**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
With the second half of the Golden Knights’ season starting this afternoon in Los Angeles, the team is sitting pretty in first place in the West Division with a 21-6-1 record, 43 points, and a league-best points percentage of .768. But we need to look at the big picture and the upcoming playoffs in May.
The NHL trade deadline is April 12. But it’s never too early to talk about potential deals, particularly in a year where the word “quarantine” comes into play.
As history has shown, the Golden Knights are usually major players at the deadline. In the first season, it was obtaining Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reaves. In Year Two, it was trading for Mark Stone. Last year, it was Robin Lehner. In each instance, it was about trying to make the team better and have a roster that can win the Stanley Cup.
Notice I said “win” and not “compete for.” The Knights roster, as currently constructed, is good enough to compete for the Cup. But is it good enough to win it?
I don’t believe it is.
The lack of consistent bottom-six scoring is the biggest issue. Defensive depth is a potential secondary hazard though I think the Knights could get by without a major move on the blue line given the play of Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague, and Zach Whitecloud. And presumably, they’ll have Alex Pietrangelo back in time for the postseason. If they need to trot Nick Holden out there, they can get by with doing it.
Playoff hockey is different. There are no weaklings to beat up on and if your fourth line isn’t contributing, it puts you at a distinct disadvantage. In the playoffs, your opponents are geared to shut down your top line, and as we saw last year in the Edmonton bubble, nothing can hasten your exit from the postseason faster than a hot goaltender who prevents you from putting the puck in the net. The bottom line is you need contributions from all four lines on a consistent basis during the postseason if you’re serious about having a Stanley Cup championship parade in July.
GM Kelly McCrimmon told the RJ earlier in the week he didn’t anticipate history repeating itself and the team making a big splash at the deadline. Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet’s respected insider, echoed similar comments, I assume after talking to either GMKM or Prez George, in his weekly 31 Thoughts column.
The big issue is the salary cap. Unless Pietrangelo’s LTIR for his left arm injury runs through the remainder of the regular season, which Pete DeBoer indicates isn’t likely, the Knights are limited in what they can do. The potential to grow the LTIR list ended Friday with the return of Chandler Stephenson and Alex Tuch, which is good news for the present.
So to make a deal, the Knights would likely have to move someone on the current roster to accommodate whoever they trade for. I doubt they want to break up the current band to add a backup singer, especially after going through what they went through in the offseason to construct this lineup.
Yet why do I get the feeling the Knights will be a major player at the trade deadline regardless? Because deep down in their hearts, when GMKM and Prez George wake up every day, they know this team is not good enough to win it all. And it’s their job to make this team better, a responsibility both take very seriously, as well as to placate The Creator, who wants to win the Cup right now.
So what do they do? And who should they pursue?
The obvious is to pick the bones off the carcasses of the underwhelming — Buffalo, Anaheim, New Jersey and Nashville and look for rentals. The Knights have done one rental deal in their brief history — Nick Cousins last year from Arizona — and they opted not to resign him. The Cousins deal didn’t yield the desired results, but given the circumstances, they should not be afraid to travel down this road again.
I’m looking at obtaining guys who have a proven track record of success and for who a change of scene might revive their game. We’re talking the Sabres’ Taylor Hall, the Devils’ Kyle Palmieri, and Ryan Getzlaf or Rickard Rakell of the Ducks. Mikael Granlund of Nashville also fits this scenario as he is a pending UFA.
The problem is, other teams have a similar need for proven scoring and are in a better position to make a move. The Islanders come to mind as Anders Lee is out for the year with a knee injury and his $7 million is off the books. That’s enough cheddar for Lou Lamoriello to make a move for Palmieri (a Long Island native) or Hall if he chooses to.
Carolina, Boston, and Washington are also looking for additional offense, as are Toronto Winnipeg, and Calgary. And if you do a deal with a Canadian (North Division) team, you better move quickly because Canada has not relaxed its 14-day COVID-19 quarantine for those entering the country (It’s more relaxed going the other way into the U.S.).
Oh, and one other factor — expansion. Teams are going to try and move players in anticipation to get something back rather than lose a particular player to Seattle. The Knights are immune from the Expansion Draft. They will not lose a player to the Kraken. They are in a most advantageous position to deal with the other 30 teams.
The other option would be to make a trade for someone and involve multiple teams. That’s how Reaves made it to Vegas. But unlike that deal, where the cap wasn’t a factor, it is an issue this time around, assuming anyone on LTIR is back before the end of the regular season.
For the Knights to do a deal, it would likely require picks, prospects, and some NHL players. Palmieri ($4.6 million), Hall ($8 million), Granlund ($3.75 million) and, Getzlaf ($8.5 million) are UFAs while Rakell has term with one year remaining at $3.78 million, which is not exorbitant.
Draft-wise, the Knights have their first round pick and two in the second round (their’s and New Jersey’s from the Nikita Gusev deal). I doubt they would be reluctant to move any of those picks in a trade given they’ll be selecting toward the bottom in the first round, though the Devils’ second-rounder may have some value.
The ask on prospects might be more problematic. I’m guessing Peyton Krebs is part of a trade conversation from other teams and I would not move him. And I would think they’d want Whitecloud or Hague in return and I would not do that either if I’m Vegas. Most teams want young guys who are still either on their ELC (entry-level contract) or have their next deal which is reasonable. Remember, they have to manage their cap as well and the cap is expected to remain flat at $81.5 million for the next year barring an amazing economic bounce back by the NHL.
Cody Glass might be discussed but are the Knights ready to move on from him at this point? At 21 years old, he’s still young and developing. Is his NHL sample size large enough to make a hard-and-fast decision?
So GMKM is right when he told the RJ the cap is dictating what the team can and can’t do. But that has never stopped the Knights from being creative. And here’s where they may be able to do that from within.
Krebs is back in juniors, playing with the Winnipeg Ice, which are playing a 24-game schedule in the Western Hockey League bubble in Regina, Saskatchewan. The regular season ends April 27. Krebs is in Year Two of his ELC which carries an average annual value of $894,167. Once Winnipeg’s season is over, he can return to Vegas and either play with the Golden Knights or with the Silver Knights. Assuming he gets through his junior season healthy and productive, he might be that bottom-six guy for DeBoer to put in the lineup come the playoffs. Remember, there are no salary cap issues to deal with in the postseason.
I have no doubt Krebs will compete for a roster spot with the Golden Knights next fall. But maybe they’ll accelerate the timetable and get him into the lineup for the playoffs. At worst, he’ll be a Black Ace skating with the team every day to be on call if needed.
It may be the best option if indeed the Knights do not make a big move at the trade deadline. But I still expect them to do something. It’s not their nature to sit idly by and watch the rest of the NHL play “Let’s Make A Deal.”
**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.**