The NHL trade block is heating up again as teams seek to free themselves of cap constraints. One of the those active teams have been the Vegas Golden Knights. Three players are the focus of trade speculation in the desert, namely Max Pacioretty, Alec Martinez and Jonathan Marchessault.
But other names have been tossed out including Marc-Andre Fleury and reports from Jesse Granger at the Athletic have it that the only untouchables are Shea Theodore, Mark Stone and the recently-signed Alex Pietrangelo.
Here are the pros and cons from trading the names floating around the most.
Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in points in the regular season. He and Stone formed a forward duo capable of working with many centers. Together they elevated the play of Chandler Stephenson, played well with Paul Stastny and helped accustom Cody Glass to the NHL.
If Pacioretty sticks around, he and Stone are likely to play with Glass once again. Nothing would help Vegas’ best prospect more than having two of the best wings in the league surround him.
Trading Pacioretty will open up a top-six wing spot for Alex Tuch. Tuch had a better postseason than Pacioretty with 12 points and eight goals to Pacioretty’s eight points and five goals. In fact, that rough postseason is likely why Pacioretty is on the trade block in the first place. The debate can be had if that should even be the case given Pacioretty arrived to the bubble with ongoing injuries.
Moving Pacioretty also lightens the team of his $7 million cap hit for the next three seasons. He’s not someone whose salary will have to be retained to be traded, at least not as much as some others. That frees the Golden Knights from their cap problems in the present and gives them some wiggle room in the future.
It took a lot to acquire Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens — Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick (which was later traded to Los Angeles) went the other way. Tatar was acquired at the trade deadline the season before for a first, second and third round pick. The Golden Knights would very likely not get the return on their dollar if they traded Pacioretty now.
Pacioretty was also the team’s leading goal scorer in the regular season by five goals. His rough postseason was likely a result of a two-point drop in his shooting percentage (as most of the team saw reductions in shooting percentage) and taking more penalties (1.36 per 60, up from 0.9 in the regular season). His starting the postseason injured also likely hurt. Yet Pacioretty had more expected goals per 60 in the postseason than in the regular season.
Pacioretty is also a better wing in both directions than Tuch is. His $7 million AAV is rough but a consistent 30 goal scorer (which Pacioretty is) is worth it. The key to solving the scoring problem Vegas had in the postseason is probably not trading their leading goal scorer.
Marchessault has been one of the Golden Knights’ most important forwards since he was selected in the expansion draft. The line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson and himself was the Knights’ first line for the first two seasons of franchise history and Marchessault has proven capable of playing every aspect of the game.
Marchessault remained a fixture in the top six this season and was fourth on the team in scoring. He was fourth on the team in power-play scoring as well. He’ll continue to be one of the top six wings if he remains in Vegas.
Like Pacioretty, trading Marchessault would lighten the Golden Knights’ cap situation but Marchessault’s hit is $5 million AAV over four seasons. He’s someone who also wouldn’t need retention to move, and multiple teams should be interested.
Replacing Marchessault would be a lot easier for Vegas than replacing Pacioretty. His stats, including his possession numbers, are less spectacular than Pacioretty’s and he averages less time. Pacioretty had 1.51 goals per 60 to Marchessault’s 1.16 and 1.09 primary assists per 60 to Marchessault’s 1 in the regular season.
Marchessault similarly suffered a rough postseason, with 10 points and three goals in four more games than Pacioretty (they had the same point-per-game mark at .5).
Marchessault remains an important member of the Golden Knights’ top six and power play. He’s been one of the faces of the franchise from the beginning and scores a lot of goals (his 22 were third this season after Pacioretty and Smith). The Golden Knights are also unlikely to get back what Marchessault is actually worth.
Besides sentimentality, there are fewer cons to trading Marchessault than Pacioretty. He might be better with the puck, with more takeaways and fewer giveaways than Pacioretty, but that’s one of the very few places Marchessault was better.
Martinez was acquired this year (wild, right?) at the trade deadline in February. The Golden Knights gave up two second-round draft picks for the 32-year-old defenseman. He immediately slotted in to a top-four defenseman role with the team and helped Shea Theodore elevate his play. With Martinez being Theodore’s best defensive partner to date, it’s not hard to see why.
He’ll likely remain a top-four option for the Golden Knights if he remains in Vegas but his contract expires next offseason. The Golden Knights would be giving up just a rental if they traded Martinez.
Martinez is the oldest member of the Golden Knights’ presumable top four and they would get younger by trading Martinez. Moving Martinez also helps the Golden Knights avoid having to move a forward after a postseason where scoring was an issue. Martinez has likely lost his spot on the power play with the addition of Pietrangelo and that limits his effectiveness.
Zach Whitecloud looks to be a top-four option in the future for the Golden Knights and moving on from Martinez would allow Whitecloud to prove that with one of three excellent partner options: Pietrangelo, Theodore or Brayden McNabb.
The biggest negative against trading Martinez is the question of whether Whitecloud is ready for a top-four role yet. He’s still got work to do in the offensive zone (he’s not great there yet) and he has to prove that his solid postseason was not just a fluke and can translate to the regular season.
Keeping Martinez keeps the Golden Knights’ defensive group more veteran and still allows room for Whitecloud. Plus, if Whitecloud is good enough for a top-four role this season, the Golden Knights can easily bump Martinez down and Whitecloud up. They could then move on from Martinez in the summer (or even at the trade deadline).
The Golden Knights already gave up a good defenseman this offseason. Why move on from two?
Fleury has been the face of the franchise since the expansion draft. He was the starting goaltender until the Golden Knights traded for Robin Lehner at the trade deadline in February and moved on from Fleury in the postseason. Fleury still has two years left at $7 million AAV but saved just .905 percent of shots faced in the 2019-20 regular season and is 36 years old. He’s not getting better.
If he remains with the Golden Knights he’ll likely be playing the backup role.
Moving Fleury means the Golden Knights aren’t spending $12 million on goaltending. They move on from the older of their two goaltenders and it becomes a lot clearer who’s in charge in net. There’s also still backup goaltenders available on the free agent market the Golden Knights could sign for cheap (Jimmy Howard stands out).
Fleury has already hit his peak and the .905 save percentage he had last season is a bad mark. There’s some hope he can bounce back but there’s no guarantee. The Golden Knights moving on from Fleury now might be the best timing they could get.
The Golden Knights will have to retain salary if they trade Fleury. They may also have to include a sweetener for not much return (if any). No team is going to be willing to take all $7 million of his contract but at 50 percent retained that becomes a different market.
There’s also the question of who replaces Fleury if he’s traded. Oscar Dansk doesn’t inspire much confidence after a .908 save percentage in the AHL last season. Malcolm Subban is also gone and will likely be the starter in Chicago this season.
Still, there are fewer cons to trading Fleury than anybody else on this list and if the Golden Knights can move on from him without moving a first-round pick, they should be more than tempted.