The NHL trade deadline is just over a week away, but don’t expect any major moves from the Golden Knights.
“I wouldn’t expect to see too many dramatic moves, honestly,” team owner Bill Foley said. “Why would you break up a team like this?”
After Feb. 26 the league puts a freeze on trades. Only eight days remain, or 192 hours, for general managers to anxiously watch the clock, desperate to make a move that may push their team over the top as a Stanley Cup contender.
With 82 points in 58 games the Golden Knights once again find themselves atop the entire NHL. It’s the furthest into a season that an expansion team has led the league in any of the four major sports.
And with that, there seems to be little-to-no anxiety in the Golden Knights’ locker room or front office.
“I’m not going to (talk about) addressing specific areas of our team but it’s a team and we play well as a team,” Vegas general manager George McPhee said. “When we’re healthy we are a good team. We will have our discussions next week and see where it goes.”
McPhee said there have been a number of calls made regarding possible trades, and that will increase in the final days before the deadline.
“Historically that’s the way it goes, the number of calls will pick up as the week progresses” McPhee said. “I have a plan going into it, and I stick with my plan. Some years you feel like you need to add and other years you don’t feel like you have to do that.”
Prior to the season, the overwhelming thought was that veterans with expiring contracts such as James Neal and David Perron could be shipped to contenders looking for additional firepower entering the playoffs.
The two have combined for 38 goals and 54 assists to this point and may be far more valuable as weapons for the Golden Knights’ own run in the playoffs than the draft picks they would fetch in return.
“It’s maybe a different situation than he thought it would be, but as players we are just going out there and playing,” defenseman Colin Miller said. “Either way I think we are happy with our club and we’re doing well so we’ll try to keep it going.”
The Golden Knights’ NHL scouts convened in Las Vegas today and will remain here up to the deadline.
“We’ll start meeting with all of our scouts and decide if the team needs anything,” said McPhee, who doesn’t believe his plan has changed as much as many outsiders do with Vegas’ hot start. “There hasn’t been a whole lot that has changed with the overall plan. When you look at our team we claimed a lot of young guys that we expected to be with us for awhile.”
Many moves made prior to the deadline are for players with expiring contracts. Contending teams give up future capital to rent a player for the chance at a deep playoff run. Now the Golden Knights may find themselves in that group, but only if McPhee chooses that route.
“It depends on what you’re giving up, and it also depends on the construction of your team,” McPhee said. “Some managers don’t want a long term contract, and favor rentals because of the way their team is structured and the contracts they have moving forward. It means different things for different managers.”
Some of the top players rumored to be available at the deadline will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Buffalo’s Evander Kane, Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon and New York’s Rick Nash are all players that may be available due to their team’s low standing and need to acquire players for the future.
It’s unlikely the Golden Knights would be interested in any of those names, as McPhee values his draft picks (and he has a lot of them with 10 picks in the top two rounds over the next three drafts).
If the team makes a move the logical piece to acquire would be a third-line center. Vegas’ top two lines have remained constant all season and are amongst the most productive in the entire NHL, and the fourth line has consistently provided the needed spark.
Coach Gerard Gallant has constantly shuffled the third line with Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg and Brendan Leipsic searching for production.
“We’re just trying to get a little spark,” Gallant said on his decision to replace Lindberg with Leipsic for Saturday night’s game against the Canadiens. “I want that line to get going a little bit, with a little more jump so we’ll see what happens.”
Tuch has been consistently good on the forecheck and creating chances in front of the net, and Carpenter has emerged as a scoring threat with five goals in the last seven games, but the issue remains at the center position.
Whether McPhee believes the answer is somewhere on the current roster (William Carrier is still on the injured reserve and may return just in time) or through the trade market, he isn’t going to lay his cards on the table until he has to.
“We will explore the deadline like everybody else does,” McPhee said. “We will have our discussions next week and see where it goes.”