Since the start of the regular season, the Golden Knights have been playing a numbers game with the salary cap. They’ve shuttled players like Nic Roy, Nic Hague, Cody Glass, Jimmy Schuldt, and Jake Bischoff between the NHL and AHL in an attempt to accrue usable cap space come trade deadline day. Thus far, they’ve sent Roy down four times, Hague three, and Glass, Schuldt, and Bischoff each once. In doing so, they’ve lessened the cap hits of all five waiver exempt rookies.
They are doing this for one reason, and one reason only, so they are in a position to make a trade and acquire a player that will help them win the Stanley Cup. Whether that trade happens today, or next week, or seconds before noon on February 24th, that’s why they are playing this game.
Which should obviously spark everyone reading this to ask the exact same question.
“Who are they looking to trade for?”
No one besides a select few inside the walls of City National Arena actually know, but over the course of the next four months there will be context clues along the way.
The first of those comes to us compliments of Sportsnet.ca’s superstar reporter Elliotte Friedman.
Nate Schmidt is back after a 13-game absence, and the Golden Knights badly missed him. Does Vegas feel the need to add mobility on the blue line? Opponents do think it is one of their few weaknesses. –Friedman in 31 thoughts on 11/5/19
He left it there in the written article but went on to elaborate a bit on his weekly podcast with Jeff Marek, also named 31 Thoughts.
The Golden Knights were in a peculiar spot at the trade deadline this season. They were the reigning Western Conference Champions who believe they upgraded the team in the offseason, they were also firmly entrenched in a playoff position and had as good a shot as anybody in the West to make another run. However, they were mired in the worst slump in franchise history, the magic of the inaugural season appeared to have worn off, they still viewed themselves as a new franchise without a bevy of prospects in the system, and they struck out mightily at the deadline a year ago.
That led to speculation ranging all the way from trying to make the blockbuster, to sitting still and doing nothing, to even selling and focusing on the future like they were supposed to be doing last year. The fact of the matter was, all options were truly on the table for George McPhee, and he had to choose the right one.
In the end, we know how the story goes, they made the biggest splash at the deadline not only acquiring Mark Stone but signing him to a mega-extension keeping him here through 2027.
However, behind the scenes, it looked a bit different.
McPhee says he didn’t think the Golden Knights were going to do anything. Then things changed on deadline day, he saw we he thought was a bargain and he went for it.
We had talked to (Ottawa) five days before that and it seemed like it was a lot and we just weren’t going to participate in it, and then a couple of teams dropped out and we got a call and we were back in and we pursued it. -McPhee on Two Man Advantage Podcast
Obviously, McPhee and his staff had ideas of what they would like to do, but as few as 12 hours before the deadline, he wasn’t sure any of it was actually going to come to fruition.
We were trying to find a player that might make sense but when we listed the players Mark Stone was Plan A, if it made sense in terms of price and contract, and we thought if we don’t get Plan A we probably don’t do anything because this is when mistakes are made, at the trade deadline and on July 1st. This was Plan A and it actually worked out. -McPhee on Two Man Advantage Podcast
As the deadline approached though, Plan A ended up not being the only bargain that may have cropped up.
The company line out of Vegas is that George McPhee is not interested in taking on players without term left on their contract.
We have cap space to do things, but the inclination is to not take on rentals. –McPhee to LVRJ
However, one has to ask if maybe McPhee is missing out on a trade market by not maximizing the draw of his home market.
The Golden Knights have only been around for two years, and just one offseason, but every unrestricted free agent in that offseason went on record saying they wanted to come back. Multiple free agents from other markets made it clear they wanted to play in Vegas, and Max Pacioretty couldn’t stop gushing about the city when the trade was completed to bring him here.
McPhee’s unwillingness to bring in a rental makes sense for the long term future of the team. Giving up an asset for a guy to be with the team for two or three months isn’t a wise move for a budding franchise. However, a rental could easily turn into a long-term (or even shorter term) deal for the Golden Knights just by getting the player in the door.
Rentals are cheap compared to players with term. Might it be wise for McPhee to pay the bargain price for a player like a Marcus Johansson, Kevin Hayes, or Micheal Ferland and then bank on the city of Vegas to seal the deal of locking them into an extension?
There’s no doubt it’s risky and bold, but isn’t that what this team was built on in the Expansion Draft, and even more so, isn’t that the entire point of Las Vegas?
Plus, buying the rental helps to avoid the Tomas Tatar situation. If the player Vegas acquires doesn’t work, you let him walk and aren’t on the hook for years of salary.
