The Golden Knights are likely headed for an offseason of change. It might be just a little if they can solve the goalie situation without breaking the bank or it might be a lot if they land the big fish in free agency. Either way, the possibility of moving one of Vegas’ top-six forwards and/or top-four defensemen is much higher this offseason than it was last summer.
Here’s a case for why they should trade each one of them, followed by a case against it. (Alex Tuch is substituted for Mark Stone due to Stone’s full no-movement clause.)
$7 million (3 seasons remaining)
Case for: You want cap relief, here it is. Shedding Pacioretty’s $7 million would basically allow for a one-for-one move to make the big-ticket free-agent splash. Pacioretty may not return nearly as much as you’d probably like after the dismal end to the playoffs, but he has a history of scoring and former captains aren’t easy to find. He’s likely on the declining side of his peak and his injury issues are concerning. If someone is willing to buck up a 2nd round pick and eat the entire $21 million in cap space over the next three years, Vegas absolutely has to listen.
Case against: The biggest problem the Golden Knights had in 2019-20, and especially in the playoffs, was scoring and the solution is to trade the team’s leading scorer? What world are we living in here? The guy is coming off a 32 goal pandemic shortened season and was clearly banged up during the playoffs. When he’s healthy, he’s the best scorer Vegas has. He’s also worked incredibly well with VGK’s most important forward, Mark Stone. I’ll repeat what I said before, if scoring is the issue, you do not trade your leading scorer.
$5 million (4 seasons remaining)
Case for: The case for trading Marchessault must start with his play in the postseason. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, he’s been known to take a penalty or two that he shouldn’t, and he isn’t exactly the physical specimen you look for in a hockey player, but all of that is overlooked because he can do the hardest thing to do in hockey, score. When he doesn’t, he has to be considered when thinking about change. The cap number would help free up some space for Vegas to make the splash they are hoping for in free agency and his production under DeBoer hasn’t matched what it was under Gallant which causes concern for the future. Plus, he’s played a lot less under DeBoer showing a lack of trust that Gallant had. This postseason Marchessault averaged 16:33 per game, in 2018 he averaged 19:25. The return would likely be worthwhile which could help in making something else happen down the line.
Case against: Like it or not, the team goes when Marchessault goes. In this year’s playoffs, when Marchessault scored at least one point, Vegas went 6-1. When he didn’t register a point, they were 6-7. In 2018, they were 10-3 with a point and 3-4 without. He brings the offensive energy to a team that at times can lack it. There’s a strong chance the bubble was not ideal for Marchessault and it hindered his play. The cap hit is not exorbitant and Vegas has control for each of the next four seasons. He has 181 points in 225 games for the Golden Knights in the regular season and 37 in 47 games in the playoffs. They cannot overvalue the last two months in comparison to his previous three years in Vegas. Selling low would be a mistake, one the Golden Knights would surely pay for every time #81 came back to town wearing a new jersey.
$6.5 million (1 season remaining)
Case for: With just the single-season left on the contract and a trio of younger centers waiting (Stephenson, Glass, Roy), it makes sense to pull the plug one year early as opposed to one too late. He’d fetch at least some sort of asset and he’ll free up most of the cap space to make the big free agent play. No, he’s not completely replaceable and they’d miss what he can do, but the drop-off isn’t nearly significant enough to let his contract stand in the way of making the team much better by grabbing a guy like Pietrangelo.
Case against: The Golden Knights are not one of the best teams in the league at the center position. Moving Stastny would take them from below average to bottom three at that position. His scoring was a bit down but he also shuffled around the lineup a lot to allow for guys like Glass and Karlsson to have better fits. The team struggled with finishing rebounds, and unless some other guys improve mightily this offseason, Stastny remains one of the best options to do it. Moving him would put massive pressure on Roy and Glass and that’s got to be concerning considering just how little we’ve seen of both.
$5.9 million (7 seasons remaining)
Case for: Karlsson was a top-line center when the Golden Knights were playing a high-octane, transition brand of hockey. But now that they aren’t, he’s really more of a dominant defensive 2C. DeBoer’s system has taken away a lot of what Karlsson does best which makes him far less valuable to the team now than he was under Gallant. $5.9 million is a high-price for a guy who mustered up just 10 points in 20 games in the playoffs and had just three points in the final 11 postseason games. After his brilliant 2017-18 campaign and strong regular seasons in 18-19 and 19-20, someone would likely be willing to step up big time to take him off Vegas’ hands. If you can get a 1st round pick plus for him, he might be better suited playing under a coach who fits his style better, plus the cap relief for the next seven years would be huge in signing a guy like Pietrangelo.
Case against: The hardest position to come by in the NHL is center. When you have good ones, even if he’s not one of the 10 best in the league, you don’t give them up. Karlsson has the most goals in the history of the franchise and the second-most points, just one behind Marchessault. He’s also a dominant force on the penalty-kill and will be in Selke consideration every year he plays. Yes, the possession style of play isn’t the optimal way to use him, but DeBoer can surely find a way to take advantage of his unique skill set. If the Golden Knights give away Karlsson, they’ll have the worst collection of centers in the entire NHL, and that’s not hyperbole. You simply can’t win that way.
