LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The NHL trade deadline is March 3. Mark Stone is injured. Again. It’s his back. Again. Seems natural then to assume the Golden Knights will be looking to make a deal to help them toward a playoff push.
After all, the Knights have been known for major trades and free-agent signings. The 2019 trade for Stone comes to mind. And the one for Max Pacioretty. And the 2020 free-agent signing of Alex Pietrangelo.
Stone’s injury creates a huge void. Clutch scoring, leadership, grit. To make a Stanley Cup run, the Knights, through trade, must try to fill that void.
But here’s the problem: Even if Stone goes on long term injured reserve, freeing up $9.5 million in salary so a blockbuster deal can be made, what do the Knights have to offer? They have two players – defenseman Lukas Cormier (No. 36) and forward Brendan Brisson (No. 72) – on a list of the NHL’s top 100 prospects as compiled by thehockeywriters.com. Even if you doubt the validity of such online rankings, The Athletic, whose parent company is The New York Times, ranks the Knights’ farm system 23rd out of the league’s 32 teams.
There are some younger prospects, but none appears to be good enough alone to perhaps pry the likes of Patrick Kane from Chicago or Timo Meier from San Jose. The skills of Kane or Meier would pair nicely on a line with Jack Eichel, which is what the Knights reportedly feel is needed to get their No. 1 center going offensively.
If dangling one player isn’t enough to acquire offense, what about putting together a package? Rebuilding teams like the Blackhawks and Sharks would be interested, right? But consider if the Knights really are among the league’s bottom third when it comes to top prospects, other teams, especially those fighting to get into the postseason or looking for depth — Los Angeles, Calgary, Edmonton and Nashville, for example — appear better equipped to create such a package.
Reports are Kane would waive his no-trade clause for the right team. But with so many other teams seemingly better situated to make a Stanley Cup run, it’s hard to see the Knights being the right team for a player like Kane. As for San Jose, it wants a first-round pick, a top prospect and an established player for Meier. Giving up a promising young player, maybe a Paul Cotter or a Keegan Kolesar, in a package to lure an unrestricted free agent (both Kane and Meier are just that) doesn’t make much sense if you’re the Knights.
Or does it? Remember, the Knights have a small window to win that Stanley Cup so coveted by owner Bill Foley. Their best players are reaching their mid to early 30s. When he returns, their very best player – and don’t let anyone kid you, it’s Mark Stone – will be coming off his second back surgery in nine months. He’s 31 in May.
A deal to bring in a younger player who can be signed – someone like Meier, 26 – would make the most sense. The Knights would seemingly jump at such an opportunity.
But their cap situation – any acquisition that means another hefty contract puts them up against it – and the lack of top-notch prospects signal that’s a stretch.
If the Knights do make a deal, it figures to be one for depth. Adding experience and/or grit to the bottom-six forward group or the final defensive pairing.
It could be enough to get them into the postseason. But that kind of move, sadly for Foley, doesn’t figure to be near good enough for a valid Cup run.