Well, it happened.
In a way, I kind of always knew it would because, in the end, this is Vegas we’re talking about.
Jack Eichel is a Golden Knight.
So is Alex Pietrangelo. So is Mark Stone. So are Max Pacioretty, Robin Lehner, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, and Jonathan Marchessault.
As much as I want to let myself get excited about the idea of one of the best players in the world coming to Las Vegas, I just can’t get my mind off the bigger picture.
Like everyone, I hate the fact that we have to worry about mathematics as much, if not more, than hockey when it comes to discussing our favorite team. Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and a 1st for the great Jack Eichel!?! That’s an amazing deal for Vegas. And it would be if that’s all there was to it.
It’s a lot like the Mark Stone trade, except unlike that one, the Golden Knights do not have the cap space to make this one happen on its own. In fact, in an alternate reality in which everyone was healthy, the league wouldn’t have even allowed the deal to go through. But, with Eichel, Stone, Karlsson, and Pacioretty all unavailable to play, the Golden Knights were allowed to make the deal and operate almost $10 million over the $81.5 million salary cap.
Thus, unless one or more of the injured players are out for the rest of the regular season and then magically get healthy in the playoffs, the Golden Knights roster we’re currently looking at isn’t real. To play a game in the NHL, you must be salary cap compliant, and so, if VGK want to play with Eichel, Stone, Karlsson, and Pacioretty, they’ll need to make some more moves.
Who might that be and what will the team look like after it happens? That’s where my fear lies.
72.4% of the salary cap is tied to VGK’s best four forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies. That means they have to fill out 11 starting spots with just 27.6% of the available money. We’ve seen teams built this way before and the results haven’t been great. Toronto is the first one that comes to mind, Edmonton is another.
Unless they can play the LTIR game all the way to the playoffs and then get peak performance out of the entire roster, which I’m highly skeptical of, more change is coming and it’s coming to impact players.
Names like Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, and Chandler Stephenson come to mind as those who may be shipped out. When you couple that with Tuch, Krebs, and a 1st, we’re looking at five or six assets, and three or four NHL level pieces heading out to make way for one.
Anyone who has ever watched an NHL playoff series knows how important depth players become as the games go on. The Golden Knights will have the top-end talent to match anyone, but the rest of the team will feel like a bunch of spare parts. Spare parts that are currently being forced to carry the Golden Knights amidst a rash of injuries and are sitting at 7th place in the Pacific Division with the 4th worst goal differential in the league (and that’s with a miracle win in Dallas).
Jack Eichel should make any team better, and if the trade were just what it is so far, he probably would. But that’s not the reality we’re living in.
The Golden Knights have been heading down this path for quite some time and this move cements it for now and the foreseeable future. They are a team of a few superstars and a bunch of extras and they have no wiggle room to change it.
If it works, it will be lauded as one of the most incredibly built teams in the history of professional sports. It will change the way we view the construction of a Stanley Cup-winning team. And the copycat NHL will become a superstar arms race as we’ve grown accustomed to in the NBA.
But if it doesn’t, there’s no way to fix it and it’ll mean a painful rebuild that will take close to a decade to complete if it’s ever completed at all.