Again, I understand where McPhee’s coming from, but it’s certainly something to think about as the deadline approaches and the prices come down.
Say McPhee is indeed out on rentals. So, no Panarin, Stone, Johansson, Ferland, Simmonds, Nyquist or any other UFA. Let’s take a look at some of the other options that could be on the table.
Alexander Wennberg (Columbus Blue Jackets, C, 24 y/o, $4.9M thru 22-23)
One of William Karlsson’s best friends in the hockey world, the 24-year-old is a Gallant type player. He’s defensively sound with the ability to create scoring chances for teammates. At the Expansion Draft, the Blue Jackets went above and beyond to protect Wennberg, but having a down season and needing to free up some money to try and re-sign Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (and maybe Panarin and Bobrovsky) they could use some cap freedom. Wennberg has been held out of each of the last two games so the price may be at its lowest ever. Vegas turned around one Blue Jacket center, maybe they can do it again.
Andre Burakovsky (Washington Capitals, LW/RW, 23 y/o, $3M, RFA w/ arb this offseason)
Any time a Capital comes available you have to think McPhee is interested. Burakovsky was a 1st round pick by McPhee in the 2013 Draft and simply hasn’t found a home in the Washington lineup. He’s having the worst season of his career, but there’s no questioning the talent and skill level he possesses. He helps fill Vegas’ age gap and the cost shouldn’t be too prohibitive. Washington is without its 2020 2nd round pick, Vegas has a trio of them. Might they be able to start there?
Vladislav Namestnikov (New York Rangers, C, 26 y/o, $4M thru 19-20)
The Rangers are clearly in a fire sale, everything must go. They acquired Namestnikov at the deadline last year in the Ryan McDonough deal but he hasn’t fit in well in New York. With the Rangers rebuild still probably a few years away, Namestnikov could be an unrestricted free agent before they are ready to win. The Golden Knights have another Russian player they are trying to lure over from the KHL, Nikita Gusev, and having a third Russian might help the transition. The Rangers want picks and prospects, and it shouldn’t take a 1st to get this done.
Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers, LW, 25 y/o, $5.9M thru 22-23)
A former top-liner for Gerard Gallant, McPhee may be willing to take on the added salary if he’s able to get Huberdeau for a bargain price. Florida only has its own picks in 2020, so Vegas’ extra 2nds could come in handy to pull this one off. If Florida is interested in Colin Miller, this one could really have legs.
**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**
From Feb. 1 through Saturday night, there had been 20 trades consummated in the NHL.
The Golden Knights were not a participant in a single one of them.
The trade deadline is 24 hours away. And it begs the question: What will George McPhee do?
Will he make a major move? Will he make a couple of small deals? Will he stand pat?
You can make an argument for any of the above and have a valid point. My gut is telling me he is listening about participating in a big deal, one that perhaps could have multiple teams involved. Whether he takes action, only he knows. He doesn’t share his thoughts with me, though sometimes it would be nice to have a general philosophical conversation with GMGM about hockey and take his temperature on various topics surrounding the game in general and his team in particular.
But that’s not his style. So that leaves me to guess what I think he’s going to do, which is a dangerous, and most likely, inaccurate game.
As of this morning, Stone was still with the Senators while Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel are no longer in Ottawa, both having been dealt to Columbus in separate trades. I have no doubt Sens GM Pierre Dorion is going to demand a ton for his best remaining player and the price may simply be too steep at this point for the Knights.
But if you’ve watched this team perform the past three weeks, it’s not just scoring that they need or a boost to its anemic power play.
The defense has struggled, particularly Colin Miler and Brayden McNabb. McPhee watches the same game we all do and while he may view things through a slightly different prism, he no doubt sees some sketchy play from his blue line corps and perhaps his attention may be shifting from looking to trade for some scoring to shoring up his defense.
He has been quoted recently that he likes this team the way it is currently constructed and that when they are playing the right way, the Knights are a very good hockey team. But the reality is Vegas has not been on the right side of things lately. They were on Feb. 16 when they dominated Nashville, 5-1. They played O.K. in losing to Boston in a shootout last Wednesday, 3-2.
The Golden Knights top six has returned to normalcy for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, with Gerard Gallant’s decision to put Reilly Smith back on the line with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.
There’s no debating it, a top six of Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Alex Tuch, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny is as good as the Golden Knights can do. And, if you compare it against other top sixes in the NHL, it’s right there with the best of them.
The return of William Carrier appears to have re-stabilized the fourth line as well. Again, one of the best in the NHL.
