The Montreal Canadiens are one of the NHL’s premier franchises, having won 24 Stanley Cups and 23 Division Championships in their illustrious history. With that, the pressure has been constant for Canadiens players, a concern that has led some out of town and others to struggle to perform to their usual capabilities.
Despite the grand history and pressure that comes with leading the Canadiens organization, their captain has somehow remained a quiet presence in a loud environment.
Max Pacioretty was selected captain by his teammates over P.K. Subban and company prior to the 2015-16 campaign. In hindsight the move made sense, as Pacioretty remains a quiet contributor, while Subban was dealt out of Montreal essentially for being the complete opposite. Perhaps Pacioretty’s ability to blend in is part of what makes him a successful captain, as the Canadiens have been able to regroup quickly following a tumultuous offseason.
Looking at Pacioretty individually presents an interesting case. While we cannot measure the impact he has off the ice through statistics, we can measure his on-ice effect on the Canadiens. Captains are almost exclusively top players in today’s NHL, and Pacioretty has long been considered a top NHL forward, but placing him among the elite is a difficult task.
Pacioretty finished 38th in the Lady Byng voting and 22nd in Selke voting last season, serving as an afterthought for most voters.
He finished fourth on the team in average time on ice on the power play and 14th in time on ice for the penalty kill, so he was not utilized as an elite forward is in today’s NHL. Considering the market Pacioretty plays in and the typical role of a captain, the utilization could certainly raise some eyebrows.
Pacioretty finished 24th in the NHL in points, tying Steven Stamkos, Kyle Okposo, and Loui Eriksson. He also finished 24th in even strength points, behind the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Mats Zuccarello.
There is no shame in finishing behind either of those forwards, but there is a lack of the flash factor one would normally expect to see. Pacioretty will never be a Jamie Benn or Vladimir Tarasenko, a trait that actually makes him the perfect fit for the captain’s role in Montreal.
What we have learned from this is that the captain in Montreal should be a valuable player in the locker room — which has been proven in countless interviews — and a valuable player on the ice. In an odd twist, the Subban trade proved that a lack of the “flash factor” is also something required of the Canadiens’ “C”, so Pacioretty’s quiet way of putting up valuable numbers lends itself to the role as well.
It’s also beneficial for Pacioretty that he’s not under intense pressure to contribute all the scoring. He’ll have plenty of help from guys like Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Conversely, for example, should new captain Connor McDavid ever struggle in Edmonton, the whole world will be talking about it.
If Pacioretty goes a stretch of games without producing, it will simply be in a minor slump that receives light attention. The expectations are not too high, while the value Pacioretty brings to the table is plentiful.
It will be worth watching to see if Pacioretty receives greater attention over time as he continues on in the captain’s role, especially if the Canadiens keep winning. For now, however, he is simply a cog in a well-oiled machine, wearing a letter to signify he is “the guy”, even if he doesn’t have to be in the spotlight alone.