It is that time of year. Teams are evaluating the talent they have, and how their season is going and ask, “are we buyers or sellers?” at the trade deadline. With the log-jam that is currently going on in the western conference for the last layoff spot (five teams separated by two points), many team believe they could make a playoff push, which makes the trade deadline on Monday, February 5th, loom that much larger. The Vegas Golden Knights do not have that problem. As of Friday, February 22nd, the Golden Knights sit in third place in the Pacific division; eleven points back of San Jose, and eight points ahead of Arizona.
The team has stumbled as of late with a record of 5-10-1. GM George McPhee stated the team’s lulls do not have an effect on his strategy at the trade deadline. “It really doesn’t have an effect. It is about looking overall at your organization and making sure we are consistently doing the right things.”
George McPhee’s poker face fits in well here in sin city. However, VGK was in even a better position this time last year, and he went up and made two significant trades. Trading for the consistent goal scorer Tomas Tatar proved to be a bust, but trading Ryan Reaves for prospect Tobias Lindberg has proven to be a steal with Reaves having a career season.
So let’s talk under the assumption VGK will make a deal at the deadline. Who is available? Who is a realistic fit for VGK? What are the Knights needs at the deadline? First, I think it is important to emphasize what are some weaker points in VGK’s game this year.
The third and fourth lines for VGK have been average at best. While they do a fantastic, 2nd in the league at home at killing penalties, the omen for scoring has fallen on the top to lines, who have in apart underperformed compared to last year. Moving Pacioretty to the third line was probably not the plan in mind when George McPhee eyed him this offseason, but to bring some scoring depth to the third line, Gerard Gallant had to switch things up. The previous combinations of Eakin/Nosek/Lindberg/Pirri/Zykov/Carrier/Carpenter just did not produce.
Furthermore, though the top line has not necessarily been bad, they are not performing to the same level as last season. Reilly Smith just got his tenth goal of the season on Wednesday night against the Bruins. William Karlsson, who had a career high 43 goals last season, only has 18 goals with 20 assists. Jonathan Marchessault leads the team in goals only at 19, and he potted 27 last year with a career high 48 assists. Though they have carried their own, it would be nice to see them go on a tear heading into the last 20 games of the season.
So who are some players that can find their way into a VGK sweater by mid afternoon on Monday? Here are three players that GM George McPhee is probably taking a good look at.
Mark Stone (RW) – Ottawa
Stone is the cream of the crop of the trade market. He is the star on an absolutely terrible team, putting up 28 goals already and 62 points total. He provides speed, skill, size, and is only 26 years old. At 6’4, 219lbs, he is truly a dynamic player that could possibly slot in on that first line in place of Reilly Smith. Stone would already be the team leader in points, and goals. However, here is where it would get tricky because he is a pending UFA at the end of the season, Ottawa is going to want to get the best possible return for their prized possession. With a 7.35 million dollar cap hit, he is the most expensive piece of the market. And George McPhee is not fond of trading for big name players, giving up tons of prospects, just for that player to hit the free agency market this summer (see Pacioretty deal from this last summer; a trade, then an extension). So it is likely George McPhee would have to give up a 2019 first round pick, a 2020 first round pick if Stone resigns with VGK, and then throw in a top prospect with a starting, established NHL player. It is a big chunk to chew off, but it will definitely put VGK’s top six forwards into the elite category of the NHL.
Michael Ferland (LW) – Carolina
Ferland is a name not many people probably had on their mind this offseason when he went to Carolina, but he proves to be a solid depth scorer. With a cap hit at only 1.75 million, he is the cheapest contract on the trade deadline market, but is having himself a nice season. With 16 goals, 17 assists, a +12 rating, and only 26 years old, he could fill in quite well filling up the VGK third line. He is a power forward who plays a solid 200-ft game. The Canes are most likely not willing to pay a power forward the money he could probably get on the open market. With Hurricanes forwards Teravainen and Aho set to be restricted free agents at the end of the yer, Ferland will most likely be the odd man out. There is the possibility that the Canes’ become buyers at the deadline. But given how they have been floating around the wild card mark, their time could come next season more likely than not. Ferland will be a solid power forward who can provide some scoring depth to the VGK third line.
Wayne Simmonds (RW) – Philadelphia
Wayne Simmonds is the type of person that would thrive in Vegas. VGK earned the title of where players can go to revitalize their career and get a shot to play top minutes. Simmonds is having a down year compared to years past, but the 30 year old winger still has quite a bit of value that could significantly help VGK, at much less of the price to someone such as Mark Stone,
His ability to create havoc on the power play is what has made Wayne Simmonds a 20+ goal scorer almost his whole career. He parks himself right in front of the opponents netminder and has remarkable hands to tip pucks past him, or to pick up loose change and jam home a rebound. That is someone who will make VGK’s power play to go from pedestrian, to above average if not elite. VGK has some snipers on their power play with Pacioretty, Marchessault, Karlsson, and Tuch. However, Tuch is one of the only few players who get in front of the goal crease and create havoc.
Simmonds has the size, skill, and experience to do that. Simmonds haas not had his best season with 16 goals, 17 assists, and an abysmal -20 rating. However, the Flyers have been as atrocious as their mascot. Simmonds would bring a “gritty” approach to VGK.
GM George McPhee does have some of the assets and salary cap space to make a deal, with approximately 15 million dollars in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. With Erik Brannstrom, Nic Hague, and Jake Bischoff waiting for their chance to get a crack at the NHL on the blue line, don’t be surprised if you see someone like Colin Miller traded. McPhee has a history of making deals at the trade deadline, both in Washington and last season in Vegas.
“It’s just so unpredictable” McPhee stated.
That it is, George. Now we sit back, and watch the reigning GM of the year work his magic.