If the Vegas Golden Knights had their way Evgenii Dadonov would be playing for the Anaheim Ducks right now.
Just before the NHL trade deadline on Monday they attempted to trade him — the trade was actually announced — to the Anaheim Ducks in a salary cap-clearing more that would have seen them take back the remainder of Ryan Kesler‘s contract for this season. It would have saved the Golden Knights precious salary cap space this season to eventually get their roster back to full strength, and would have saved $5 million against the cap next season by getting rid of Dadonov’s remaining deal.
That trade was ultimately invalidated by the league because of a mix-up on the status of Dadonov’s no-trade clause that prohibited from being traded to the Ducks. So after an awkward few days, Dadonov had to remain with a Golden Knights team that tried to get rid of him.
That subplot is what makes the past couple of games so absurdly funny.
The Golden Knights picked up an absolutely massive two points on Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks, rallying for a 5-4 overtime win that saw them erase a three-goal deficit in the third period.
The overtime goal scorer? Dadonov, for his 17th goal of the season. He also had an assist on Chandler Stephenson‘s goal early in the third period to start Vegas’ rally.
He also scored a goal and had two assists on Thursday night, his first game back in the lineup after the potential trade was undone.
Overall, he has scored a goal in each of his past four games for Vegas (five goals total in that stretch) and is one of their top goal-scorers for the season. Since the beginning of March no player on the team has more goals than his seven, despite the fact he has only played in 13 of the 15 games.
Vegas’ approach to roster building, where it goes after every big ticket trade and free agent player that it can (most recently Jack Eichel), has created one of the league’s most precarious salary cap situations. It forced them to give away Marc-Andre Fleury for nothing after a Vezina Trophy winning season, and necessitated the attempted Dadonov trade.
Dadonov has handled the tough situation about as well as could be expected. After Saturday’s win he said it would be best if everybody stopped talking about it (good luck with that!) because he is just trying to help the Golden Knights make the playoffs.
Here is coach Peter DeBoer on Dadonov’s response, via Golden Knights beat writer Jesse Granger.
“What a response. You talk about character, and how character is measure, and it’s usually in your lowest moments not in your highest moments, and how you respond to that. I don’t htink that guy could have a lower moment than having to move on, knowing he was traded and he’s got aa young family at home. The character in his response, I think says everything about him.”
So what does this all mean for the Golden Knights playoff chances? Well, for now it just means they still have them. The Golden Knights have almost no margin for error right now, mainly because all of the teams they are competing with for a playoff spot have so many more games in hand (the Dallas Stars, for example, have five games in hand as of Saturday evening).
Assuming it takes 97 points to get in the playoffs in the Western Conference (typically a safe number to get in, and the current projection needed) the Golden Knights would need a 10-3-1 record the rest of the way (at a minimum) to give themselves a chance. That is still asking an awful lot right now, especially with an injury situation that has them playing without Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and their top two goalies (including starter Robin Lehner). Bringing Stone back is going to be a problem given the salary cap situation.
If Vegas can find a way to get in the playoffs it could still be a legitimate contender if and when all of their top players can return. The salary cap goes away in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so they could, in theory, have a full lineup for the playoffs if they can get in and everybody is ready. They have to get there first, and if they do, it might be a player that was supposed to be playing for somebody else that helps get them there.