Sabres Rumour Mill: Pacioretty to Buffalo?

Montreal loves to deal big names for almost nothing. Why not?

Max Pacioretty. Can you dig, Buffalo? According to a recent tweet from a local Sabres blog, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek has stated that the Buffalo Sabres have veteran left wing Max Pacioretty in their sights.

The tenured Montreal Canadien has been as much a figurehead of the organization as goaltender Carey Price in recent years, and the $4.5 million forward is heading into an important season which will likely see him as a free agent in the end.

On first glance, Pacioretty might seem to be a poor pickup for Buffalo. He will turn 30 years old before he’s played 20 games this year, and his stats took a sharp turn in the wrong direction last season. With 17 goals and 20 assists in 64 games, his per-game production dropped nearly 30 percent from the previous campaign, while his icetime remained nearly static.

But a deeper look reveals a lot more. Buffalo is stacked at center and right wing, but is woefully short on the left side. Even sliding down the 90 to Rochester, a quick look at the roster reveals a distinct shortage of talent at left wing.

Dissecting the potential move even further, Pacioretty is precisely the type of player that general manager Jason Botterill and head coach Phil Housley are looking for, in a sense. There is little question that Housley is hoping to model his team after Nashville’s successful system that puts a premium on high shot-rates. According to a piece published in the Montreal Gazette, that is precisely what Pacioretty does best.

“... And while it’s true Pacioretty is soon to be on the wrong side of 30 in a league that is putting the focus on younger players, he’s a volume shooter, which bodes well for his goal-scoring prowess moving forward... A lot like Alex Ovechkin, Pacioretty scores because of the sheer volume of shots he takes rather than depending on accuracy.”

Were Pacioretty to return to form this season, Buffalo has the opportunity to acquire a player who will willingly unleash 300 shots on opposing goaltenders. He is also capable of scoring percentages at (or even above) 10 percent, which means that a potential for 30 goals is quite realistic.

Only three Sabres topped 100 shots and 10 percent last year - Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sam Reinhart. Heard of them? They’re pretty good at hockey, reportedly.

Adding a fourth player to that list is invaluable for a team that has struggled to score for the better part of a decade. And it will cost Buffalo only $4.5 million this year!

Well...that’s not exactly true. Montreal will probably be looking for a lot when considering a trade for their captain. But at the same time, Montreal has also been willing to make awful trades to satisfy some strange self-loathing that borders on masochistic.

Buffalo has some picks to play with, too. How does San Jose’s 2019 first rounder sound? It’s a no-brainer to part with it for a veteran presence. As painful as it is to say it, Botterill could even afford to throw in a Rasmus or two. We have a few that are untouchable, but the rest? GM Marc Bergevin can have his pick.

“What if Pacioretty under-performs?” You may be asking yourself. Great question, dearest reader. What if Pacioretty only scores 25 goals?

What if I told you that there is no Buffalo Sabres under contract now that has scored more than 25 goals in a season in blue and gold? O’Reilly scored 28 with Colorado in 2013-14. Evander Kane did it in 2016-17, but he’s no longer with the team. No current Sabre has been able to score as prolifically as Pacioretty has proven he can.

At $4.5 million, Pacioretty is more than a value. He is quite literally what Buffalo needs, and aside from the first overall pick, Botterill would be a fool to pass on almost any other offer from the Canadiens.