Stone injury might end up helping Golden Knights find room for Eichel

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Jack Eichel is coming and could be in the Golden Knights’ lineup as early as next week following artificial disk replacement surgery on his neck.

That will be a huge boost to the Vegas roster, but it will also prompt action to get their salary cap picture neat and tidy and within NHL rules.

Also forcing the issue is Alec Martinez, who is nearing a return.

Having both players back would require the Golden Knights to free up a little over $10 million in cap space. They would only need to find $5.1 million just for Eichel, an issue we knew was coming once they completed the trade with the Sabres.

How does Mark Stone tie into this? Well, the forward missed Wednesday’s game against the Flames with a back injury. It’s something he’s been dealing with for a while — an injury that forced him out for a month earlier this season. That could open the door for general manager Kelly McCrimmon and team capologist Andrew Lugerner to find room for not only Eichel, but Martinez, who’s been out since mid-November with a facial injury, as Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli pondered this week.

[MORE: 5 likely playoff teams that need to add depth to become contenders]

Like Eichel, Martinez is also close to returning to the lineup. Eichel carries a $10 million cap hit while Martinez’s is $5.25 million. Should Stone be shut down, the Golden Knights could place him and his $9.5 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve and send down a few cheaper players to the AHL, opening up enough space for the pair.

According to Cap Friendly, the Golden Knights have $5,738,333 available in LTIR salary. At least $10 million is needed to add Eichel. A trade or two could help, but if Stone is indeed injured long-term, that would be a likely path — one we saw the Lightning use with Nikita Kucherov last season and in 2015 with the Blackhawks and Patrick Kane. That would be a relief to the likes of Reilly Smith and Evgenii Dadonov (both $5 million cap hits), whose names have come up in trade scenarios regarding this topic.

Stone to LTIR, if he is indeed that injured, could get the Golden Knights through the regular season and into the playoffs where the salary cap doesn’t matter.

Vegas is off until next Wednesday when they host the Avalanche. That’s more time to evaluate Stone’s health and their options for figuring out a way to get Eichel and Martinez both in the lineup.

Some NHL general managers might cry foul about using LTIR like this, but, as always, those are the general managers who weren’t wise enough or fortunate enough to use it in their own situations. If it’s in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s fair game.

As Lou Lamoriello has taught us over the years, if you’re not trying to find every loophole in the CBA, are you even really trying?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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