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2023 NHL Free Agency

Pacioretty Eager To Find Net, Return To Form With Capitals



Vegas Golden Knights left wing Max Pacioretty shoots against the Los Angeles Kings during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Max Pacioretty knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.

His first 30-goal season, after suffering a hit that left him with a concussion and fractured vertebra, earned him the 2012 Masterton Trophy in his trophy case. After his first Achilles’ tear, he returned to the ice in only a few months.

Now, after a second Achilles’ tear, he’s eager to battle back and return to the same player that has tallied six seasons of 30 or more goals.

“At the end of the day, I just thought that Washington was a great opportunity for me to come back and prove that I’m still the player that I once was and I’m capable of coming back and scoring goals,” Pacioretty said Saturday.

The Washington Capitals took a gamble on Pacioretty, 35, with the hopes that he can improve the team’s overall goal-scoring, which finished middle of the pack in the Metropolitan Division last season.

It’s a tall task for Pacioretty, who suffered both of his Achilles’ tears within the past 12 months. 

The first came weeks after signing with the Carolina Hurricanes in free agency last offseason, sidelining him until January. He returned to score three goals in five games before suffering the same injury again, keeping him away as the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I’m doing really well, I’m very comfortable with where I’m at right now,” Pacioretty said. “I don’t think I’ll be ready for the start of this season, but it shouldn’t be too long after that when I’m expected to come back and play. I’m going to leave that up to the doctors and obviously the experts when it comes to that. 

“All I can do right now is do whatever it takes to come back and be healthy and be ready as quickly and come back as strong as possible, and that’s the work I’m going to put in.”

Pacioretty’s contract — a one-year deal with $2 million in base salary — includes bonus incentives on games played, according to CapFriendly, and could make the contract worth up to $4 million if he plays in 20 or more games this season.

General manager Brian MacLellan added Pacioretty into the mix mere days after telling reporters the team was seeking to improve the team’s top six forwards.

In essence, Pacioretty replaces Connor Brown, who missed all but four games in Washington last season before signing with the Edmonton Oilers in free agency, on the wing. If Pacioretty can return to form, or at least close to it, his scoring numbers would be an upgrade from Brown’s, who has yet to score more than 21 goals in a season.

Signing with a team featuring observant centers like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dylan Strome, who led the team in assists last season, Pacioretty feels it’s the right situation to launch a comeback.

“There’s at least three playmaking centermen, and that’s always fun as a goal-scorer — an expected goal-scorer — to play with guys who want to distribute the puck,” Pacioretty said. “Ovie’s obviously the best goal-scorer to ever play, I can learn a lot from him. 

“At the end of the day, this is a big boy lineup. There’s a lot of big bodies in this lineup, and we all know that when you get to the playoffs — if you get to the playoffs — that’s a good way to make some teams pay and wear them down. I really like this team.”

After signing Pacioretty, the Capitals have only $3.5 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. The team still has to re-sign restricted free agent defenseman Martin Fehervary, and still has a handful of open roster spots to fill.

Jared Serre covers the Washington Capitals for Washington Hockey Now. He is a graduate of West Virginia University.