The Vegas Golden Knights are no stranger to making blockbuster moves to try and propel the franchise to their first Stanley Cup. Whether it is signing free agents like Alex Pietrangelo, trading for guys like Mark Stone or Max Pacioretty, or even making the risky decision of trading players like Ryan Reaves and Marc-Andre Fleury for cap space purposes, both George McPhee and current Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon are no stranger to big deals.
On Nov. 4th they made perhaps the biggest move in team history by acquiring forward Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres. Eichel is now skating with the Golden Knights and is inching closer to his return after having artificial disk replacement surgery in mid-November. His debut with the Golden Knights should make them a better team.
But some sacrifices have to be made if the Golden Knights want Eichel in their lineup.
The Vegas Golden Knights are projected to be millions over the NHL’s salary cap once they take both Eichel and Alec Martinez off of Long Term Injured Reserve. Unless there are plans for the Golden Knights to “Kucherov” the system, the team will likely have to make at least one trade, if not two significant moves, to free up cap space for Eichel.
Reilly Smith Trade Rumors
A player that has seen his name heavily involved in NHL trade rumors is Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith. Smith is a pending unrestricted free agent and has a cap hit of $5 million. He is in the last year of his five-year $25 million deal which he signed with the Florida Panthers.
Smith was traded to the Golden Knights in 2017 for expansion draft considerations.
Smith has been inconsistent this season. On a line with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson AKA the “Misfit Line,” Smith has only one goal in his last 17 games. Overall, his numbers look pretty good. He has 11 goals, 18 assists, and 29 points in 39 games, and is second on the team in scoring behind only Chandler Stephenson.
Smith is also only one of three players on the Golden Knights that have played every game this season. Keegan Kolesar and Brayden McNabb are the others.
Soon, the Golden Knights need to figure out some way to clear enough space for Eichel to join their lineup, and that could mean a farewell to original Golden Knight Reilly Smith.
The Pros and Cons of Trading Reilly Smith
PRO: Cap Space for Eichel
Let’s start with the most obvious thing that would help the Golden Knights and that is moving his $5 million cap hit. In reality, no cap space will be “freed up.” No, moving Smith would merely bring the Golden Knights closer to the salary cap limit.
The team would still need to free millions more in cap space.
CON: Splitting up the Misfit Line for Good
Since Year One of the franchise, Smith, Karlsson, and Marchessault have formed an unlikely trio and earned the name “the Misfit Line.” The trio consistently generates offensive chances for the Golden Knights as one of the most productive lines on the team.
They score big goals and create matchup nightmares. Opponents must worry about not only the Misfits, but the line the Golden Knights’ top line with Stephenson, Stone, and Pacioretty.
We haven’t even mentioned Eichel. Trading Smith would mean the end of the Misfits and could disrupt the team’s forward chemistry.
PRO: No Risk of Losing Him For Nothing
Smith is a pending unrestricted free agent and at 30-years old and with some solid numbers in his NHL career, will get paid handsomely this offseason, no matter where he signs. In his 11-year NHL career, Smith has never been a free agent. Instead, he has been traded three times and has re-signed with his respective clubs. For the Golden Knights, trading Smith might mean McCrimmon gets something for him, instead of nothing in free agency.
CON: Further Destroys the Golden Knights Identity
Not only is Smith a huge part of the Golden Knights offensive core, but he is also a huge part of their identity. As an original, Smith was a part of the inaugural team and the run to the Stanley Cup Final. He embraced the role of being a ‘misfit’, and had 22 points in 20 games in the 2018 Playoffs.
Trading Smith would leave just six members of the original team on the roster and remove even more of the Golden Knight’s inaugural identity.
PRO: The Return Would be Solid
Reilly Smith is a good player. Many teams should be interested in him at the NHL Trade Deadline. With only a $5 million AAV and pending UFA status, contending teams like the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins could take a rental interest in Smith. Fittingly these are two of Smith’s previous teams. Smith has been traded three times in his career. The returns have varied from Jimmy Hayes to being a piece in the Tyler Seguin deal, to ‘expansion draft considerations.’ If the Golden Knights do trade Smith, they could recoup a nice pick. A second-rounder?
CON: Smith Can Be a Huge Piece in a Stanley Cup Run
Smith is a player that I could see winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. He shines when the lights are brightest. I can’t speak for the Golden Knights but I know I would want Smith on my team if I was contending for a Stanley Cup. While Smith is a pending UFA, I am sure the team would rather negotiate with Stanley Cup rings on their fingers than not at all.
Vegas Hockey Now’s Take
Trading Reilly Smith is risky business. Smith is one of the core players on the Golden Knights roster and a true misfit at heart. Trading him purely for cap reasons would further tarnish the Golden Knights identity of misfits. It would also break up one of the most successful lines the team has ever seen.
There are other routes that GM Kelly McCrimmon can take to free up cap space for Jack Eichel. But trading Reilly Smith doesn’t have to be one of them because he helps the team win when it counts, and the Golden Knights goal is the 2022 Stanley Cup.