But, this lineup leaves a void. It leaves a line with Cody Eakin as the center and a revolving door of Tomas Nosek, Valentin Zykov, Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, and Brandon Pirri on his wings. Let’s just be frank for a second, there’s not a combination of three guys that make a legitimately dangerous line.
So with the trade deadline a mere 14 days away, it begs the question, how much should George McPhee be willing to give up to fix it?
However, I’m here to pose a different question. Can it actually be fixed without breaking up the top six?
Just play along with me for a second here. Let’s say the Golden Knights acquire the best player available, Artemi Panarin. You liking a line of Eakin, Panarin, and Zykov? Does Eakin, Panarin, and Carpenter float your boat? What about Eakin, Panarin, and Pirri, that giving you the tickle?
Vegas didn’t have a 1st round pick last year, they don’t intend on that being the case this year.
Historically, George McPhee is active around the trade deadline. Whether his team is good and he’s buying reinforcements (like he did last year in Vegas) or if he’s bad and selling for the future, McPhee normally takes advantage of the closing of the marketplace at the end of February.
In his 17 years in Washington, McPhee made a move at the deadline (within three days) in 15 of the 17 years. Last year, McPhee pulled off three deadline trades, adding Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reaves and moving on from Brendan Leipsic making it 16 of 18 seasons at the helm he’s swung a deadline deal.
We’re going to be very careful about the draft picks, giving up draft picks, this year. You know we gave up a #1 last year and George is really committed to keeping that #1 this year. It’s a pretty good draft class. -The Creator
The Golden Knights currently have nine picks in the 2019 Entry Draft including two extra 3rds and two extra 5ths.
Courtesy of CapFriendly.com
Aside from the few extra picks, the Golden Knights are not exactly stocked with tradeable assets. The only true position of strength is at defenseman with Erik Brannstrom, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, and Jake Bischoff all projected to be NHLers. But, it doesn’t sound like The Creator has much interest in losing any of them either.
We have four really good d-men with the Wolves right now and they’re getting ready. They really are. You might see them up and down a little bit later on in the year. Definitely next year I’m sure we’ll be doing something. -The Creator
So, while history suggests McPhee will be interested in making something happen at the deadline, a bare cupboard may force him to sit on his hands.
If I had to guess, I’d still expect something minor, but everyone with their eyes on the blockbuster, it may have to wait a year.
Remember, Shippy’s agent had some things to say too… (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Like restless fans, ESPN Insider Rob Vollman is getting prepared for the trade deadline. He ranked NHL general managers most likely to make a late-season deal. To no surprise, Golden Knights GM George McPhee made Vollman’s list.
The numbers show McPhee is rather active when it comes to trades, averaging 2.8 per season and 1.6 per year actually on deadline day.
Vegas is in the unexpected position of being buyers at the trade deadline, but don’t expect any big moves at the deadline because McPhee was not known for blockbuster trades in his time as Washington’s GM. Other than accidentally giving up a future star in Forsberg, McPhee never surrendered more than a second-round pick or a secondary prospect to get what he wanted (since 2005).- Rob Vollman, ESPN.com Insider
Vollman notes McPhee isn’t known for blockbusters around the trade deadline, but this is uncharted waters for an expansion team. Somehow McPhee will try to balance this season’s success and the future of the franchise. No doubt the Vegas brass will be making some difficult decisions before February 26th.
Adding fuel to the fire were comments by James Neal’s agent to Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Patrick Morris (1), agent 2 @jneal_18 : “I don’t negotiate in public, but if the Feb. 26 trade deadline comes and goes, I will be shocked if James is on another team. No other team has called me and said they are close to acquiring James. I think it’s full steam ahead for Vegas.
More Morris (2) on @jneal_18 : "If we could agree to terms for him to (remain with the Knights) we would welcome that. He loves it there. James went into the (Vegas situation) with his eyes wide open. He has more than done his part."
Morris, agent @jneal_18 (3): “George McPhee is an intelligent man. I don’t know Bill Foley, but he obviously has a passion to win. His timetable of winning in 3-5 years has obviously changed now. This is not an irresponsible organization. You have to go for it when you …
Final Morris: @jneal_18 "have the chance. And James Neal and his play and leadership has been a huge part of what has happened there. Everybody is a big boy in this. James is a core player in all of this. He is among elite company as an NHL scorer.” #RJnow
David, will you be our own rental? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
It’s the million dollar question for the Golden Knights who remain atop the Pacific Division and the Western Conference halfway through the season. The plan coming in was likely to sell, and sell hard, at the February 26th trade deadline. Then 41 games were played, the Golden Knights lost just 12 of them, and now the landscape looks a bit different.
