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The Montreal Canadiens are trapped in a no-win situation.

After tumultuous 2017-18 season that yielded just 71 points – their lowest total in a full schedule since the league expanded beyond six teams in 1967 – things don’t appear to be getting easier for the Habs. Making things even more uncertain for the team are recent reports that indicate general manager Marc Bergevin wants to trade captain Max Pacioretty as soon as possible, and there won’t be any contract negotiations between the two sides.

Pacioretty’s name swirling about the trade market is hardly news. He was frequently discussed as an expendable piece at February’s deadline, after which he wholeheartedly denied any perceived desire to leave the team. The 29-year-old was also in the mix at the draft, but despite some close calls, nothing ever materialized.

So now, with one miserable season in tow, and another seemingly on the horizon, the Canadiens have the remainder of the offseason to move on from Pacioretty, and are forced to deal him for less than he’s worth.

Without coming to terms on a contract extension, Montreal’s lost significant leverage with any suitor vying for Pacioretty’s services. A sign-and-trade is now off the table, and much like the Erik Karlsson situation in Ottawa, buying teams won’t be willing to sacrifice significant pieces for a single-season’s worth of Pacioretty in their top six without the guarantee that he’ll stick around for the long run. In addition to Pacioretty’s diminished value, the idea of Bergevin acting on a deal out of desperation is cause for concern considering how the club has made out in the aftermath of his recent major trades.

At this juncture, it’s hard to imagine the circumstances surrounding a Pacioretty trade being much worse. Supplementing the contract extension scenario, Pacioretty is coming off an uncharacteristically poor season, further damaging Montreal’s chances at getting a sufficient haul for its best forward.

Pacioretty only appeared in 64 games in 2017-18, accumulating just 37 points – two shy of what he managed in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. Before last season’s dreary showing, Pacioretty was among the most productive goal scorers across the NHL. In fact, from 2011-12 to last season, the Habs’ captain ranks ninth in the entire league with 206 goals in 503 games, all while carrying a remarkably team-friendly $4.5-million cap hit.

Surely his productive past will be Montreal’s main selling point, but there doesn’t appear to be a way Bergevin and Co. escape this saga without collecting their fair share of criticism – a recurring theme of late in La Belle Province.

Montreal’s always under the microscope, but Bergevin’s already taken heat for saying “the answer is in that dressing room,” after a 2-6-1 start to last season, then followed up his sentiments months later in the club’s year-end press conference, saying his team’s attitude needs to be better. A failure to accurately assess what went wrong, on top of a handful of questionable personnel decisions over recent years, has Montreal’s fan base ready for something positive, and Pacioretty’s impending departure isn’t that.

The Canadiens have a few glaring needs on their roster, primarily down the middle of the ice and on the blue line, but does Pacioretty currently fetch a roster player that can sufficiently step into either of those roles next season? With no term attached, does he even pull an A-level prospect or a first-round pick? If not, Bergevin will be forced to rummage through the bargain bin of future assets while giving up a player that’s eclipsed 30 goals five times since 2012.

Pacioretty is certainly due for a raise next summer, as his career production speaks for itself. And even with a projected $12 million in cap space next season, the Canadiens – who ranked 29th in goals for – are depositing their captain’s future into the hands of another team.

Potential avenues for a Pacioretty trade are limitless, and there’s always a possibility Bergevin gets creative and finds a way to maximize Montreal’s return. But the possibility of Pacioretty succeeding in greener pastures are much greater, and they’ll only have themselves to blame if they have nothing to show for him down the line.

(Photos Courtesy: Getty Images)

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