Just a couple days prior to the Feb. 25 trade deadline, the Vegas Golden Knights suffered a demoralizing 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on home ice. That loss wound up being Vegas’ 10th in its previous 13 games, and seven of those losses came in front of their own fans in T-Mobile Arena.
Something needed to change for the Knights, and general manager George McPhee knew it.
In true GMGM fashion, he stayed aggressive at the trade deadline and surprised Golden Knights fans with a blockbuster deal, acquiring forward Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round draft selection.
Stone, 26, is regarded as one of the better 200-foot players in hockey. And despite playing for easily the worst team in the NHL, the former Brandon Wheat King (and former pupil of assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon) still managed to register 62 points (28 goals) in 59 games with the Senators.
Just over 24 hours after being traded to Vegas, Stone was playing in his first game as a Golden Knight. And, of course, it took Knights fans no time at all to make the Winnipeg native feel welcome.
Crowd goes nuts for Mark Stone. pic.twitter.com/9UsiDQ6O6O— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) February 27, 2019
Fast forward a couple weeks and Stone has already made a noticeable impact in Sin City. The Knights are undefeated since his arrival, winning each of their last five contests. And while Stone hasn’t made the biggest impact on the scoresheet (just a pair of assists in his five games as a Golden Knight), he’s still managing to improve the play of his new teammates.
“I just think he brings a lot to our group,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt after Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks. “You see his passion on the ice, his ability to make plays in situations and have confidence. I think that’s something that we’ve missed, having confidence to make plays. He comes in and he’s got that ability to do it and the confidence to do it, and I think he elevates the level of our players. So far so good for him. He’s a big part of our team already, even just a week and a half or so in.”
The Golden Knights currently sit in third place in the Pacific Division, trailing the first-place Calgary Flames by 10 points. They still have a ways to go if they plan on defending their title as division champs. But while the Knights may not end up taking the Pacific again, they do have on thing on their side — good timing.
Prior to adding Mark Stone, the Knights looked almost dead in the water. But since McPhee worked his magic at the trade deadline, Vegas has been playing with much more energy and urgency. And after Vegas’ 2-1 victory over the Flames Wednesday night, head coach Gerard Gallant singled out Stone’s arrival as one of the major keys to his team’s swift turnaround.
“The trade deadline was huge for us,” said Gallant. “We get a guy like Stone, I mean, you look at your players, you look at your team, when you can add a guy like that to your lineup, I think it just brought all the players up.”
Stone needed a change of scenery. With the Senators in the midst of the darkest period in franchise history, there was no worse situation for blooming player to be in.
Believe it or not, though, as much as Stone needed to get out of Ottawa, Vegas may have needed him even more.
“The guys knew we had a good team, but now they know we’ve got a real good team,” said Gallant. “We can play with anybody. We know that.”