Today was certainly a day to be happy for Vegas Golden Knights fans. The team acquired a top-ten center in the league in Jack Eichel while only losing one piece each from their prospect and draft pool.
However, the reality stands that Eichel isn’t free. He’s currently in the fourth year of an eight-year, $80MM deal that counts against the salary cap for $10M per year.
The Knights are doing a delicate dance with the salary cap’s Upper Limit, shifting both Eichel and Mark Stone to long-term injured reserve today to accommodate the transaction. They join Max Pacioretty on the list, meaning the entirety of what’s expected to be Vegas’ top line is on LTIR.
Now, this number is expected to decrease slightly as they send some players down as the team gets healthier, but CapFriendly lists the Golden Knights with a $91.8MM cap hit, just over $10M above the $81.5MM Upper Limit.
While the team should be able to activate Pacioretty and Stone without issue, it’ll be impossible as things currently stand to activate Eichel when he’s expected to return in February or March. The team will need to have a cap hit below the $81.5MM Upper Limit at that point in order to do so.
Needless to say, moves will need to happen for Vegas to shed enough salary to become cap-compliant. It’s no small amount of money, either, as they’ll likely need to offload $7-8MM in order to make things work.
Reilly Smith and the one year remaining on a deal paying him $5MM per season scream out as a likely candidate to be traded by the Knights. If Eichel is healthy prior to the trade deadline, it’s entirely feasible that Vegas could flip him to quite literally anyone. They could operate as a seller and trade Smith to a contender in the Eastern Conference, or trade him to a seller that could then flip him at the deadline.
If clearing that isn’t enough, the team could look at trading or waiving Brayden McNabb and his $2.5MM cap hit. He too is in the last year of his contract, and his role with the team is quickly being made expendable with the emergence of Nicolas Hague.
Regardless, it’s a surefire conclusion that the makeup of the team will need to be cheaper when Eichel is healthy and ready to play.