The Vegas Golden Knights have 43 players under team control as we head toward training camp. Of the 43, there’s just one player with a contract extended beyond the team’s third year in existence, and that player is Reilly Smith.
The 26-year-old winger was acquired via trade during the Expansion Draft from the Florida Panthers. But it wasn’t an expansion trade like the ones including Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, or Nikita Gusev, instead, the Golden Knights and Panthers made a straight player-for-pick deal that involved absolutely no Expansion Draft considerations.
Vegas Golden Knights receive:
Florida Panthers receive:
2018 4th Round Pick
Smith’s contract is a bit of an albatross when you consider his production a year ago. 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) is hardly enough to warrant a five-year deal worth $25M with a modified no trade clause. But, the season prior, he scored 25 goals, tallied another 25 assists, posted a +19 rating, and a CF% of 52.5%.
Many figured the reason for selecting the best player off the Panthers expansion list, Jonathan Marchessault, and trading for Smith was a directive from head coach Gerard Gallant. But, in the case of Smith, there’s a distinct connection to George McPhee that may have played an even bigger part than the simple “he played well for our coach” idea.
During the 2015-16 NHL playoffs, Reilly Smith was a member of the Florida Panthers, playing on the second line with Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad. Their opponent in the first round, the New York Islanders.
The series was won by the Isles in 6, but during Games 1, 2, and 3, Smith scored four goals, had four assists, and a +7 rating. In a pretty good offensive career to this point, the first three games of the 2015-16 postseason are undoubtedly the shining moment in Smith’s six-year career.
Sitting in the press box watching all of it, was George McPhee, special advisor to the general manager of the New York Islanders.
We’ve all done it while watching hockey games. One player lights up our team over and over again and we fall in love. Then, due to this powerful thing called confirmation bias, we can’t get away from seeing only the positive in the player’s game while watching film. There’s no debate that in those three games, Reilly Smith was a star, possibly the best player on the ice, and definitely one-third of the best line out there.
McPhee couldn’t get Bjugstad for obvious reasons and Jokinen is 34-years-old, but Smith was there for the taking. Coming off a rough year and locked in to a big contract, the price was right for the Golden Knights, just a 4th round pick they could easily replace.
Were those three games the only reason Reilly Smith is coming to Vegas, probably not, but there’s no denying, the best Smith’s ever been was on display during them, and McPhee had a front row seat.