The Vegas Golden Knights need help on the back end. It’s been the team’s most noticeable flaw since the season’s start. But defensemen — specifically right-handed shots who fit the Golden Knights’ attacking style — are expected to be difficult to acquire.
Check that. With the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaching, it’s time to play general manager.
If general manager Kelly McCrimmon is willing to part with a couple of mid-level draft picks, he can reshape the back end nicely by acquiring a rental, maybe even two.
Golden Knights Need Right-Shot Defenseman
Rentals make perfect sense, because the Golden Knights have almost no cap space. A draft pick or a pick coupled with a low-level prospect could bring back the right rental. Dangle the right package, and the trade partner might eat some contract to seal the deal. A low risk, potentially high-reward trade.
Acquiring a player with any term on his deal likely would mean trading away a desirable roster piece, probably a forward, and that doesn’t make sense for a team that wants a Stanley Cup now.
History tells us that NHL rentals, players with expiring contracts, can really help teams down the stretch, and there are a few out there who would be perfect for the Golden Knights.
3 Trade Options
With the Detroit Red Wings, there’s defenseman Trevor Daley, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Of the New Jersey Devils, there’s Sami Vatanen, a slick Finn who will be coveted by many teams at the deadline and during the offseason. And with the Buffalo Sabres, there’s Zach Bogosian, a rugged player who has been slowed by two hip surgeries.
Each could be a neat addition. For one, each can play the right side, which in an NHL dominated by left-handed shooting defenseman, is a huge plus by itself. And each is an experienced, mobile puck-mover.
Let’s look deeper at how they might fit:
Because of injuries, Daley, 36, has been limited to 25 games and one assist this season. He’s in the final year of a three-year, $9.5 million contract. But Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said recently he thinks Daley has plenty of hockey left.
“Trevor has been a real good defensemen in this league, a real good piece of the Pittsburgh team that won the Cups recently,” Blashill told The Detroit News. (from ‘Red Wings’ Daley gets another shot to make impact; prospect Berggren out,’ Detroit News, 01/17/2020) “He’s a good skating defenseman who gets the puck out of your end and plays with moxie and confidence.”
Daley has played in three straight games, most recently logging 15:54 of ice time on 21 shifts in a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He’s an excellent skater who can kill penalties and work on the power play.
Although he’s a lefty, Daley has mostly played on the right side during his career, which includes those Cup wins with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
Now, astute fans know that the Red Wings wouldn’t mind moving defenseman Mike Green, another right-handed shot on an expiring contract. But Green, once one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen, is having an H&H season — hurt and horrible. It’s doubtful Detroit finds any takers.
Vatanen, 28, is on an expiring deal that pays him $4.875 million. His age, experience and skill make him one of the most attractive unrestricted free agents on the market. In his three seasons in New Jersey, he’s averaged a tad more than 22 minutes and has played in all situations.
The right-handed shot is extremely mobile and smart, which, again, fits across the entire NHL and especially with the Golden Knights, who have a fast-paced collection of creative forwards. His speed, agility and positioning help make up for his relatively slight stature (5-foot-10, 185 pounds).
He’d easily be the most expensive of the three and is by far the best fit. If the Golden Knights are willing to part with some more lucrative draft picks, there’s every reason to believe the Devils would bite.
Bogosian, 29, was drafted third overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008 and was once among the league’s most physical defensemen. He wants out of Buffalo, but two hip surgeries in 15 months likely will scare a lot of teams. He missed the season’s first 22 games because of the most recent surgery, and since returning on Nov. 24, he’s averaging 16:49 of ice time over 18 games.
Bogosian is the biggest risk. Getting back to top playing condition after two such surgeries might take a long time, longer than the rest of this season and the postseason. And it might never happen. He’d cost little, but he’s also the least offensive of the three.
As for some of the other candidates — Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens; Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings; and Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers — these are good matches for the Golden Knights’ style. But none has an expiring contract. Again, fitting them in given the Golden Knights’ salary cap likely would mean a major roster adjustment. But with capable rentals available, that’s an unnecessary gamble.
J.J. Kwiatkowski goes back to the Original Six. Seriously. Howe, Beliveau, Hull, Keon and Orr aren’t just moving images on old film for him. He saw them in person, in famed arenas like the Olympia, Chicago Stadium and Maple Leaf Gardens.
He’s been watching, writing and coaching hockey for more than 50 years.
As a player (not a very good one), longtime journalist, accomplished coach (guiding three teams at different levels to national championship tournaments in the USA) and a hockey parent, he can speak from more than a few experiences.