Marc-Andre Fleury for Mikael Hakkarainen. The reigning Vezina winner for a player that isn’t even going to play for VGK’s AHL team. The face of the franchise for literally nothing.
That’s how the deal will be reported, and it’s completely accurate. However, many will frame it in a different way, one that is also accurate.
The Golden Knights acquired $7 million in cap space. They are now able to re-sign Alec Martinez, consider bringing back Mattias Janmark and Tomas Nosek, and maybe even add a bigger piece like Phillip Danault or dare I say… Jack Eichel.
It’s absolutely true that heading into this offseason Vegas was in dire need of opening up some cap space. It was also clear that the simplest way to do it was to move one of the goalies, a luxury that proved not to be so luxurious come playoff time when one or the other was parked on the bench each night. They’ve done it. Moved out a goalie and in turn, opened up heaps of space to make the next move to help improve the team.
But, aren’t they just fixing a mess they created in the first place.
If your son swung a baseball bat in the house and shattered the chandelier you wouldn’t applaud him for cleaning up the broken glass on the floor. (No, this oddly specific example is not in any way related to my childhood, nor am I reminded of it every time I sit at the dining room table at my parents’ place.)
The Golden Knights put themselves into this situation. They created an environment that made the best goalie in the NHL worth absolutely nothing, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done it. They gave away Nate Schmidt for pennies on the dollar, literally a 3rd round pick. Paul Stastny went for a 4th. This means the combination of VGK’s #1 goalie, #1 defenseman, and #1 center in the 2019 season were all sent packing for a return of a 3rd and a 4th round pick.
Yes, the Golden Knights have replaced these players with other, maybe even better, players. But it’s the cost to get there that is the concern. The combination of Robin Lehner, Alex Pietrangelo, and Alec Martinez to replace these three was $17.8 (soon to be $18.8) million, three 2nd round picks, a 4th round prospect, and Malcolm Subban.
So, Vegas subtracted less than $1 million dollars, replaced three players with similar to slightly better players, and paid three 2nd round picks to do it.
In professional sports everything is currency. From draft picks to depth players to superstars to cap space, harvesting the most out of every asset is crucial to ultimately become the best team in the league. The Golden Knights haven’t been doing that in the past few offseasons. They’ve selling below the market floor and then replacing the pieces by buying at standard market rate.
It’s a downward spiral that inevitably leads to robbing Peter to pay Paul. The moves keep stacking up and while the team looks different, the overall result remains the same, because they’re only minorly improved, yet they paid a massive price to do it.
The Golden Knights have consistently backed themselves into a salary cap corner and the only way to get out is to sell valuable pieces at bargain-bin prices. The same way the Golden Knights robbed the Senators of Mark Stone, they’re now being pillaged and plundered by the rest of the league because they are enamored with always being in on the next big fish.
Yes, of course, the Golden Knights opened up valuable cap space by trading off Marc-Andre Fleury, but they were only in that position because they had already paid draft assets, an NHL player, and cap space to buy his replacement. So, when they went to trade the future Hall of Famer, the return wasn’t there because of the leverage VGK failed to hold.
Over the next few days, the Golden Knights will spend that cap space and use even more assets to rebuild their team for yet another run at the Stanley Cup. And while they certainly have as good a chance as anyone to get it this year, those chances will keep dwindling and dwindling as long as they continue playing the offseason games we’ve grown accustomed to these last few years.