The NHL trade winds stir. According to TSN’s Insider Trading segment, Frank Seravalli says the Vegas Golden Knights have “doubled down” on its efforts to deal Max Pacioretty. The Golden Knights forward has three years remaining on his contract with an AAV of $7M per season. Cash out is $7M this season and falls to $5.25M for the remaining two years.
My first reaction to hearing the news was that this is crazy. I know Vegas is currently just under $1M above the salary cap for this season. Pacioretty is the second-highest earning forward behind Mark Stone so from that standpoint it makes sense. From a purely cap viewpoint I get it.
But didn’t Pacioretty just drop a 32-goal, 66-point season in 71 games? Yes he did, and those are his highest totals since 2016-17 with the Montreal Canadiens. He also just turned 32 in November. Three more years puts him into his mid-30s and it’s possible this last season could be his final 30-goal campaign. Skills deteriorate and Father Time is undefeated.
Selling high isn’t the worst thing to do.
It certainly means the Golden Knights have to replace him if they deal him. Or split the money on two or more players if you decide to spend it. Mike Hoffman is still looking for a home. Whispers have former Golden Knight Erik Haula potentially returning to the fold as well. There are other names available, or Vegas could choose from some in-house options here. For the purpose of this article I’m going to proceed as if the return is some mix of draft picks and prospects. If a blockbuster trade happens all bets are off.
The most obvious immediate scenario here is to put Alex Tuch back in the top six. It’s funny how just yesterday I wrote about Tuch’s performance dropping after Mark Stone came aboard because he ended up on the third line. I could see him moving back up on the left side for that second unit and resuming his previous production. If anyone should be excited about a potential deal, it’s Alex Tuch. It makes a lot of sense when you have a 24-year-old winger who has already shown himself capable of playing the role.
If that’s the case, it also makes more sense to bring back a known commodity like Haula as opposed to Hoffman. I know Hoffman is a 30-goal scorer and at 30 years old is a bit younger than Pacioretty. But he’d also chew up almost all of that cap space created by moving Pacioretty. Hoffman’s agent, Robert Hooper, has indicated his willingness to take a one-year deal at this point so perhaps there’s that. But if he scores 30+ again the price isn’t going down. Is Hoffman worth it as a single season rental? Maybe. Don’t get me wrong, if they bring in Hoffman that’s a huge add. It might also give them flexibility to make another deal if they wanted.
Getting back to Haula, his best year far and away came with the Golden Knights in 2017-18 when he posted 29-26-55 and established some chemistry with the aforementioned Tuch. Unfortunately for Haula, a knee injury stole most of the next campaign from him and he was subsequently traded to Carolina. The question is whether or not he is able to recapture some of his pre-injury form. It’s tempting to want to bring him back and see if the magic reappears. There were times last season he showed flashes of brilliance. It would be a risk but perhaps one the VGK are willing to take at the right price.
Don’t forget that the Golden Knights also signed Tomas Jurco to a one-year deal and traded for Dylan Sikura. Both players have NHL experience. And there are many players within the organization who look to make the jump to the NHL this year. One other player I haven’t mentioned is Jack Dugan, who looks to turn pro this year after leading the NCAA in scoring last season with the Providence Friars. While the jump to the NHL from college is a big one, Dugan looks to have the potential to make it happen.
If the Golden Knights are going to trade Max Pacioretty, I think they’ll be fine in the long run. After getting over the initial “you can’t do that” reaction, the more I look up and down the roster the more confident I feel they would be just fine. My real concern is chemistry. The Golden Knights have shown the ability to continue to evolve and keep winning despite some pretty massive roster churn from three years ago. However at some point, you have to stop making moves and cement that core. Let players grow together over the long term. If Vegas is one move (potentially two with Marc-Andre Fleury TBD) away from that, let’s get it done and put it in gear for another Stanley Cup run.