It comes down to this: the Vegas Golden Knights need to make a very unpopular decision to rid themselves of cap space this summer. It will mean trading a fan favorite and doing so in a way that returns prospects and picks, not actual salary. All signs point to a certain player.
According to our friends at PuckPedia, as of today the Vegas Golden Knights have 19 players signed: 11 forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders. Those 19 contracts total $76,295,834 and leave the club with $5,204,166 of available cap space. NHL teams may have up to a total of 23 contracts on an NHL roster.
Four more players can be signed, but having a budget of only $5.2M to sign them all isn’t feasible. Alec Martinez will eat up a chunk of that and not resigning him would put the team behind quite a bit defensively. Up front, the team has three players set to hit the open market in Tomas Nosek, Mattias Janmark and Patrick Brown. All are good players, all are useful. But there’s not enough room to bring them all back and a tough choice will have to be made.
The unpopular cap move the Vegas Golden Knights must make now is to make a major salary dump. Even if they don’t land Jack Eichel or another massive name in the trade market or free agency, Vegas still needs the cap room to make signings or allow flexibility.
How much cap room must the free up? A minimum of $5M worth of AAV, if not more.
Here are all the players making $5M AAV or more:
To look at that list of players from a purely cynical perspective, it makes sense to deal either one of the goaltenders to start or one of the forwards. Alex Pietrangelo just got here and isn’t going anywhere. Shea Theodore may turn out to be the bargain of the team’s cap era. So defense stays the same. That leaves the forwards.
Reilly Smith might be the first candidate to go and has only one year left on his deal, making it palatable for any team to take a chance on him and flip him at the deadline if it doesn’t work out. After that, there is either more term or more money depending on who goes where.
It actually makes more sense for the Golden Knights to move a winger and not a center. It seems they’ve already soured on Cody Glass to a certain extent (at least Pete DeBoer has) and up the middle, without a trade, they’re still stuck with Chandler Stephenson as the top-line center followed by Karlsson. So I can’t in good conscience trade Karlsson because that would leave them embarrassingly thin up the middle.
Looking at wings, that leaves us very little choice on that list besides Smith: Jonathan Marchessault.
That’s a hard reality of the cap world we live in. Teams that live on emotion will not make it far. Instead, the teams that are able to make financial decisions, not those based on feelings about players, are the ones who will find themselves able to make the right move at the right time.
Regardless of the feelings surrounding a player like Jonathan Marchessault, Marc-Andre Fleury, Robin Lehner or anyone else, the best thing for the team to do is make a smart decision based on the economic reality of the game.
I hate to be the one to tell you. It’s not “if” the Vegas Golden Knights will change. It’s already happening. If they don’t make changes rooted in reality, they won’t win a Stanley Cup and instead be a not-quite-good enough team.