Every offseason it’s inevitable that there will be roster turnover and fans will be disappointed when the news breaks. It’s happened in each of the Golden Knights’ previous summers. After the inaugural season fan-favorite, David Perron, and several others were left out in free agency. The following year it was Erik Haula who departed after a season-long injury. Then after last year’s postseason exit, Vegas moved lovable defenseman Nate Schmidt in order to make room for Alex Pietrangelo. It might suck for fans but it’s just real the business side of hockey.
We’ve seen this reaction from the Golden Knights front office before, when they don’t win they get itchy. Rumors swirl and of course Vegas is always in the middle. Just last season, reports were the front office was attempting to unload Marc-Andre Fleury and/or Pacioretty’s contracts. Currently, the Golden Knights are apparently one of the teams haggling for Buffalo Sabres’ malcontent Jack Eichel.
What fan wouldn’t want to root for Eichel? Vegas fans would sure like to, but like last offseason, they won’t be thrilled when a popular player or two will no longer be Golden Knights. In order to upgrade there has to be casualties. The trade bait we’re talking about today is one of the few remaining original Misfits, Reilly Smith.
Difficulty Trading A Goaltender
The ultimate reason we’ve mentioned Smith as a viable trade option is the dilemma in net. Assuming the Golden Knights front office cannot or is unwilling to move either Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner, that leaves Vegas with limited options. Meanwhile, that doesn’t change the fact that the roster is in need of upgrading. In order to do that the organization must shed money against the cap, and there’s a whole lot dedicated to the goaltending position. If the front office can’t subtract Fleury’s or Lehner’s contract the next place to find money is a positional player. One with a relatively high cap hit, low term, and is attractive to other general managers. That is Smith in a nutshell.
Smith is entering the last year of his 5 year/$25M contract he signed in 2016 with the Florida Panthers. The Golden Knights inherited that deal in the 2017 Expansion Draft and it’s paid off in full. Since his arrival, Smith has scored 82 goals and 110 assists for Vegas. The 29-year-old has averaged 20.5 goals per season and plays 18:00 minutes per game as a Golden Knight, playing in all situations. It’s safe to say he’s been a crucial member of the franchise’s early success.
The Golden Knights are mostly looking for cap relief so a straight hockey trade is unlikely. If a team is willing to send Vegas a draft pick, prospect, or a low-cost player in return for Smith, it would be a win-win for both teams. In that scenario, the Golden Knights would have more financial flexibility and receive a valuable asset they could keep or flip as well. The forward would be tough to replace but the 31st franchise would be okay considering they’re deeper at wing than any other position. Vegas could then use that open slot and fill it in with organizational depth, specifically at center. Also, that extra cap space allows for several options now, before the season, or at the trade deadline.
Ways To Avoid Trading Smith
There are several ways the Golden Knights could retain their alternate captain but it would mean another quality player will be sent packing. First, the brain trust could identify another player, likely a forward to move instead of Smith. Jonathan Marchessault’s $5M cap hit could also be an option to move, however his return may be less. Secondly, Vegas could shift gears and chisel away at their inflated salary cap instead of selling of one big piece like Smith. The front office could look at shipping a combination of small cap hits like Ryan Reaves, William Carrier, and Nick Holden. It wouldn’t create much room but it would allow Vegas to hold on to their Misfits.
Or, lastly, and it’s been mentioned… just trade a goaltender already!