The Vegas Golden Knights' biggest current problem is something they have absolutely no control over. And it's the status of captain Mark Stone.
It's not an understatement to say that Stone's health could once again decide the fate of the Golden Knight's season, which, could either be a very good thing or a very bad thing depending on how things play out over the next few months.
Last year, the captain missed 45 games with multiple injuries, mostly to his back. From Feb 8th to April 12, he missed a stretch of 25 games, and the VGK subsequently missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Stone had lumbar discectomy back surgery in May of 2022.
This season, the 30-year-old forward was off to a great start playing in every game for the VGK, putting up 38 points in 42 games. But in a Jan. 12 game against the Florida Panthers, Stone left the game and did not return. He has now missed the last six games, and the Golden Knights have gone 1-4-1 since.
Recent reports have suggested that Stone's injury is once again to his back, which isn't a good sign for anyone involved. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has officially listed Stone as week-to-week, and he has been labeled as a scratch in the last six games he has missed.
It seems as if the Golden Knights are holding out hope that Stone can return soon. If he remains out, the Golden Knights could, frankly, be doomed this season as they play like a completely different team without their captain, in a bad way.
Nobody has truly stepped up in his absence, and there are multitudes of problems the Golden Knights have to fix to become a playoff team. But with Stone in the lineup, they do a great job of covering up these issues and playing to their strengths.
Stone's $9.5 million cap hit doesn't make things easy for general manager Kelly McCrimmon. Last season, we saw the VGK put Stone's contract on long-term injured reserve to free up cap space for Jack Eichel's return. This season, depending on how long Stone is out, McCrimmon could do the same.
The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline is five weeks away, slated for March 3rd. With the Golden Knights already weak forward depth without Stone, McCrimmon could use the cap space freed up by Stone's injury to potentially add a player. But this would come at the cost of another lengthy injury to Stone.
The Golden Knights are currently missing not only Stone, but Will Carrier, Pavel Dorofeyev, Shea Theodore, Zach Whitecloud, and Daniil Miromanov to injury. But only Whitecloud, who could return soon, is on LTIR along with out-for-the-season players Shea Weber, Robin Lehner, and Nolan Patrick.
Unfortunately, the NHL schedule doesn't stop for injuries, and the Golden Knights need to do whatever they can to bank as many points as possible with Stone out. So far, they have not been accomplishing this. The Seattle Kraken have passed them in the Pacific Division standings, the Kings are only a point behind, and both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are gaining ground in the standings as well.
It's a slippery slope, and the Golden Knights do not want a repeat of what happened last season.
The Golden Knights will play the New York Rangers on Friday at 4:00 p.m. from inside Madison Square Garden.