As the calendar turns to March, the trade deadline is inching closer. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Maybe more than any other season in their franchise’s brief history, this season seems to be one where the Vegas Golden Knights are truly pushing all their chips to the center of the table, going all-in on winning a Stanley Cup. Since losing their battle for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to the Montreal Canadiens to end their 2020-2021 season, the Golden Knights have been aggressive in pursuit of upgrades to their team. This offseason, they made one of the biggest trades the NHL has seen in the past few years, landing superstar center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres to fill a longstanding need for a star first-line center. With Eichel in tow, the task for coach Pete DeBoer’s side is clear: win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, anything else will be disappointment, and GM Kelly McCrimmon and his front office enter trade deadline season with that mission in mind.
30-21-4, 4th in the Pacific
Deadline Cap Space
$5.15MM today, $5.15MM in full-season space, 47/50 contracts used, 0/3 retention slots used per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2022: VGK 1st*, VGK 2nd, NYR 3rd, VGK 5th, CHI 5th, VGK 6th, VGK 7th
2023: VGK 1st*, VGK 2nd^, VGK 3rd, BUF 3rd**, VGK 4th, VGK 5th, VGK 6th, VGK 7th
* Whether Vegas owns their 2022 or 2023 1st rounder depends on where they finish this season. Should their 2022 pick end up inside the top-10, Buffalo would receive Vegas’ 2023 1st. If it is outside the top-10, Buffalo receives Vegas’ 2022 1st.
^ Vegas’ 2022 2nd round pick belongs to the Sabres unless Vegas’ 2022 1st round pick is inside the top-10, then the Sabres will instead receive Vegas’ 2024 2nd.
** Vegas receives Buffalo’s 2023 3rd round pick unless Vegas’ 2022 1st round pick is inside the top-10. If that happens, Vegas will instead receive Buffalo’s 2024 3rd round pick.
The curse of the Golden Knights’ winning ways is that they typically find themselves with little room to work with below the salary cap. This year’s team is no different, and the aggression with which the Golden Knights’ front office has pursued upgrades for their team has left the team in a unique situation for this deadline season. The Golden Knights are, of course, cap compliant despite adding Jack Eichel’s significant salary, but that was not done without a cost. Captain Mark Stone is on long-term injured reserve, as is defenseman Alec Martinez. Stone is expected to be out until the playoffs begin, in a similar way to how Nikita Kucherov’s injury situation was handled last season. Martinez, on the other hand, is expected to return to the lineup eventually. That return gives Vegas essentially zero extra cap space to work with for this deadline season. That means that the team is in a situation where money entering the roster must be matched by money exiting the roster, making finding potential trade fits that much harder.
That being said, should they choose to make upgrades at the deadline, the ideal candidate to be moved would be Evgeny Dadonov. Dadonov has not scored a point since January and his $5MM cap hit, if moved, could pave the way for Vegas to add a legitimate difference-maker to bolster their roster. Dadonov in total has 10 goals and 21 points in 53 games for Vegas since arriving in an offseason trade with the Senators, and he has two seasons left on his contract, a contract that also provides him with some trade protection. So it would definitely be a difficult deal to make, and Vegas could very well need to add sweeteners for a team to take on Dadonov’s contract. But if the team is set on going all-in on a Stanley Cup this season moving Dadonov is definitely their clearest way to the cap room required to add a useful player.
If moving Dadonov proves too difficult in an environment where cap space is at a premium, the other player Vegas could move to facilitate the addition of another player could be Mattias Janmark. Janmark, 29, was traded to Vegas at last year’s trade deadline and enjoyed a reasonably successful run with the team as a rental, scoring five points in 15 regular season games and eight points in 16 playoff games, including a game-7 hat-trick that clinched a series victory over the Minnesota Wild. Janmark has posted similar numbers this season, with seven goals and 17 assists, but he suffered an upper-body injury in a February 25th game versus the Coyotes and has not played since. Janmark’s injury combined with his expiring $2MM cap hit means that he is not immediately useful on the ice but incredibly useful to the Golden Knights as a salary-matching trade-chip at the deadline. So if Vegas can find a way to fit an addition at a cap number under Janmark’s cap number, expect him to be shipped away to facilitate that addition.
