AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 | 3:12 p.m.
In the biggest free agency move of the NHL offseason, former Islanders captain John Tavares announced he would be signing with his hometown team by tweeting a picture of himself as a child, sleeping on a bed covered in Toronto Maple Leafs sheets.
Sunday night, when Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty found out he was being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights, his son asked what team he was going to. When Pacioretty answered “Vegas” his son quickly ran to his bedroom, where he began searching for the Golden Knights’ logo on his NHL-inspired bed sheets.
“His sheets are old so they didn’t have Vegas on them,” Pacioretty said, laughing. “I told him that they are the team with the show in the playoffs and he’s like ‘oh my god!’ He couldn’t believe it.”
No NHL players grew up sleeping on Vegas Golden Knights bed sheets, but they’ve already become one of the most attractive destinations in the league.
“It’s amazing what they’ve done here,” said Pacioretty, who signed a four-year, $28 million extension with Vegas the day after being traded. “That you can get top free agents after only one year in the league says a lot about the way they do things here.”
Pacioretty and his son sat down and watched online videos of last season’s pregame ceremonies at T-Mobile Arena. From Imagine Dragons performing before Stanley Cup Final game, to the ever-changing theatrics of knights pulling swords from stones and warding off evil hooded villains, his son loved the atmosphere in Las Vegas.
So does Pacioretty, who experienced T-Mobile Arena for the first time when the Canadiens visited Las Vegas last February.
“As soon as I left the rink I still had goosebumps,” Pacioretty said. “I was still pumped up from the game and I told (my wife) ‘as soon as I’m a free agent we have to come here. This place is unbelievable.’”
Nearly seven months later, the Golden Knights shipped Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second round draft pick to Montreal in exchange for Pacioretty.
“If I had been taken by Vegas in the expansion draft I wouldn’t’ be feeling the way I am today,” Pacioretty said. “Everyone had a lot of question marks about this franchise and the city of Las Vegas. Nobody knew this was going to turn into a hockey town.”
His wife, Katia, had her own reservations about the city.
“I have three kids with a fourth on the way, so it’s very important for my family to be comfortable,” he said. “Doing research as to where the guys live, the schools, the setup it seems as if this is second to none. It’s a first-class organization that I’m proud to be a part of, and they’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
On Wednesday, casino marquees on the Las Vegas Strip, from Mandalay Bay to Aria, were adorned with giant posters welcoming Pacioretty. On the ice, teammates joked and laughed with him to make him feel welcome.
“They mentioned that there’s going to be 23 captains on this team this year and I could feel that today,” Pacioretty said. “The energy in the room and the camaraderie of the guys so I’m just excited to be a part of that.”
Pacioretty wore the captain’s “C” for the Canadiens, and while he said he’ll forever be grateful for the honor, he thinks not being a captain this season will allow him to focus on other things. He struggled last season, failing to reach 30 goals for the first time in five years, and hopes to return to his elite goal-scoring ways.
“I couldn’t think of a better situation to be in coming off a down year for myself personally, for the team, and obviously it’s no secret that I was catching a lot of heat there for the season and taking responsibility for that,” Pacioretty said. “I feel like I have the opportunity right now to take out my brain and just go play hockey. Get back to what I loved doing as a kid and that’s just going out, having fun and playing hockey.”
He’ll gel quickly with Paul Stastny, who he has played with multiple times for USA hockey in the Olympics and World Championships. The two are good friends, and Pacioretty said their wives and parents are also close.
“We have chemistry,” Pacioretty said. “He’s a reliable center that takes care of his end, slows down the game and is more of a give-and-go player which is why I like playing with him a lot.”
A familiar face will certainly help Pacioretty get acclimated to Las Vegas, but on his first day in the city he already seems to love it.
“They just do everything the right way,” Pacioretty said. “When they were looking for staff and how to build the rink and put together this organization I feel like their goal was to seek the best in every department and create a dream team.”
With 226 goals and 222 assists in his career, Pacioretty brings elite goal scoring ability to a roster that was already one of the most offensively-gifted teams in the NHL last season. It makes Vegas an immediate Stanley Cup contender. That’s part of what drew Pacioretty to Vegas, and vice versa.
“Right now I know I’m in a position to succeed,” he said. “This is a team that had a lot of success last year. As I spoke to (general manager George McPhee) and (coach Gerard Gallant) on the phone they reiterated that this is a team that wants to win, and I’m going to be a big part of that. I’m not someone that’s chasing the dollars.”