Cup or Bust.
That’s how the Golden Knights approached the offseason. That’s how the Golden Knights entered the season. And that’s how the Golden Knights looked at the opportunity to trade for Jack Eichel. But that’s not how the Golden Knights should be looking at the upcoming trade deadline.
Riding a three-game losing streak, a 4-8-1 record since Mark Stone was placed on LTIR, and a 10-12-4 run since the calendar flipped to 2022, it’s time for a true reality check on where this season is headed.
The Golden Knights started last night’s game missing eight players from their regular lineup and then saw Max Pacioretty exit in the 2nd period with what is his fourth separate injury absence this season. Vegas does not have a single player who has played in every one of the team’s first 60 games and they have only rostered the same lineup in consecutive games on six occasions this year.
Health is obviously the greatest concern for this team and no matter how optimistic a person wants to be, it seems inevitable that the 2021-22 Golden Knights are never going to be operating at full strength.
So, that brings us to the players that are on the ice. Quite frankly, they look nothing like a Stanley Cup contender. Heck, they don’t even look like a team that belongs in the playoffs. Injured or not, if you have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, you can’t spend two months getting waxed by legitimate playoff teams while playing 1-goal games, that you’re often on the wrong side of, against teams vying for lottery balls.
Each and every season the Golden Knights have been in existence, they’ve been buyers at the trade deadline. The past four seasons, they’ve traded away a total of eight picks in the first three rounds to acquire the likes of Tomas Tatar, Mark Stone, Alec Martinez, Robin Lehner, Nick Cousins, and Mattias Janmark. This year, they continued their buying streak giving up another 1st, a 1st round prospect in Peyton Krebs, and Alex Tuch for Jack Eichel.
So, in total, just during the season, Vegas has sent out:
3 Active Roster Players (Tuch, Subban, Lindberg)
2 1st Round Prospects (Krebs, Brannstrom)
2 1st Round Picks
5 2nd Round Picks
2 3rd Round Picks
Now as the deadline approaches, they very well may buy again. But they shouldn’t, and in fact, if anything, they should sell. A cold, hard, realistic approach is required at this trade deadline.
The chilling reality is, this team can’t win if they aren’t healthy and they probably aren’t ever going to get healthy.
Yet, as we head towards the deadline, the “bust” in Cup or Bust still may be on the minds of those making the decisions. It’s not fantasy to believe that a team headlined by Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Alex Pietrangelo and supported by Max Pacioretty, Shea Theodore, Robin Lehner, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault could be good enough to win the Stanley Cup. But, it probably is fantasy to believe that team will ever see the ice in the 2021-22 season.
This deadline, the Golden Knights front office has to play the probabilities, and those numbers say they have a far better chance to win next year or even the year after than they do this year. Yes, it will mean accepting the massive bust that this year will represent, but failing to recognize it will be much worse.
Whatever can be done to improve the 2022-23 Golden Knights must be done at this deadline, even if it comes as another major blow to this year’s team.
It’s a chance to reload, retool, and reshape a roster utilizing a period in the NHL calendar the Golden Knights have never been able to use to improve the future of their team.
If that means trading the expiring contracts, so be it. If it means being on the selling end of a blockbuster by moving a player who isn’t viewed as part of the future, do it. If it means making hard uncomfortable decisions that will damage this year’s team, fine.
What it doesn’t mean though is giving up on this season. That glimmer of hope might get a bit dimmer but if it’s a 1% chance or a .01% chance, there’s still a chance. The players and the fans can still take the insanely optimistic approach that everything will fall into place and this will be yet another amazing chapter in the story that is the Golden Knights.
But the front office can’t take that approach. Reality must supersede fantasy.