Due to Vegas’ complex situation, the answer to the “buy, sell, or hold?” question can’t really be just one of those three words. Instead, it will be something like “sell to buy” in which Vegas ships away a UFA or two and bring in a replacement NHL caliber player immediately. Or there’s this scenario which was brought up by Gary Lawless while joining the SinBin.vegas Podcast, something that can be defined as “hold to buy.”
Teams that are in the position of George McPhee’s team acquire rentals. They go out and they say ‘we’re gonna win, so we’re going to take our 1st or 2nd round draft pick and we’re going to trade it for that terrible team’s best scorer who is going to be an unrestricted free agent in July. We’re going to buy him for 12 weeks and we’re going to hope that we win a Stanley Cup.’ If it comes to pass that Vegas is a playoff team and they don’t sign one of their pending free agents, and they use that player to win one or two playoff series, that’s their own rental. -Gary Lawless, VGK Insider
They were free to make moves, George McPhee could attend the GM meetings in Boca, and the Golden Knights were to be treated like any of the Original 30 teams. Big deal, right? Not so much apparently.
There’s so much interest and attention and coverage of our team, so when we became official on March 1st there was an expectation that it significantly changed things for us when in reality our day to day didn’t change at all. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant General Manager
He wouldn’t talk about deals that were made and didn’t seem to believe the Reid Duke signing was affected by the timing of the final payment either.
In terms of our discussions with other teams those had been ongoing, I think what we are finding is that as we get later in the calendar year, teams are going to be more and more interested in having discussions with us. -McCrimmon
There’s really no reason to doubt McCrimmon and McPhee on their description of the final payment, but there’s still a part of me that wonders why The Creator specifically said it would not get done in time for the deadline, then magically made it happen just minutes before the league closed trading for the year.
If there was truly no significance, why would the league have taken time out of arguably the busiest day on the calendar to deal with paperwork with a team not playing a game until October?
There has to be a reason it happened, unfortunately, I doubt we’ll ever know.
Last week on with our friends at The Vegas Hockey Hotline, George McPhee discussed his thoughts on the trade deadline. At the time the payment wasn’t official so McPhee couldn’t get into specifics but Brian asked him a question about motivation to make a trade. McPhee seemed to be a strong advocate of making deadline moves even if the general manager didn’t necessarily think a deal was needed.
Sometimes you may not feel like you need anything else for your club but your players are expecting something to happen. So psychologically, you’re trying to help them. So you might add something just so they feel like you have even more ammunition. George McPhee, Vegas Hockey Hotline
It makes complete sense with the length, body stress, and travel of a 82 game season, players seemingly assume extra help to push them towards the finish line. Other teams need to break up the trending slide of a disappointing season. Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher joined TSN Montreal this week to explain the emotions players go through during the deadline period. Gally told TSN the trade deadline can be fun to pay attention to.
Probably follow it, just kinda see what goes on around the league and our team. It’s kinda exciting to watch from a different perspective. It’s definitely something that’s on our minds. -Brendan Gallagher, TSN 690
The pesty Canadian sounded like a fan sitting around on the couch all day watching NHL Network. He was excited his team made deals to bring Steve Ott and Brendan Davidson to Montreal.
The good side of that is we don’t lose a roster player we’re just adding guys to our group. You know, that’s always exciting when you get ready for a playoff push. – Brendan Gallagher, TSN 690
Clearly, McPhee and Gallagher are on the same page. The GM is aware players are expecting something to get done. It sounds like a good way to motivate a team late in the season. Which is why we should expect deadline deals annually in Las Vegas. In Washington, McPhee engineered 15 deadline trades, and two midseason deals. That’s 17 straight years McPhee added players to his roster during the season via trade. I can only assume he’ll use that same strategy with the Golden Knights roster. We can expect McPhee to make deals regardless of Vegas’ standings in the Western Conference playoff race. Next year especially, when they likely aren’t headed to the Cup Finals, building for the future will include assets McPhee accrues making trades with contenders.
So, don’t get too attached to the players on the opening night roster. McPhee will find value in each player he acquires to build the Golden Knights roster long term. That means, any of them could be trade bait next season. Maybe, tell your kid to wait a year or two before putting a players name on the back of that new VGK jersey. Or better yet, let’s just fill the stadium with #17 Foley jerseys. (Sorry Ken, The Creator is just too long to put on a sweater)