$4.75 million (6 seasons remaining)
Case for: There aren’t many guys out there like Tuch, which means his price on the trade market would likely be massive. Throw in his manageable contract and he’s the exact type of piece a majority of the teams in the NHL are looking for. Here in Vegas, he’s shown glimpses of greatness, but it’s always been somewhat fleeting. It would be a risky move but the return would be enormous and the Golden Knights probably have the depth to overcome his departure.
Case against: When he’s on, he’s the most dangerous weapon the Golden Knights have. He spent most of the 19-20 season injured and then in the playoffs he was a dominant force that made his $4.75 million contract look like a joke now, imagine what it will look like when he’s 28-years-old instead of 24. Vegas got him locked in to a good deal and they can’t give up on him before he’s ever truly given the opportunity to flourish in a top-six role for a full season. The Golden Knights are severely lacking players in the 22-25 year-old-age group. Tuch is one and a damn good one at that, they can’t afford to give him away.
$5 million AAV (2 seasons remaining)
Case for: The best argument for trading Smith would be in the immense value he should return. His contract is certainly not inflated based on his production and he continued to thrive even after the coaching change which means he should be expected to keep it up next season whether for Vegas or not. If a team calls and offers a NHL-ready high-end prospect still on his ELC or multiple high picks, VGK would have to listen. It would have to absolutely blow them away though, which is unlikely, especially in this offseason.
Case against: If it’s not Mark Stone, Smith is the obvious next choice to be the captain. He’s coming off a massive year and has played great in all three seasons as a Golden Knight. He’s excellent in all situations and his defense will always shine through even on the days the offense isn’t there with it (which is rare). There are plenty of ways to shake up the Golden Knights’ top-six, Smith shouldn’t be seriously considered as one of them.
$5.95 million (5 seasons remaining)
Case for: This postseason was a good example of why it’s a bit risky to rely on Schmidt to be placed in a role where he’s shouldering the majority of defensive responsibility against the opposition’s best players. Plus, his offensive game kind of went out the window in the postseason, especially in the final eight games when VGK needed it most. He just doesn’t seem like the perfect fit for the style DeBoer prefers which makes his near $6 million cap hit a bit high for what may become the team’s third-best defensemen. People around the league know Schmidt and understand how easily he’ll integrate into any locker room. They’ve also seen him play #1 pair minutes for a team that went to the Stanley Cup. He should fetch a nice return even as devastating as it would be to see him go.
Case against: Nate’s postseason was not exactly what we’ve grown accustomed to out of Schmidt as a Golden Knight. He’s consistently been one of Vegas’ best defenseman, has the flexibility to play either side, is loved by absolutely everyone, and remains on a contract that’s not overpriced now and shouldn’t be at any point during it. He soaked up over 23:00 a game in the playoffs despite not playing significant time on either special team. He’s just too reliable to give away, especially after a troubling postseason when the return might be lower than it otherwise should be.
$4 million (1 season remaining)
Case for: While Martinez was an excellent fit for Shea Theodore, wouldn’t anyone have been? The cap number is high enough that he can probably be replaced with someone at a lesser cost and not see a ton of drop off. He fetched two 2nds at the deadline and played well on his new team, which means he should get at least one pick back this offseason. Unless he’s willing to take less than half of what he’s currently making on his next deal, Vegas may only have one season left of Martinez, so why not cash in now before he walks for nothing?
Case against: Vegas paid two 2nd round picks to get Martinez in here to stabilize the defense and he did just that. There’s no question the team was better after they acquired him than before and the cap hit isn’t crazy for the amount of time he spends on the ice. He was awesome with Theodore and likely will be for the entirety of the 2020-21 season as well. Martinez was also the third-highest player in ATOI during the playoffs for the Golden Knights, he’s simply too valuable to this defense to cut bait after one playoff run.
$2.5 million (2 seasons remaining)
Case for: This offseason is going to be unlike any in the past as the cap is staying flat not only for now but for the foreseeable future. That makes a player like Brayden McNabb more valuable on the market than he’s ever been before. There’s really not a massive benefit to the Golden Knights to trade him, but if a team who is trying to shed salary but stay competitive calls, they might throw out an offer that’s too good to resist.
Case against: In an offseason where Vegas is looking to create cap space to upgrade, trading one of the most cost-effective players on the roster would be pretty stupid. McNabb’s $2.5 million contract is what’s keeping the already slightly pricey defense from getting out of control. He’s not the perfect defenseman, but at that price, he should be close to untouchable.
$5.2 million (5 seasons remaining)
Case for: There’s not one.
Case against: $5.2 million for a 25-year-old Norris caliber defenseman with five more years of control… you trade that, you should be fired before the trade call is completed.