Considering what the Vegas Golden Knights have achieved since entering the NHL in 2017/18 it would be difficult to criticize general manager George McPhee. The team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, sells out every home game, and looks to be a legitimate cup contender again this year.
But there is one move which sticks out like a sore thumb and that was trading Tomas Tatar to the Montreal Canadiens along with forward prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick in 2019 for former Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty. McPhee gave up a lot to acquire Tatar at the 2018 trade deadline as he sent the Detroit Red Wings a first-round pick in last year’s draft along with a second-rounder this year and a third-rounder in 2021.
But for some reason head coach Gerard Gallant didn’t take a shining to Tatar. The left winger played in the Golden Knights’ last 20 games of the season and posted four goals and two assists with a minus-11 rating. It was Tatar’s worst NHL season since being drafted 60th overall by Detroit in 2009, but he still scored 20 goals and added 14 assists. Gallant then scratched Tatar for 12 of 20 playoff games during the team’s historic run and he notched a goal and an assist in eight postseason contests.
Tatar still had three years to go on his contract when landing in Vegas at $5.3 million a season against the salary cap. He was 27-years-old, affordable and had already proved to be an NHL caliber player with three 20-goal seasons under his belt along with a 19-goal campaign. In fact, he reached 29 goals in 2014/15 and had 25 in 2016/17. McPhee and Gallant didn’t really give Tatar much of a chance to rectify things in Vegas though as he was shipped to Montreal last September.
Since joining the Habs, Tatar has become a fan favorite with 23 goals and 31 assists to his name in 74 games along with a plus-21 mark. He’s on pace for 25 goals and a career-high 59 points with several of his markers being of the highlight-reel variety. As for the 30-year-old Pacioretty, he had a slow start in Vegas but has notched 22 goals and 39 points in 61 games. He’s scoring at a 0.64 points-per game mark while Tatar is rolling along at 0.74 points-per outing with Pacioretty seeing about a minute more of ice time per night.
McPhee acquired Pacioretty while the player’s career appeared to be on the downswing. He scored just 17 goals and 20 assists in 2017/18 and was a minus-16. He also suffered injury problems and missed 18 games. Those injury woes didn’t disappear this season as Pacioretty has missed another 16 games and is currently shelved with a leg problem. If McPhee had traded Tatar straight up it could be considered a bad trade by many, especially since Vegas also retained $500,000 of Tatar’s contract.
But when you add Suzuki and the second-round draft pick into the mix as well as the draft picks originally traded to Detroit to acquire Tatar, it looks like one of the worst NHL swaps in recent years. Suzuki is just 19 years old and posted 107 goals and 234 points as a junior with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. He was named to the All-Rookie Team in 2015/16 and the Second All-Star Team the next season as well as the Canadian Hockey League’s Sportsman of the year. In addition, he was the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player for 2016/17 and 2017/18.
Suzuki was drafted 13th overall by Vegas in 2017 and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the team. He’s still playing in the OHL and was traded from Owen Sound to the Guelph Storm in January. He had 45 points in 30 games with the Attack and added 49 points in 29 games in Guelph for a total of 328 points in 251 regular-season OHL games along with 39 points in his first 36 playoff outings. Suzuki’s a fine two-way player with great hands and will eventually fill out his 5-foot-11-inch frame. He’s simply one of the best young prospects in the game today. Unfortunately for Vegas fans, they’ll have to admire him and Tatar from afar as Montreal has already won this trade hands down with the best still yet to come.