Whether they actually land the player or not, if there is a big name available in free agency or trade you can bet the Vegas Golden Knights are going to be involved.
They were reportedly in on Erik Karlsson when he was traded two years ago, and have since acquired Tomas Tatar, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Alec Martinez, Robin Lehner, and most recently Alex Pietrangelo. That is a lot of big-name talent to come and go through the organization in a short period of time.
In the cases of Pacioretty, Stone, Lehner, and Pietrangelo, all of them have been signed to significant contracts that have eaten up a significant chunk of the team’s allotted salary cap space. It has resulted in significant — and constant — roster overhaul that has forced them to jettison a lot of very good players. In most cases, they have received less than market value in return.
The re-signing of Lehner (and the inability to move Marc-Andre Fleury) and free agent acquisition of Pietrangelo has already cost them Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt, for what amounts to two mid-round draft picks and a depth defenseman. That is far less than what they should have been able to get in a trade for either player, but everyone knew they had almost no leverage and had to dump salary. That is the result.
There are two primary causes for situation: The signing of Pietrangelo, which furthers their seemingly unquenchable thirst for splash roster moves. Also the inability (or unwillingness) to trade Fleury after re-signing Lehner. Given their salary cap situation, it is almost certainly going to cost them at least one more player off the current roster. Who that player will be remains to be seen.
Max Pacioretty’s name was talked about for two days, but Golden Knights owner Bill Foley attempted to squash those rumors on Thursday.
Is there still a market for Fleury? Jonathan Marchessault? Somebody else?
According to the CapFriendly database, the Golden Knights are roughly $1 million over the $81.5 million cap. There are a handful of smaller contracts on the roster they could dump to get under that number. Nick Holden, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, and Ryan Reaves all make between $1 and $2 million, which would satisfy the bare minimum requirement. But if the Golden Knights want any kind of wiggle room under the cap for in-season additions it would require a bigger contract to move. Which would be another significant departure from the roster
How much better are they?
Pietrangelo is still a great player. He is a top-pairing defender, makes a big impact offensively, and alongside Shea Theodore gives them two outstanding defenders at the top of their lineup.
That is significant, and his impact will also be felt beyond this season.
But that contract has already cost them a lot in the short-term.
Stastny was one of their top centers the past two seasons and is still an excellent player in his own right. He drives possession, can still score a little, and without him they are now extremely thin at a very important position. That could be a problem, especially for a team that has only been an average offensive team the past two years and saw its offense disappear at the worst possible time in the playoffs.
While Schmidt is a legit top-four defenseman, there is little doubt that Pietrangelo is an upgrade.The question is whether or not that upgrade is worth the cost elsewhere on the roster, especially when the team has not addressed its biggest weakness (finishing ability offensively).
When the Golden Knights first signed Pietrangelo my mindset was that it was worth it. Great player, fair contract, and anytime you can add a top-pairing defender you should probably go for it. They are difficult to find.
But the more this offseason goes on, and the more you see what all Vegas has had to do to make it work, as well its long-term salary cap outlook and there are definitely some concerns. Especially if it costs them another player from the top half of its roster to get under the salary cap.
In the end Vegas’ entire organizational philosophy seems to be built around swinging for the fences in building its roster and then worrying about the fallout later.
So far the results have been strong. They have been a playoff team in each of their first three years and already been in the Western Conference Final in two of those seasons. They are an improbable third period collapse in a Game 7 away from having gone on three lengthy postseason runs in as many seasons. But you have to wonder if all of this roster juggling will eventually catch up to them, especially with a roster that is mostly signed long-term, still has some flaws, and is starting to get older.