New Jersey Devils: Max Pacioretty Trade Comes With Pros And Cons

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 03: Max Pacioretty #67 of the Vegas Golden Knights skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 03, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 03: Max Pacioretty #67 of the Vegas Golden Knights skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 03, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

To clarify, this piece neither endorses nor opposes a scenario where the New Jersey Devils trade for Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty, but merely evaluates how this could impact the team. A recent NBC article named the Devils as a viable trade partner for the Golden Knights, who are reportedly looking to move the veteran left wing due to their crippling salary cap issues.

The Devils currently have the most cap space of any NHL team (over $17 million) and could give one of the league’s many cap-strapped teams much-needed alleviation. With a team like Vegas, having this kind of leverage puts the Devils in an advantageous position. Since the Knights are forced to value cap relief more than who they’re moving, General Manager Kelly McCrimmon may have no choice but accept a frustratingly lopsided return (similar to what the Devils traded for P.K. Subban), especially if New Jersey takes Pacioretty’s full $7 million per year contract for the next three seasons.

There’s no denying Pacioretty is a quality forward, whose adept scoring prowess would be a welcomed addition on this New Jersey Devils squad. Although he doesn’t play with much of a physical edge, Pacioretty has good size at 6’2, and tremendous advanced stats across all playing situations. In addition to improving the Devils’ pulseless offense, Pacioretty could serve as a resourceful mentor to the likes of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, along with the team’s other young up-and-comers.

With Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri presently set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, the Devils may lose all their longtime veteran forwards in the coming months. It’s important that young core players have a veteran presence around them during their pivotal developmental years, namely when they’re being groomed to become part of a team’s long-term foundation. Pacioretty is under contract for two more years after this season and can remain a fixture in New Jersey’s top-six while Hischier and Hughes get better.

Trading for Pacioretty might make sense right now, but it could become a detriment down the road. Pacioretty is currently 32 years old and will be 35 when his current contract (which carries a 10-team no-trade clause) expires. Pacioretty is an established top-six forward. However, he has a steady injury timeline, having missed 34 games over the last three seasons alone and four postseason contests this past summer.

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Besides this year, Pacioretty only has one full season under his belt, and last played 80+ contests in 2016-17. He’s missed 68 games due to injury throughout his NHL career, having been sidelined for stretches of seven or more contests on four separate occasions. When taking that wear and tear he’s endured into consideration, there’s a reason for concern about Pacioretty on the wrong side of 30 as he delves into the latter half of his career. Trading for Pacioretty would also continue the underlying theme possessed by all of New Jersey’s major offseason acquisitions—injury-prone players (as discussed in a previous article).

Pacioretty’s apparent susceptibility to injury, coupled with his $7 million AAV, should make a rebuilding team like the New Jersey Devils—whose decisions they make over the next 1-2 years will be critical to their rebuild—wary of executing such a deal, despite its present benefits. Perhaps they’d be better off re-signing Palmieri and/or Nikita Gusev if they want impactful veteran forwards that can maintain important roles on the team as their youth crop matures?

Bringing Pacioretty into the fold would give the Devils three players with cap hits at or greater than $7 million (two others being Nico Hischier ($7 million) and PK Subban ($9 million))—that’d be three players with an aggregated AAV of $23 million, a figure is more commonly seen on playoff contenders. With Subban being an utter disappointment, if he continues to decline and Pacioretty comes into the fold only for his nagging injury history to catch up with him, it could hinder or derail the rebuild’s progress. The Devils can’t afford to have two of their top-three highest-paid players fail expectations.

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While it’s always a risk to take in someone with a hefty salary like Pacioretty’s, his AAV won’t make or break New Jersey’s cap flexibility over the next three seasons. Even with Pacioretty’s salary, the Devils have over $20 million coming off their cap in 2021 (plus the expansion draft). They could easily accommodate new contracts (with raises) to Palmieri and Gusev while being able to make other impactful acquisitions.

Max Pacioretty is a player well into his 30s with a lingering injury history that the Devils would expect to be a highly-reliant asset on the team’s offense. Tom Fitzgerald has made some meaningful deals since taking over for Ray Shero, almost all of which he’s been deemed the winner. Granted, it’s unlikely New Jersey even gets Pacioretty. It’ll all come down to whether Fitzgerald thinks the pros of acquiring him outweigh the cons.