It’s February and the Vegas Golden Knights are one of the best teams in hockey. As hard as that is to believe, it’s time to face the music. This team is headed to the postseason.
As is customary for teams in pursuit of a playoff spot, the Golden Knights could very well be looking to bring in some additional talent at this year’s trade deadline (Feb. 26) in preparation for a deep run in the postseason. The Washington Capitals did this just prior to last year’s trade deadline, sending Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, a first-round draft pick and a conditional draft pick to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. While the Capitals only made it to the second round of the playoffs, Shattenkirk played a major role in the Capitals’ run before they were eventually eliminated.
The Golden Knights will obviously look to make it past the second round of the playoffs, but you get the idea.
So who could the Golden Knights target at the trade deadline (if anyone at all)? Here are a few names to keep an eye on:
Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
Green could be the most sought-after defenseman likely to be available at this year’s trade deadline. The 32-year-old blueliner has registered five goals and 26 points this season, which leads all Red Wings defensemen through 52 games. He is in the midst of his second career All-Star campaign and is still regarded as one of the NHL’s better offensive defensemen.
The right-shot blueliner is in the final year of his three-year, $18 million contract with the Red Wings and will hit the free agent market this summer, so the team he lands with won’t have to commit to him long-term. That said, Green’s contract includes a full no-trade clause, meaning he can choose whether or not he’ll ultimately be dealt to another team. Considering his age, though, he’ll likely be willing to waive his no-trade clause to join Stanley Cup contender (like the Golden Knights!).
While Brad Hunt has played well at times for the Golden Knights this season, he is far and away the weakest link on the Vegas blueline. Adding Green to the mix would not only allow Vegas to use Hunt as a seventh defenseman (a role he likely should be playing anyway), but would also give a massive boost to the team’s second power play unit.
Michael Grabner, New York Rangers
The Golden Knights’ top six is set in stone, but their bottom six could still use some work. Vegas has been going back and forth between Brendan Leipsic and Ryan Carpenter at left wing on the third line, but why not bring in an established sharpshooter to provide some secondary scoring down the home stretch?
Like Green, Grabner, 30, is in the final year of his contract and would likely be acquired purely as a rental. He is coming off a 27-goal campaign and is already sitting at 21 tallies through 52 games this season. The Golden Knights are one of the fastest teams in the league, so it’s not hard to see why a guy like Grabner would be a good fit in Vegas.
Seriously, the guy can fly.
Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks
Vanek always seems to be in the rumor mill at the trade deadline, and that’s not going to change this year.
While the 34-year-old is well beyond his prime, he still brings some decent value to the table that could intrigue a team like the Golden Knights. The Austrian winger has a silky pair of mitts and specializes at generating quality scoring chances on the man advantage. Through 53 games this season, Vanek has registered 15 goals and 22 assists (including 14 points on the man advantage) and trails only Brock Boeser for the team lead in points.
Vanek will become a free agent at the season’s end, which, again, wouldn’t tie him to Vegas long-term. While his stay in Vegas would likely be brief, he’s a seasoned veteran who’s no stranger to producing in the playoffs (20 goals, 34 points in 63 playoff appearances).
Ian Cole, Pittsburgh Penguins
A trade for Cole is far from likely, but it should be noted that the 28-year-old defenseman was linked to the Golden Knights in November.
Cole, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, has played a huge role for the Penguins in both of their most recent Stanley Cup runs. Cole’s current situation, though, is a bit bizarre. Despite being one of the Penguins’ better defensemen, he’s been a healthy scratch multiple times this season and has apparently butt heads with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan.
To find out more about Cole’s situation, I asked Pensburgh’s Kaitlyn Dividock about the Ann Arbor native and his chances of being moved at the deadline.
There’s a bit of beef with him and Sullivan — apparently they disagree a lot and tend to butt heads — which, in turn, causes Cole to be listed as a healthy scratch a bunch. Lately he’s been playing more and Matt Hunwick has been playing less, which is a complete flip-flop from about a month ago. Cole’s been pretty pissed all season about the lack of playing time (my guess is because, as a UFA this coming offseason, he wants to be proving his worth and/or showcasing his talent to other GMs so that he picks up a solid contract next year).
In the games he’s played, he’s always solid. I really like him as a player. He’s the type of guy you want when you’re making a run through the playoffs and for the Cup. He’s a true defensive-minded defenseman, is super smart with the puck and throws his body around in all three zones. He’s had some issues with zone exists, but so has the rest of the defensive corps, apart from like Olli Maatta.
While trading Cole makes sense on paper, Dividock did mention, however, that the Penguins’ shallow core of defensemen may prohibit them from making such a move. After all, the Penguins are still very much in the playoff hunt, so there’s no guarantee they’ll be looking to sell in the first place.