Orange and Black Investigations: How Would Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault Fit?

The Vegas Golden Knights are reportedly shopping and hearing offers on a pair of very good players in Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault, all in order to navigate the cap squeeze caused by acquiring Alexander Pietrangelo (via TSN’s Frank Seravalli and The Athletic’s Jesse Granger). The Flyers are pretty loaded along the wings and are more in need of a depth center, but when looking at these players and what they could potentially be shopped for in exchange for some cap relief, it’s hard not to be enticed. Philadelphia currently sits 14th in projected cap space for the 2020-2021 season (via Capfriendly.com), so they aren’t exactly the optimal partner for Vegas to target, but the Flyers are looking for players who can finish and these two options happen to fit that bill. Let’s examine the case for each of them below.

Max Pacioretty (32 years old, LW)

The goal-scoring winger is coming off of a career year with Vegas where he suddenly righted a declining trajectory in a big way. The former Montreal captain scored 32 goals and 66 points in 71 games, both of which would’ve led the Flyers by a decent margin. While some of this could be fairly attributed to playing on a line with a superstar-caliber winger like Mark Stone, Pacioretty grades out extremely well by isolated impact numbers (as shown by the isolated impact and RAPM visuals above) and the eye test. When watching him this year in both the regular season and the playoffs (I begrudgingly watched a lot of the Golden Knights to study them and understand why they’re so good), he looked like a player driving his line rather than a passenger being carried by Stone. Pacioretty has always been an impactful forward on offense in terms of driving play and generating chances (as seen by his career isolates in the slideshow), but this year was one of the better in his career from a two-way perspective, an indicator that his game might age well. The main concern I’d have with his underlying stats is that this year was a huge turnaround from the trend of the previous three seasons, where Patches looked pretty pedestrian in terms of impact; as such, he’s definitely a candidate for some overall regression.

The main prize here is something I’ve neglected to mention so far: the shooting. Since 2010-2011, Pacioretty has finished above league average all but two times. This past year actually wasn’t a product of plus-plus shooting (+4% finishing rate), but the focus here should be that Pacioretty’s wrist shot is still elite based upon xG/GF differential, as shown in the visual below.

Pacioretty produced 26 goals on just 19.8 expected goals from his wrist shot, putting his squarely among the league’s elite in that situation. While he probably can’t be used as an Ovechkin type (pulling slapshots from the circles, especially on the powerplay), he’s able to walk in and pick corners even as he ages, another tool that frequently fades slower. If Pacioretty were playing on PP1 and on the first line, he’d have legitimate 40 goal ability, something the Flyers are in dire need of.

Now we get to the tricky part: how do the Flyers make a trade with a team that’s moving a piece for the purpose of cap relief if they don’t have much cap space to work with? The answer likely lies in Chuck Fletcher moving a contract in order to make acquiring Pacioretty feasible, although the players in question have been shopped before to no avail. Pacioretty is making $7 million until 2022-2023 and has a modified no-trade clause, so the first thing necessary for a trade would be Patches having interest in coming to Philly. Secondly, in order to open up room for said contract, Chuck Fletcher would have to come up with a deal to move James Van Riemsdyk, which is easier said than done.

JVR was high on the TSN Trade Bait board this offseason, but his name was largely out of the news due to the down season he had in 2019-2020. I personally think JVR is a good player who had a lot of bad luck and inconsistency plaguing him, but I understand why many Flyers fans want to move on from him and why many teams across the league didn’t want to trade for that contract. Still, if Fletcher really loves the player (in this case Pacioretty), he could easily throw in some picks and prospects to make something happen. You could absolutely sell JVR to a team like Nashville, and I say that as a Predators fan who’d be eager to have him. The Preds have been abysmal on the powerplay for years, lack depth, goal scoring and experience along the wings, and reportedly failed to sign big-ticket winger Taylor Hall in free agency. I still think JVR could be viewed as a borderline-negative asset in that trade, but it’d be less of a straight-up cap dump and more of a sweetened trade where Nashville is clearly getting the better asset in exchange for freeing up cap space.

I would love to add Pacioretty to the team, and I think Vegas would be willing to throw in a small sweetener to make it happen, given how dire their cap situation is heading into the season. The Flyers absolutely have the ability to make this happen, just like they had the ability to make a Patrik Laine trade, but it all rests on how Chuck Fletcher values Pacioretty, his players, and draft picks.

Jonathan Marchessault (29 years old, C/LW)

Jonathan Marchessault is a historically strong offensive threat and play driver who usually functions as a goal-scoring winger (although he can play center too). Marchessault has scored over 20 goals in every season where he’s been an NHL regular despite never finishing at an absurdly high rate (aside from his 30 goal year in Florida, where he finished at a ridiculous +12%). In 2019-2020, the diminutive forward scored 47 points and 22 goals in 66 games, landing him somewhere between Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes in the point production department. This year saw a dip in Marchessault’s overall production, but that wasn’t a result of a decline in offensive play; Vegas adding more and more good players allowed them to roll their lines more evenly, decreasing Marchessault’s overall minutes by a pretty significant amount. In actuality, Marchessault’s P/60 was the second best of his NHL career, only trailing his absurdly good 2017-2018 season which he likely will never replicate. Again, the Flyers are looking for offensive producers that can do some serious work at even strength and on the powerplay, and over the past three seasons Marchessault has been exactly that. His defense can occasionally be a bit lacking, usually owing to his smaller size, but his offense more than compensates and his struggles in his own end are frequently exaggerated by his detractors. For a team lacking a truly dynamic scoring threat on the second line to pair with Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek/Travis Konecny, Marchessault wouldn’t be a bad pickup.

Now, how do we make that contract work? The aforementioned JVR trade is an option to posit, but Marchessault’s contract is a bit easier to swallow given that it’s $5 million AAV until 2024, so there are some other possibilities. The deal has a modified no-trade clause, but if that’s taken care of, the Flyers have a lot more flexibility with who they can look at moving. Trading Shayne Gostisbehere would be difficult right now given what his value on the market likely is, but with the right package (say a few picks in the 3rd-5th round range and a solid prospect) surrounding him, he could be used as a cap dump to squeeze Marchessault in. Another contract the team could move is Erik Gustafsson, but I find that idea unlikely given that he just signed with the team (a move I still don’t understand at all). Still, it wouldn’t be all that hard to make the room for adding Marchessault; the issues would arrive in the 2021 offseason when Fletcher has considerably less money to bring back Hart, Sanheim, Laughton and more.

Conclusions

Chuck Fletcher has plenty of options to make either one of these players a Philadelphia Flyer before January 13th hits, both of whom are quality pieces that could help put the team over the top along with the expected development of the younger parts of the core. The biggest issues here remain cap space and being able to resign the youth that’s due for contract extensions after this year, particularly Carter Hart (a player Fletcher clearly can’t afford to let walk under any circumstances barring unforeseen catastrophe). Still, it would be nice to see the Flyers’ conservative offseason end with a bang to supplement a team that already has a roster with the ability to make serious noise in the postseason.

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