplish in the expansion draft was to put a good team on the ice and get a surplus of picks that we can use to draft our way to a championship or to acquire players that can help us now, and we’re doing it,” McPhee said.
“I believe this organization is in a very good place,” he said. “We believe have a good team. We have cap space. We have draft picks. We have young players in the pipeline, and we’re here to try and win.”