Vegas Golden Knights rumors, top trade & free agent targets for 2021 and beyond

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Vegas Golden Knights
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights have repeatedly shown a willingness to go out and acquire star players throughout their young franchise history as they’ve swung massive deals to bring in star players such as Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Jack Eichel. Kelly McCrimmon has played a significant role in building the current team through his role as general manager and he hasn’t been afraid to constantly tinker with the roster. This has resulted in an exciting ride for Golden Knights fans as there are always new stars arriving in the desert.

Because of this high level of activity, the rumor mill is always spinning. It can be hard for fans to keep up with the constant stream of news surrounding the team as McCrimmon is constantly looking to upgrade and isn’t afraid to make a risky move.

As a team that is on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup and has made deep playoff runs over the past few seasons, the Golden Knights are so close they can taste it. They’ve gathered a core group of players that are among the best in the league and they now face a new issue. They need to find a way to maximize the small amount of cap dollars left over and create a cost-efficient supporting cast.

To do that, the Golden Knights will exhaust every possible talent pipeline including free agency, trades, waivers, or promoting from inside the organization. The organization is respected league-wide for its treatment of players, making it easier to attract the top talent.

To take the next step, the Golden Knights will have to get crafty and find a way to take the next step despite not having a ton of cap flexibility or draft picks to maneuver with. Check back here for the latest update on Golden Knights rumors.

Vegas Golden Knights rumors: How will the team become cap compliant in time for the playoffs?

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Islanders
Mar 7, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) controls the puck against the New York Islanders during the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Vegas Golden Knights won the Jack Eichel sweepstakes as they acquired the injured superstar center and a third-round pick from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for prospect Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a first-round draft pick, and a second-round draft pick.

When healthy, Eichel is among the best players in the league and has produced at just under a point-per-game rate for his career. However, he also carries a cap hit of $10 million per year, a number that immediately makes him the most expensive player on the team.

While the Golden Knights are taking advantage of the salary cap benefits offered by the long-term injury reserve (LTIR) by placing Eichel and fellow forward Max Pacioretty on the list, when they return it will cause salary cap issues.

“You do have to ask yourself what happens when we return to full health, and yet sometimes you never return to full health,” said McCrimmon after the trade, “If and when that poses a challenge for us, we’ll address it at that time. All things considered, we’re happy to have Jack Eichel as part of our organization and prepared to deal with that if need be.”

The return of Eichel and Pacioretty to the lineup would force the Golden Knights to clear up around $10 million in cap space. Finding that money is going to be a challenge, but the team could be bailed out if either player doesn’t return before the playoffs or if another player goes down and can be moved to LTIR.

Some players that could be cap casualties if those two do return before the playoffs are newcomer Evgenii Dadonov as well as original “Misfit” William Karlsson. Dadonov was acquired this offseason and carries a cap hit of $5 million, a significant salary that would be a solid chunk of the money that needs to be freed to accommodate Eichel and Pacioretty.

Vegas Golden Knights rumors: Way too early offseason preview

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Vegas Golden Knights
Nov 13, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith (19) looks on during the second period against the Vancouver Canucks at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s still a ways away, the Golden Knights have a busy offseason approaching. Their salary cap situation is messy after the acquisition of Eichel and they are also going to have to re-sign players like Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb, and Nicolas Hague. They’re also missing their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, meaning that if they want to upgrade their prospect pool, they’re going to need to find another way.

If the Golden Knights come up short once again this year, McCrimmon will surely be looking for ways to continue to add to the roster as he always as. This could mean swinging another large trade although they’ve already dealt many of their top prospects as well as multiple picks in the upcoming years.

With four players being owed at least $7 million dollars last season in Eichel, Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights have one of the most expensive core groups in the league. This means that they are inching closer to a roster built more in the style of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where the expensive core players are surrounded by a cheap supporting cast rather than a more balanced style in terms of cap allocation.

This style of team-building usually leads to the supporting cast getting trimmed. As the Golden Knights have prided themselves on their depth ever since their original expansion draft, their transition to this new style of team building could result in a few fan favorites being forced to leave.