A few weeks ago, the possibility of the Vegas Golden Knights being aggressive buyers at the NHL trade deadline seemed remote.
Vegas went 4-6-2 in January, losing seven of eight (1-5-2) and four straight (0-2-2) leading up to the All-Star break.
The injury bug continued to tear through the lineup, and doubt began to settle in between the cracks when the team announced that captain Mark Stone had undergone back surgery and would be out indefinitely.
Fast-forward seven games out of the All-Star break and things have changed.
The Golden Knights sit atop the Western Conference standings with 75 points, have won six of seven and are in the midst of a seven-game point streak. They have outscored their opponents 30-14 and have reinstated the sound defensive structure and shot suppression system that worked wonders early on in the season, leading to a franchise-best 13-2-0 start.
The recent stretch has propelled Vegas back into “buyer” mode, though how aggressive Kelly McCrimmon will be remains to be seen.
The Golden Knights are no strangers to making bold moves.
As a franchise, no player has been off-limits, and Vegas has situated itself as a contender on most high-profile targets via trade and free agency. The list of splashy acquisitions includes Max Pacioretty, Stone, Alex Pietrangelo and Jack Eichel, among others.
As for deadline deals, Stone tops the list. Vegas brought in Tomas Tatar (despite overpaying) and also made smaller moves, including landing Alec Martinez, Nick Cousins, Mattias Janmark, Robin Lehner and others.
As far as current team needs, Vegas will be eyeing a middle-six winger and possibly some help in the crease, depending on the severity and long-term outlook of the injury to Logan Thompson, who has missed the last five games since suffering a lower-body injury Feb. 9 in Minnesota.
Adin Hill has missed the last two games after “taking a bump” Feb. 18 against Tampa Bay, leaving Laurent Brossoit as Vegas’ No. 1 netminder.
Brossoit has played well in two appearances, though he has yet to face a team in playoff position. Even so, he stopped 37 of 39 in a shootout loss to Chicago and was stellar in the first period of Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win against Calgary, stopping 17 of 18 shots. He is 1-0-1 but remains somewhat untested; that will change in the next few games as Vegas is set to take on the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes in the three games leading up to the deadline.
The Golden Knights made a minor transaction, sending the contract of Shea Weber and a fifth-round draft pick to Arizona in exchange for defenseman Dysin Mayo, who was assigned to the AHL. That was more of a paper move, as it affords Vegas more cap flexibility over the next three years, especially in the offseason due to LTIR restrictions.
VGK clearing up cap space for the next few years, Weber's contract has a $7.857M cap hit through 2025-26 although his actual salary is $1M per year starting next season. So a low cash transaction for Arizona.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 22, 2023
But Vegas can now look at acquiring not just now but beyond this season https://t.co/8UHZyDBwUW
At this point, however, Vegas’ overall intentions are unclear, but the market could help determine the best course of action.
If more top assets come off the board or if other teams overpay and raise the prices of other available players, that could force Vegas to balk at the big-name options and instead focus on improving the team’s depth.
After all, despite how well he has played in an elevated role, Michael Amadio is not a top-six winger. The club finally has gotten results from the third line, but ideally Vegas will have the option to shift William Carrier back down to the fourth line. He is having an exceptional season and has more than earned a job on the third line, but having that fourth line of Carrier, Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar makes Vegas a much stronger opponent for grueling playoff battles.
Many big names have already been moved, including Vancouver’s Bo Horvat (New York Islanders), St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko (New York Rangers) and Ryan O’Reilly (Toronto) and Washington’s Dmitry Orlov (Boston).
Timo Meier is the best player available, though Patrick Kane will attract quite a bit of attention. Vegas is rumored to be in on both.
Meier is 26 and will be a restricted free agent following this season. He has a pending $10 million qualifying offer, and reports indicate that Sharks general manager Mike Grier is not allowing teams to negotiate a contract extension with Meier, who will seek a hefty raise on his current $6 million cap hit. That forces teams to risk parting with significant assets without the assurance of retaining him long-term.
That seems to be a sticking point primarily with New Jersey, though it should be a concern for Vegas. The Golden Knights are not one piece away from winning a Stanley Cup, and while Meier is worth every penny, signing a player of that caliber would require another offseason jettison to follow in the footsteps of Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Golden Knights are well aware of Meier’s skill set and have seen it firsthand for years. Meier has 31 goals and 52 points in 57 games this year and is a perennial 30-goal scorer who is physical, consistent and very talented. He knows how to play with elite players, doesn’t take games off and can play on the top line of any contending team.
However, the price to acquire him will be sky-high, and the Golden Knights will need a particularly rich offer considering they’re division rivals. Any deal for Meier likely will involve multiple high-value assets, such as a combination of first-round picks, top prospects and roster players, and Vegas may have to pay a higher price as it is.
