The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL as of late. They have won nine of their last eleven and their powerplay, which struggled out the gate now has twelve goals on the month. With a victory in Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Golden Knights are now first in both the NHL’s Pacific Division Standings and in the Western Conference as a whole.
The Golden Knights have also played the most games in the league with 33 amidst yet another COVID-19 ridden season for the National Hockey League.
But despite all of this big changes are coming to the Vegas Golden Knights organization. On November 4th, 2021 the Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres in a major package that included Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs.
Coincidentally, both Tuch and Krebs are expected to debut with the Sabres Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.
We still don’t know an exact timetable for the return of Eichel. But as time moves forward and as we enter 2022 he can only be getting healthier. For the Golden Knights, this is great news as adding a generational talent in Eichel to the lineup will, on paper, only make the team better.
It’s Time To Clear Cap-Space For Jack Eichel
Similar to me and my college classes, the Golden Knights are about to face a problem that they have been pushing aside and procrastinating for a while now. For the Golden Knights that is clearing up cap space for Eichel to join the team. The Golden Knights currently have roughly $5.3 million in cap space with Eichel, Alec Martinez, Nolan Patrick, and Jake Bischoff on Long-Term Injured Reserve.
Taking Eichel off and inserting him into the Golden Knights lineup would put the team over the cap by $4.6 million. A big thanks to CapFriendly for these numbers as always.
When the Golden Knights inevitably get back both Patrick, Martinez, and can return Bischoff to the minors things take a drastic turn for the worse and the Golden Knights are suddenly $11 million over the NHL’s salary cap.
No matter which way you slice it the Golden Knights will need to make a trade to free up some cap space if they want to utilize Eichel. The Golden Knights are no stranger to exiling players purely for the sake of cap space (see Marc-Andre Fleury) and general manager Kelly McCrimmon is likely about to do it again.
Here are five names on the team that I could see being moved to free up cap space for Eichel.
After the aforementioned Fleury trade, one of the first moves McCrimmon made with his newly acquired cap space was to bring in scoring winger Evgenii Dadonov. Dadonov has been a mixed bag with the Golden Knights this season.
He has scored some clutch goals, such as his overtime winner against the Dallas Stars back in October. But his consistency has lacked this season as he is currently under half a point-per-game with 14 points in 31 games played this season.
His $5 million cap hit also doesn’t suit well for the Golden Knights as well given that he would hypothetically be placed on the third line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone on the first line and the Misfit Line being the second line. Back in early December, I wrote a whole piece on why I think Dadonov is the most likely candidate to be traded for the Golden Knights and I still think this is the case.
The veteran forward still has two years left on his deal and could be of interest to some rebuilding teams like the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings. The Golden Knights and Dadonov would have to work out Dadonov’s modified no-trade clause for this deal to happen.
I think I may be onto something here with the Golden Knight's plan to free up cap space for Eichel. Keeping Patrick and Martinez on LTIR and trading a $5 million player (Dadonov) gives them just enough space to fit Eichel in. They placed Martinez on LTIR Monday. #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/J6ZKYCHSxw
— Owen Krepps (@OKrepps85) December 29, 2021
The other player that makes exactly $5 million on the Golden Knights that has been involved heavily in some NHL trade rumors is Reilly Smith. Smith is producing at a far better pace than Dadonov with 26 points in 33 games. He broke his ten-game goal drought Tuesday night and is now on pace for 27-goals this season.
But the case for Smith to be traded revolves mostly around his contract as he is a pending unrestricted free agent this summer. As opposed to Dadonov, Smith would net the Golden Knights the far better package in a potential return. But for the Golden Knight’s sake, keeping a player like Smith to gear up for a long Stanley Cup Playoff would be more than ideal.
Smith has shown remarkable chemistry alongside William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault since year one of the franchise. Trading away such an integral part of the lineup would be risky for McCrimmon and co.
But never question what the Golden Knights are willing to sacrifice for another shot at the Stanley Cup.
Even with trading a guy like Dadonov or Smith, the Golden Knights would still need to clear around $2 million more in cap space (assuming they don’t utilize LTIR anymore) to become cap compliant. This turns our attention to Brayden McNabb, another pending unrestricted free agent who costs the Golden Knights $2.5 million against the cap per season.
With the emergence of Zach Whitecloud, who has broken his career-high in ice-time these past two games with Alex Pietrangelo out, McNabb’s role is diminishing on the Golden Knights back end. Combine this with the often overshadowed Nicolas Hague, Pietrangelo, and Shea Theodore, there is not much space left for McNabb on the Golden Knights blue line.
Another original Golden Knight, McNabb is known most for his defensive play. He leads the Golden Knights in blocked shots this season with 80 and is known to throw thunderous body checks when the time is right. Currently serving as an alternate captain, McNabb is a locker-room leader and veteran presence in the Golden Knights organization.
But corners have to be cut somewhere and for McNabb, it could mean a new team in the near future.
Depth scoring is one of the most important parts of any team’s success in the playoffs. For the Golden Knights, they have gotten tremendous amounts of it this season. Just ask “supposed” third-line center Chandler Stephenson who is still leading the team in points.
But one player that has been quiet for the Golden Knights this season as a depth forward is Mattias Janmark. Janmark has just three goals on the season, albeit in 28 games played. The 28-year old winger missed early portions of the season with injuries and COVID-19.
Janmark salary cap is that of exactly $2 million, which doesn’t seem like much, but for the Golden Knights that much cap space can mean the world.
The way in which the Golden Knights first acquired Janmark shows just how cap-strapped the team has been these past couple of seasons. Janmark was initially acquired by the Golden Knights in a three-way trade where the team only had to pay $562,00 against the cap for Janmark.
The Golden Knights maneuvered the salary cap a lot to get Janmark on the team and he resigned in the offseason. But outside of a game seven hat-trick against the Minnesota Wild in last year’s playoffs, Janmark has yet to take the next step with the Golden Knights and could be traded as a result.
“That’s not a person,” said the reader of this article.
Right, but what I am saying here is that the Vegas Golden Knights could potentially pull a “Nikita Kucherov” and circumvent the NHL’s salary cap by keeping Alec Martinez on LTIR.
For those of you that need a refresher, last season the Tampa Bay Lightning conveniently had superstar winger Nikita Kucherov placed on LTIR up until the playoffs. There is no salary cap penalty once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin and the Lighting took Kucherov off LTIR for the playoffs. They were far over the salary cap but it didn’t matter as they won their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups with Kucherov leading the league in postseason scoring.
Many teams who are on the verge of the Stanley Cup, like the Golden Knights may look to use this strategy this season.
As mentioned before if a $5 million player like Dadonov or Smith were to be traded and Patrick and Martinez remain on LTIR the Golden Knights would be cap compliant. They would not have to make an additional trade such as hypothetically moving out McNabb or Janmark as a result of this too.
Martinez took a skate to the face on November 11th against Brandon Duhaime and the Minnesota Wild and has been out ever since. The official report on Martinez is that of a facial laceration and Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer recently stated that he expects Martinez to be back after Christmas.
The Golden Knights have only played one game since Christmas but still, there are no signs of Martinez in practices and morning skates. The team also placed Martinez on LTIR on Monday, something that they hadn’t done up until that point.
Long nights will await Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon as he will try and juggle his roster in preparation for his new toy in John Robert Eichel. Hopefully, it will all be worth it in the end for the Golden Knights and the team can go far in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.