Christmas came early for Ben Hutton as the veteran defenseman signed a two-year contract extension to remain with the Golden Knights. The trusty 7th defenseman and locker room treasure signed for just over the league minimum and locked his place on what has become a bit of a crowded blue line in Vegas.
This season, the Golden Knights have used nine different defensemen and there’s a case for each of them to be a part of the plans for the future.
Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Whitecloud are locked into Vegas through the next three seasons. Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb are each under contract for this year and next, and Nic Hague, Brayden Pachal, and Kaedan Korczak as restricted free agents remain under VGK control for the foreseeable future.
With Hutton, that’s eight defensemen all expected to be in the NHL next season trying to help the Golden Knights win another Stanley Cup.
So, where does that leave three-time Cup winner Alec Martinez?
Martinez’s contract ends after this season and the 36-year-old is still playing on the top pair for one of the best teams in the league. He’s fought through multiple injuries this year but when he’s healthy and available, he’s seeing close to 19 minutes a night on the Vegas blue line. He’s one of the first guys over the boards on the penalty kill and if you ask any Golden Knight they’ll surely tell you life is more fun with Martinez around rather than without him.
The first question for Martinez is going to be whether or not he wants to continue his career. He’s achieved just about everything possible in the sport and the injuries have started to pile up a bit on him over the past few years. So, walking away at this point does make sense. But, if he wants to continue, there’s no doubt his services will continue to be in demand.
If he does want to soldier on, the Golden Knights are going to have to make a difficult decision, and probably sooner rather than later. Martinez’s $5.25 million contract is coming off the books next season one way or another. There’s certainly going to be space to re-sign him if the Golden Knights choose, but they also have to hand out new contracts to Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, and Michael Amadio which will likely eat up most, if not all, of the available cap space.
The challenge for Vegas is that they probably shouldn’t wait until the summer to fill in the final pieces on the blue line. If they simply wait it out, they will likely end up sacrificing at least one asset for nothing. Re-sign Martinez and it means either Korczak or Pachal (or both) will have to hit waivers. Or, stick with the younger guys, and a three-time Cup winner and locker room leader walks away.
Instead, the Golden Knights may look to make a move that helps both this season and next. If Martinez is not in the plans beyond this season, trading him at the upcoming deadline could make sense. His $5.25 million cap hit would create space to allow Vegas a chance to bring in a player who will be in the plans beyond this season.
The Golden Knights have never been afraid to make an unpopular cap-saving salary cap move. With Ben Hutton signed up for the next few years, that might be exactly what’s in store next.