On March 2, 2019, the Vegas Golden Knights announced that Kelly McCrimmon would be promoted to general manager and that George McPhee would retain his role as president of hockey operations. From day one, McPhee had done a masterful job of building the Golden Knights into Stanley Cup contenders. Through key acquisitions, the team that was first deemed “misfits”, now houses multiple 60-point scorers, two first-place finishes in the Pacific Division and a Stanley Cup Final appearance.
McPhee is one of the most respected and successful GMs in the league, which is why it was great to see him mentoring, then promoting, McCrimmon to lead the team into the future. As McPhee said himself, “… it was easy because Kelly is more than ready to be an outstanding General Manager”.
McCrimmon has lived up to the expectations as he goes into his second year as general manager. Through solid trades, he has acquired key pieces to strengthen this already-stacked Golden Knights team and has put them in a great position to succeed in the future. A lot goes into being the general manager of a consistently successful team, so, in saying that, we take a look at the best trades McCrimmon has made in his tenure as Knights GM so far.
3. Chandler Stephenson for 2021 5th Round Pick
The Golden Knights are synonymous with taking players that other teams deemed “replaceable” and turning them into key contributors. One of those key acquisitions turned out to be Stephenson. The forward, who won a Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2017-18, was struggling to find his offensive mojo last season as he put up only four points in 24 games.
McCrimmon, knowing he needed to add some bottom-six depth to his forward group, acquired Stephenson on December 3, 2019 for a 2021 fifth-round pick. It seems all he needed was a change of scenery. After his arrival in Vegas for the final 41 games of the regular season, he shined on the third line. He put up 22 points with the Golden Knights, leaving him with a combined 26 points for the season, his career-high. He also chipped in come playoff time, registering five points, whilst exhibiting great defensive play.
Stats aside, the biggest indicator of his impact on the team was the trust McCrimmon put in Stephenson by signing him to a four-year contract worth an average annual value of $2.75 million this past offseason. When you consider that Stephenson only cost a measly fifth-round pick in the 2021 Draft, it’d be hard to deny that Vegas came out on top in this trade by a mile.
2. Three-Team Trade for Robin Lehner
Lehner had experienced a career renaissance during his time with the New York Islanders during the 2018-19 season. He posted an impressive 25-13-5 record, which led to him being a 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist. His career-best in goals-against average (GAA), at 2.13, and .930 save percentage (SV%) that season solidified him as a starting goalie in the NHL.
Lehner had signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019-20 offseason and put up a solid 16-10-5 record in the Windy City. Although he played well, Blackhawks management deemed him replaceable and subsequently placed him on the trading block; cue McCrimmon. The Golden Knights had a longstanding need for depth in the crease, so when Lehner became available, McCrimmon knew he was the man for the job.
In what would turn out to be a complicated three-team trade, Lehner was first sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs, in exchange for unsigned NHL winger Martin Dzierkals. A couple of hours later, Lehner was dealt to Vegas, who sent struggling goalie Malcolm Subban, defensive prospect Stanislav Demin and their 2020 second-round pick (Drew Commesso) to Chicago, while also sending the Maple Leafs a 2020 fifth-round pick (Kasper Putio).
Lehner quickly made a name for himself in Sin City, posting a perfect 3-0-0 record to round out Vegas’ regular season. He was even better in the playoffs, where he took over the starting goalie reins from Marc-Andre Fleury. Lehner posted an impressive 1.99 GAA while he guided the team to a Conference Finals appearance, where they were knocked out by the Dallas Stars.
He played well enough to earn himself a five-year contract from Vegas management, the total contract being worth around $25 million. Lehner is the goalie of the future in Vegas, and when comparing him to what he was given up for, it’s clear to see McCrimmon and the Golden Knights hit a home-run with this trade.
1. Salary Dumps for Big Signing
When Alex Pietrangelo decided he would test the free-agent market during the 2020 offseason, it created a buzz like no other. The former St. Louis Blues captain, and 2019 Stanley Cup winner, would transform any team that signed him into a contender.
The Golden Knights weren’t new to the status of being considered contenders but wanted to solidify it even more with the signing of Pietrangelo. McCrimmon knew that in order to accomplish that there would be some tough decisions ahead.
His first measure of business came on October 9, 2020, when he dealt Paul Statsny to the Winnipeg Jets, in exchange for Carl Dahlstrom and a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick. The 34-year-old Stasny had been on the decline in his two seasons in Vegas, with his last being a 38-point campaign in 71 games. At a cap hit of $6.5 million, it’s clear to see why Vegas unloaded him when they could.
Nate Schmidt was a standout on the Vegas blue line, while also being a fan favorite. He posted 30 or more points in all three of his seasons in a Vegas uniform. A solid defenseman indeed, that apparently wasn’t enough to keep him around for the future, as McCrimmon dealt him and his $5.9 million cap hit to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 third-round pick. This was a hard one for Vegas fans to accept but, as the old saying goes, “In order to make an omelet you need to crack a couple of eggs”.
This move cleared enough cap room for Vegas to pursue the offseason hottest free agent, and on October 12, 2020, the deal was done. Pietrangelo was signed to a seven-year contract worth a reported $61.5 million. His signing instantly solidified Vegas’ defense corps as one of the best in the league and allows them to be contenders for years to come.
McCrimmon has proven that he has what it takes to make the necessary moves in order for his team to get better in the future, while also being a contender in the present moment. With the Golden Knights heading into the 2020-21 season with the second-best odds to take it all, via Vegas Sports Books, it would be exciting to see what McCrimmon has up his sleeve for this season. If his first season is any indicator of his future transactions, we should be in for an interesting spectacle of playing with the salary cap and acquiring big names.
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.