Today’s Guest Post comes from Kevin Iole. Kevin is a columnist for Yahoo Sports. He was a sportswriter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1990 until 2007. He covered the Las Vegas Thunder for the entirety of the team’s run in Las Vegas, and did a little bit of work covering the Las Vegas Wranglers. A lifelong hockey fan whose favorite players were Eddie Shack, Battleship Kelly, Steve Durbano, and Gary Rissling before Mario Lemieux came along, Iole was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was a diehard Penguins fan and a season ticket holder for about 10 seasons. He is a Vegas Golden Knights and Henderson Silver Knights season ticket holder along with his wife, Betsy. He became a Golden Knights fan early in the inaugural season and counts the Knights as his No. 1 team witih the Penguins No. 2. His ideal outcome would be the Knights winning the Cup 4-3 over the Penguins every year. Other than hockey, Iole loves Basset Hounds and owns about 40 VGK jerseys, many of which need new nameplates.
For a franchise whose motto ought to be, “Stanley Cup or bust,” the Golden Knights only got marginally better this offseason.
Sure, the defense is better after essentially swapping Nate Schmidt for Alex Pietrangelo, as well as continued growth from Zach Whitecloud. This, though, is a team that lost in five games in the Western Conference finals and the only change in its forward lineup will be that its No. 2 center will be replaced by an injury prone and unproven 21-year-old.
But the forwards are worse and the goalies are the same, so will the difference from Schmidt to Pietrangelo mean that the Stanley Cup will be toted down Las Vegas Blvd in 2021?
Oh, I like the Knights’ chances of having a parade better than the Sabres or the Senators, and probably even better than the Penguins, Devils and Coyotes.
So much could go so wrong for this team.
It starts with William Karlsson, the only true elite (or close to elite) center on the roster. If he gets hurt and is out for any length of time, it’s a disaster of epic proportions.
The Golden Knights’ depth at center is nonexistent, and it could withstand a Pietrangelo absence far more than it could a prolonged Karlsson absence.
Peyton Krebs is a promising prospect, but relying on a 19-year-old in one of the most important spots on the team — and a 19-year-old who is less than two years removed from tearing his Achilles tendon, remember — is not the stuff of which Stanley Cup champions are made.
If Chandler Stephenson regresses and plays next season like he did in the first half of the season with Washington rather than the way he did after he was traded to the Golden Knights, it will seriously imperil their Cup chances.
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
This team is close, though, and it has the ability to make a move that could, in fact, make it the Cup favorite. It won’t be popular, of course, but Kelly McCrimmon already told us that the popular moves aren’t always the wisest moves. But the path the Knights should take, and I’d argue must take, is clear:
They must trade franchise icon Marc-Andre Fleury. Now, truth be told, they’d have been better off if they’d included the extra draft pick that teams were demanding to take on Fleury’s $7 million contract and kept Schmidt than they were in trading Schmidt and keeping a super-rich backup goalie.
I’d think a team with Robin Lehner in goal and either Oscar Dansk or Veteran X as the backup with Pietrangelo, Schmidt, Whitecloud, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb and Nick Holden would be far better than what they have now.
Trading Fleury, even if it means including a first-round pick, is the way to fix this. Yeah, the idea of having an outstanding goalie like Fleury to play on the second half of back-to-backs in what figures to be a condensed season is nice.
But let’s be honest: This is a team with Cup aspirations and the regular season doesn’t really matter. When it gets into the playoffs is when things will mean something.
And when that happens, Marc-Andre Fleury will be on the bench. So why not make it Dansk on the bench and have kept Schmidt?
But what’s done is done, so they have to look in a different direction. And if they can move Fleury and acquire a No. 2 center in one fell swoop, that would be a dream scenario.
That probably won’t happen either, though as I looked at the roster of the goalie-starved teams who could use Fleury, I salivated at Carolina’s roster: What about dealing Fleury and Glass to Carolina for Jordan Staal?
Staal would be the perfect fit for whatever line Karlsson didn’t center, and he’d be dynamic in the playoffs. He has a $6 million cap hit for three more seasons, but he’s Carolina’s captain and has a no-movement clause. So that’s a pipedream.
But maybe there is a way they could work something out with Carolina, to get it to take Fleury and the $500,000 they retained of Tomas Tatar’s salary, for something centered around Vincent Trocheck.
Fleury is an iconic player in the NHL and he’s the face of the franchise here. But he’s also a backup who costs a lot of money that he’s not worth if he’s not playing. And the organization’s dream of winning the Stanley Cup is considerably lessened with him on the roster.
As much as it is going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt way more than it hurt to see all-time great good guy Nate Schmidt go, the best move to make is to deal him.
Thank you so much to Kevin for sharing his opinion with us. If you have any interest in combat sports and are not following @KevinI on Twitter, you are doing it all wrong. Click here to check out all of Kevin’s work.