In their short three seasons in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights have made noise at every trade deadline they have participated in. In 2017-18, they acquired two forwards to make a Stanley Cup run. Last season, management landed the biggest fish on the market, and this season the team traded for what they needed most – a defenseman and a goalie.
Most deadline acquisitions see teams acquiring “rental” players, or players that are set to become free agents the following summer. In the Golden Knights’ case, they have kept the players they traded for, with one exception, helping build the team they have today.
The Inaugural Season
In their first season, the Golden Knights shocked the entire league by becoming the most successful expansion team in any of the four major professional sporting leagues. To show their fans and the rest of the league that they were for real, then-general manager George McPhee acquired two forwards to bolster their depth for a deep playoff run.
The first move McPhee made was acquiring fan-favorite Ryan Reaves from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The rugged winger plays a physical game, something that is needed throughout the playoffs. He came through in the clutch, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to send the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final.
The team also brought in Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings. While he did not work out in Vegas and ended up being a healthy scratch at times in the playoffs, he was shipped off to the Montreal Canadiens that summer to bring in Max Pacioretty, who leads the team in goals and points this season.
At the 2019 trade deadline, the Golden Knights landed the biggest fish on the market – Mark Stone. With Erik Karlsson and Stone set to become free agents, the Ottawa Senators wanted to move the two franchise players for assets before losing them for nothing. While they moved Karlsson before the season, the team held onto Stone until the last second.
The Senators received Oscar Lindberg, Erik Brannstrom and a second-round pick in the 2020 draft for Stone and Tobias Lindberg. Brannstrom is a former first-round pick, selected by the Golden Knights in 2017, but with the emergence of Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud and other young defensive prospects, management could not pass on the opportunity to acquire one of the league’s best two-way forwards.
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Stone was instantly signed to an eight-year contract extension and will finish his career in Las Vegas. He was nominated for the Selke Award last season as the league’s best defensive forward, leading the league in takeaways with 122 and is doing it again this season with 78, most among forwards.
For as good as he is in the defensive zone, his offensive abilities are even better. Breaking up plays helps him transition the puck, creating opportunities for his teammates and himself. He leads the team in assists (42) and is second in points (63).
Third Times a Charm
After two seasons of acquiring forwards, the Golden Knights spent this deadline looking to upgrade their backend and traded for defenseman Alec Martinez and goalie Robin Lehner.
The acquisition of Martinez helped solidify the team’s top four as it gives Shea Theodore a stay-at-home partner to play with and lets the coaching staff keep Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb as their top shutdown pair. Martinez brings the experience of two Stanley Cup championships to the locker room as well as the mentality to sacrifice his body to block shots.
In today’s NHL, teams need two goalies to be successful. The skaters are too quick and with the amount of lateral movement goalies do, their bodies break down faster. With Marc-Andre Fleury turning 35 this season, the team wanted to give him extra days off because of all the injuries he has had in recent years.
Unfortunately, Malcolm Subban was not cutting it. His career .901 save percentage (SV%) and 2.92 goals-against average (GAA) in a Golden Knights uniform did not give them a chance to win every night, so general manager Kelly McCrimmon made a trade for Lehner.
The Swedish goalie won the William M. Jennings Trophy and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season with the New York Islanders. He has been dynamic in the three games he has played, posting a .940 SV% and only allowing five goals en route to a 3-0-0 record with one shutout.
The trade deadline is an event when teams load up on talent for a late-season run with expiring deals and then the rentals leave for a payday elsewhere. The Golden Knights and their management team identify players who can fit into their system and trade for them, building a contender every season.