**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
The NHL trade deadline is 24 hours away and the first-place Golden Knights have put themselves in position to do something major to upgrade their roster. Whether they do or don’t remains to be seen but if we’ve learned anything from watching George McPhee operate, it’s that he’s not afraid to go big.
Sometimes it works, as it did with Mark Stone. Sometimes, it doesn’t when he was unable to pry Erik Karlsson from the Senators two years ago and wound up overpaying for Tomas Tatar at the last minute.
So far, the Knights have made three deals this season. They acquired Chandler Stephenson from Washington in early December for a fifth-round pick in 2021. Wednesday, they sent two second-rounders to Los Angeles to get defenseman Alec Martinez from the Kings. Friday, they moved Cody Eakin and his $3.85 million salary to Winnipeg for a conditional fourth-round selection in 2021.
Stephenson has been terrific. Martinez had a storybook start in his VGK debut Thursday with a goal and an assist in the win over Tampa Bay and with Eakin gone, it opens the door for another move while at the same time it is giving one of the younger players in the organization a chance to show what he can do. Saturday, that was Gage Quinney (more on him shortly).
Moving Eakin was a no-brainer. He was having a tough season and those who played with him also appeared to struggle if you want to believe the analytics. He was a pending UFA and it was unlikely the Knights were going to re-sign him. So to get something back, potentially a third-rounder, for him, was pretty good on Vegas’ part.
But the big thing was getting that $3.85 million off the books. For a team that was cash-strapped in terms of cap maneuverability, the Knights suddenly found themselves relatively flush. Now if they want to pull off something big, they may be able to do so though they may still have to be a bit creative if they want to land a really big fish, one that makes them a true Stanley Cup contender.
So what should they do?
The Erik Gustafsson rumors have heated up the last 24 hours after Gustafsson was held out of Chicago’s game with Nashville Friday. He makes $1.2 million and is a pending UFA so he would essentially be a rental. And while the Knights’ philosophy is to not engage in rentals, they might be willing to make an exception in Gustafsson’s case. He would likely come cheap and if Vegas wants to retain him long-term, he’s only 27 years old. He could essentially replace Deryk Engelland dollar-for-dollar if the 37-year-old Engelland, also a UFA, is not brought back. He’s a left-handed shot and as Ken pointed out Saturday, the Knights have a glut of those on the blue line.
Another option could be Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, another pending UFA whose price tag is considerably higher — $5.5 million (though half is retained by Colorado in a prior trade) — than Gustafsson’s. Barrie is a right-handed shot and he has proven track record of offensive capabilities. His final two years with Colorado, he had 14 goals each season and 57 and 59 points respectively. He might fit Peter DeBoer’s system nicely.
The question with Barrie is the ask-back from Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. Could the price be too high?
Is Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen a better option? He’s pretty much the same price — $5.4 million per — but he’s also a righty shooter and he has two years left on his contract and he’s only 25. But again, what will the Sabres want back?
I think the Knights can use a little more bottom-six scoring, though I may be coming off that thought given what I saw of the revised third line’s play Saturday in the 5-3 win over Florida which capped off a terrific 5-0 homestand and catapulted the Knights back to the top of the Pacific Division. I loved the speed William Carrier, Stephenson and Nic Roy showed and they were terrific against the Panthers. If they can stay together and generate some consistent offense, there’s no need to upgrade the forwards.
Remember, at some point, they’ll probably get Alex Tuch and Cody Glass back so there’s some depth there. And even if they don’t make a move Monday for a forward, there’s this wild card — Jack Dugan. He’s probably going to sign with Vegas once Providence’s season is over next month and while jumping him from college to the NCAA isn’t a move McPhee likes to do, Dugan might be worth rolling the dice on. He’s certainly a more reasonable option financially.
Of course, the Knights can keep Quinney in the NHL and it was great to see the son of former Las Vegas Thunder star Ken Quinney finally get his shot. I thought he was fine and fit in well with Tomas Nosek and Ryan Reaves. He didn’t appear to be overwhelmed by the NHL’s pace of play and physicality. He competed well, drew a couple of penalties in his 9:09 TOI against the Panthers and to be the first Nevada-born player to play in the NHL and do it for his hometown team gave new meaning to the phrase “Vegas Born.”
The fact it came on a night where the 40th anniversary of the Miracle On ice was celebrated at T-Mobile Arena only added to the irony of it.
What Team USA did in Lake Placid in 1980 did wonders for the sport in this country. The number of kids playing hockey zoomed and now, a couple of generations later, cities like Las Vegas have an NHL team and the kids who play youth hockey in our city have a new role model in Quinney. He’s one of them, a kid who grew up here, had to travel to find competition and work his way through the ranks to ultimately realize his dream of playing in the NHL.
So while it seemed a little weird to see Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig and the rest of 1980 gold medal team celebrating their accomplishments in a hockey market that didn’t exist when they shocked the world on Feb. 22, 1980, because of them and the legacy they left, we are a hockey city.
It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing last couple of weeks. The five-game homestand was a season-defining moment for this team and the Knights came through, finding different ways to win each of the games. You can see they’re buying in to DeBoer and his coaching and DeBoer is much more comfortable coaching this group. Marc-Andre Fleury appears to be having fun again. The confidence continues to grow within the room and the team’s best players are playing like they’re supposed to.
They’re blocking shots. They’re getting to the other team’s net and creating offense. They’re getting improved play from guys like Paul Stastny and Nick Holden. It’s a fun team to watch.
There are 19 games remaining, beginning tonight in Anaheim against the Ducks. Let’s see if they can keep it rolling and if we’ll see if there are any new faces to follow on Wednesday against the Oilers.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**