Others to Watch For: F Reilly Smith, F Nolan Patrick, G Laurent Brossoit
1) Cap Flexibility
The Vegas Golden Knights’ entire existence as a franchise has been marked by a consistent tendency to pursue aggressive upgrades to their roster. This is a team that has traded for two star players who captain other teams ,(Eichel and Max Pacioretty) and signed another as a free agent. (Alex Pietrangelo) They traded for Robin Lehner despite having Marc-Andre Fleury, the closest thing Vegas has to a franchise icon, on their roster. This is clearly a front office that wants to do something, and will do anything it takes to get an edge. But to do that they need space under the cap to make moves, which they are sorely lacking right now.
2) More Consistent Goaltending
By trading Fleury this offseason, the Knights made it clear that Lehner would be their franchise goaltender going forward. The 30-year-old Swede is an accomplished goaltender who can clearly be a #1, but he has been inconsistent this season, with a .907 save percentage, and he has also battled injuries. If Vegas is absolutely sure they need to win a Cup this season, perhaps they find a surer hand to play as Lehner’s backup instead of Laurent Brossoit and his .903 save percentage.
3) Cheap Depth Players
As has been mentioned ad nauseam, Vegas is all-in on winning a Stanley Cup this year. To win a Stanley Cup, there is very little margin for error. A team needs to be designed with great intent and coached to embody an identity that each player buys into. The players currently playing in Vegas’ bottom-6 as depth pieces, players like Michael Amadio and Jonas Rondbjerg, are decent enough players, but probably not the players coach DeBoer would want in a high-leverage playoff situation. The Knights at full strength are only an injury or two away from them, so a dark-horse priority going in the deadline for Vegas could be adding some more reliable and playoff-proven depth.
Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
88good ol days
Vegas doesn’t make the playoffs this year.
Hot take. We’ll see in May.
I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion this team even makes the playoffs. If this team really is benching arguably their best player for longer than necessary just to stay cap compliant (which is all just hearsay at this point, so I doubt it) than that’s just stupid.
The last year has been a great example of how not to build a team in a salary cap league. So many star players is all well and good but when you can’t even play them all, what’s the point? It sure hasn’t lead to a very good season for them. Lehner is not very good. The Dadonov acquisition didn’t make sense at the time and looks even worse now. I know injuries happen but selling out for Janmark, Martinez, Pacioretty, etc. just to watch them miss significant time with no flexibility to plug those holes is costing them and they still won’t be able to field their entire team at any point this season, let alone add pieces. The lack of depth is pretty apparent. As a Kings fan, I can’t say I don’t enjoy watching them struggle despite all the ‘amazing acquisitions’ they’ve made.
Stone has a legit injury. He has dealt with the back issues multiple times not just recently.
But…see…he played with the injury when they had cap space…many players would benefit from time off in a long hard season.
Also, the whole “why would they play without their best player, that’s just stupid” ignores that by doing so you get to field a NON cap compliant team in the playoffs against cap compliant teams and greatly improves your chances to win the Cup.
The Hawks in 15, Pens in 17 and Lightning in 21, off the top of my head, at least half of the recent Cup winners were over the cap. If the Caps or Blues or 20 Lightning also did it, then more than half.
It’s a huge advantage.
I believe he does have a legit injury, and although he was playing, he also missed a lot of games. I don’t think a team benches their best player. The Kucherov situation is not the same; when he had the surgery everyone said he would be out the whole season. That was a normal recovery timeline.
We also conveniently ignore that players also have a say in whether they play or not; I find it hard to believe that guys like Stone and Kucherov are cool with being completely healthy and just sitting at home regardless of how it might benefit the team at some point.
You’re also assuming the Knights make the playoffs. That is no sure thing with the way they’ve been playing. It’s clear they have no depth and no ability to add any, even with Stone on LTIR so it doesn’t even really help them the same way it has other teams. Allegedly.
Lehner wasn’t hurt when they traded for Eichel. I don’t think he was hurt when Stone went on IR, even.
Their depth issues are because Bill Foley can’t resist shiny things. This is maybe the most top heavy team in the cap era.
And their depth issues only get worse if they have to trade Smith or Karlsson or whoever for nothing to get cap compliant.
Well … as to the notion that they’re not going to make the playoffs, they’re in the 6th position right now. And how many teams below them are doing BETTER? Nashville’s won three of their last ten. So has Anaheim. Vancouver’s the only team in the West outside a playoff spot that’s won as many as five out of their last ten.
In order for Vegas to miss the playoffs, you have to have teams that are playing well enough to lap them in the standings. Other than Vancouver, no non-playoff team is.