It seems improbable that Vegas will be able to make it happen, but the Golden Knights can never be truly eliminated from the conversation. Meier would be an epic acquisition.
Kane, 34, is in the final year of an expiring contract with a $10.5 million AAV and is a pure rental, making his price tag more feasible. Chicago wouldn’t need to retain 50 percent of his $10.5 million cap hit given Stone’s $9.5 million of cap space on LTIR, though some cap maneuvering may be necessary depending on the structure of the deal and other pieces involved.
Other interested parties without that cap flexibility, such as the New York Rangers (who are considered frontrunners), would need to part with more — and find a third-party team to take an additional 25 percent of the cap hit — to make it work.
Kane is having a down season with 16 goals and 45 points in 54 games but showed the other night just what he is capable of. He is one of the most clutch playoff performers, knows how to win and is a true game-changer that would be a lethal asset to pair with Jack Eichel. He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion for a reason, and he would drastically help Vegas’ ailing power play.
That being said, Kane would have to agree to be moved to Vegas. He has a full no-movement clause that allows him to dictate his destination. He may consider Vegas, but there’s no way to know if and when that may happen.
Considering these factors, it also seems unlikely that Vegas will land the prized winger, though he’s a more realistic — or at least attainable — target than Meier.
Brock Boeser is another name rumored to be available. The Canucks winger is signed through 2024-25 at a $6.65 million AAV but is not nearly as reliable as the other two wingers and therefore poses more risk. Like with Meier, Vancouver may want added incentive to trade Boeser within the division, though the Golden Knights haven’t been specifically linked to Boeser. There are more inexpensive options that would make more sense both in the short- and long-term.
For example, other forwards Vegas could be interested in include St. Louis’ Ivan Barbashev, Chicago’s Max Domi, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and Arizona’s Nick Bjugstad. Noted Golden Knights killer Max Comtois is available, but Vegas likely has its eyes set on a more fruitful addition.
Barbashev is having a disappointing year with 10 goals and 29 points after a career 60-point season in 2021-22, but he plays all three forward positions, is strong on the cycle and can fill the net-front role on the power play. He’s also affordable at $2.25 million AAV on an expiring deal.
Domi signed a one-year prove-it deal with Chicago this summer and has played well with Kane on the top line, scoring 17 goals and 46 points in 57 games. However, he was underwhelming for Carolina in last year’s playoffs with six points in 14 games.
The other forwards have less offensive punch, though van Riemsdyk has been one of the best net-front power-play performers throughout his career. He’s streaky and currently in a slump but has plenty of skill and is hungry for a deep playoff run at this point in his career; plus, he would fetch a lower price, especially if Philadelphia didn’t have to retain part of his $7 million cap hit. Bjugstad is massive at 6-foot-6 and has 13 goals and 23 points in 58 games, though the Golden Knights are more in need of a natural winger.
Many of the other top trade candidates are defensemen, such as Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun and Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm. But the Golden Knights have a healthy blue line, which has been a major factor in the team’s recent success, thus negating the need to seek help on the back end.
The other question mark for Vegas lies in net.
Should Vegas explore options, a few Vegas could consider are Arizona’s Karel Vejmelka, Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo and San Jose’s James Reimer. Vejmelka is having an impressive season despite playing behind a poor defensive team, but his $2.725 million AAV through 2024-25 would complicate Vegas’ cap situation moving forward.
None of Vegas’ current goaltenders are playoff-tested, but Lehner’s likely return next season limits Vegas’ choices.
At the end of the day, it is not in Vegas’ nature to do nothing. Vegas has cap space and roster needs, and the Golden Knights have been on a “win-now” path that has already seen them part with plenty of future assets in pursuit of the elusive Stanley Cup.
The Golden Knights have a first-round pick, two thirds, a sixth and a seventh in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, and prospects like Brendan Brisson or Kaedan Korczak could be in play. But Vegas may lack the trade capital required to outbid other clubs for the big stars.
No matter what, the Golden Knights can’t replace what they’re missing with Stone sidelined. He means too much to this team on and off the ice, and even though his production has faded down the stretch in recent seasons, the Golden Knights are a drastically better team when he is in the lineup.
But McCrimmon and Co. have no choice but to look forward.
Barbashev may make the most sense, though St. Louis will field offers from multiple teams as the Blues continue to re-tool their roster.
But will Vegas swing for the fences?
If there’s one thing the Golden Knights have demonstrated over the last six seasons, it’s never say never.
What would you like to see Vegas do at the deadline?
This poll is closed
Go big or go home
Add forward depth
Get a goalie
Avoid further cap nightmares