As the 2019 trade deadline approached, it became clear that the Vegas Golden Knights were in desperate need of a change. Despite being in a position to make the playoffs, they were unable to find success throughout February, only picking up a few wins in the month. Throughout this losing month, a primary concern came into full focus: the Golden Knights lacked consistent scoring.
Before the end of the deadline, though, Vegas pulled off a huge trade. By acquiring Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators, they not only got the top player on the market, but they also returned an offensively gifted player who can reshape the franchise. So, even though they spent big, they made their assets count by bringing in the perfect player for their situation.
Mark Stone Could Fix the Golden Knights
Despite having a roster of players who showed incredible offensive prowess in their first season, the Golden Knights have been unable to replicate that success in their sophomore campaign. While top-liners like Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson have played reasonably well, their scoring totals have fallen far short of expectations placed on them.
While this is due to a number of reasons, one primary factor has been the regression of linemate Reilly Smith. After posting career-high scoring totals last season, Smith has been decidedly average in his play while throughout 2018-19. With only 36 points in 57 games, his scoring totals have been far from impressive, leaving a noticeable hole on Vegas’ top-line.
With Stone, the Golden Knights found a perfect answer for this scoring conundrum. First, he is a fantastic offensive talent, posting 28 goals and 62 points in 59 games. These scoring totals alone make him the top-scoring player on the team this season, showcasing not only how talented he is, but also how average Vegas has been.
Secondly, he is a defensively responsible forward with an incredibly high hockey-IQ. While this may fall under the intangibles category that is difficult to gauge in a real hockey scenario, Stone still is the sort of player whom a franchise can put confidence in. Whether this involves pushing the play, passing the puck up the ice or holding back in his own zone while waiting to strip the opponent, you know that he is going to make the best choice for the situation.
How Does Stone’s Contract Fit in Vegas?
At 26-years old, Stone is just now reaching his prime. With an eight-year contract extension, he will be tied to Vegas until he is roughly 34 years old, meaning that he will spend the bulk of his prime years playing hockey with the Golden Knights.
Despite his cap-hit being a staggering $9.5 million a season, he still could be a good value to the Golden Knights in the long-term. While he may never put up point totals that place him near the top of the league in scoring, he could provide a consistent 20 to 30 goals and 60 to 80 points each season.
Plus, if his play can get his linemates going, it could turn Vegas around from a non-threating offensive core to a team with scoring depth to spare. With plenty of potential fire-power on their roster, there is reason to believe that an upgrade on the top-line may be exactly what was needed to get this entire team firing on all cylinders again.
Despite Cost, Golden Knights Won With Stone
No, this was not a cheap trade for the Golden Knights. Giving up a defensive prospect like Erik Brannstrom could haunt the franchise for years, especially if he lives up to his top-line potential in Ottawa. But, no matter how good Brannstrom was expected to be, he still is a prospect. Anything could happen from now until his eventual NHL debut.
In Stone, the Golden Knights have a sure thing. They have a player that is reaching the top of his game and will be able to provide stability to their forward core for years to come.
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Even if they fail to make it out of the first round of the 2019 playoffs, this trade is still a win for the Golden Knights. With the addition of Stone, Vegas has assembled a roster of players that will compete for the Stanley Cup not just this season, but for years to come. Given the fact that they have only existed for less than two seasons, that is no small feat.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.