Squire Report, Vol 7: Trades

01 March 2018

The Golden Knights continue to roll, as their lead in the Pacific Division has stretched to 10 points.  But this month was all about re-shaping the roster, as Vegas took part in the NHL's annual trade deadline activity...


Making their biggest splash of the day, Vegas traded three draft picks to Detroit to get dynamic winger Tomas Tatar.  It seemed like a bit of an overpayment (2018 1st rounder, 2019 2nd rounder, 2021 3rd rounder), but I can definitely get behind this deal based on what Tatar brings to the team - he's a relentless forechecker with great hands, and should fit very well into the quick-strike transition offense favored by coach Gerard Gallant.  He just turned 27 years old, and is in the first year of a four-year contract that carries a $5.3M cap hit.  After paying his dues with Detroit's AHL club in Grand Rapids, he's been a consistent performer at the NHL level, averaging about 20 goals and 40 points per season.

With the top two lines virtually set in stone, it would appear that Tatar will slot into the Knights' third line playing with Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, which seems like an embarrassment of riches for the team as they begin their first playoff run.  Adding some scoring touch to this line also allows the team to keep Tomas Nosek and Ryan Carpenter on the fourth line, where they can add the occasional goal to their strong defensive play.  Tatar also becomes a great insurance policy next season, as he could slide into the Top 6 if Vegas chooses not to re-sign one or both of David Perron and James Neal.

But was it worth it to part with those picks?  That's the tough pill to swallow for me.  GM George McPhee did a great job to stockpile draft picks coming out of the Expansion Draft, but I find it hard to believe that an expansion team will go to the Entry Draft after its first season without a 1st round pick, especially when all of the hockey pundits have claimed that this will be a very strong draft.  But these are the tough decisions that McPhee gets paid for, although I'm wondering if owner Bill Foley may have told him to throw caution to the wind and do what it takes to add to this magical season.  On the plus side, Vegas still kept all three of the players they selected in the 1st round last year, especially when you consider that they were one of the teams in the running for Erik Karlsson and that would have most likely required moving at least one of those key prospects:


In one of the more peculiar trades of the weekend, the Knights were involved in a three-team deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, highlighted by center Derick Brassard being shipped to Pittsburgh.  When the dust had settled, Vegas ended up adding a 4th round pick in the 2018 Draft as well as bruising forward Ryan Reaves - meanwhile, the Knights would also retain $2M of Brassard's salary for the next two seasons and send minor-leaguer Tobias Lindberg to the Penguins as part of the deal.  It was a curious move, although it was great to see McPhee leverage the extra cap space his team has in order to bring in a solid depth forward and an extra pick without sending much out.

Last summer, I was in favor of selecting Reaves in the Expansion Draft when I thought St. Louis would leave him exposed - they chose to protect him and trade him to Pittsburgh, leaving Vegas to select David Perron, so it all worked out anyway.  But for a first-year team looking to gain new fans, I figured Reaves' violent style of play would make him an instant crowd favorite.  However, I'm not really sure about how he fits in now, as the Knights have relied on great chemistry to get to where they are, and that includes not being an overly physical team.  Granted, I know the intensity ramps up in the playoffs and having a guy like Reaves around will help for those tough battles in the trenches, but for now we have to wait and see if he can gel with those around him.

(The relationship between Vegas and Reaves is off to a rocky start, as he made his debut in the lineup for back-to-back games against a tough Los Angeles Kings team, which promptly saw Vegas lose both and Reaves committing three minor penalties in the process)


I have to admit - Brendan Leipsic was one of my favorite players to watch this season.  He was scrappy and played with a motor that didn't quit, which really made you root for him when he finally broke through and scored after three months of being so close.  Unfortunately, his inability to finish saw him being a healthy scratch quite often this season, and McPhee finally gave up and sent him to Vancouver for defenseman Philip Holm.  I hate to see him go, but I'd love for him to finally get a chance to be an everyday player in an NHL lineup.  Leipsic played for Canucks coach Travis Green during his fantastic junior hockey career with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, so I would love to see a reunion provide a spark for his offensive abilities.

I don't know much about Philip Holm, except that he is a smooth-skating puck-moving defenseman who Vancouver signed in the offseason after having played several seasons in the Swedish Elite League.  Holm also appeared for Team Sweden in the 2017 World Championships, which George McPhee scouted heavily, so perhaps he saw something in that tournament that he liked.  We shall see how Holm fits in with the AHL club in Chicago for the rest of this season, but it's worth pointing out that he was fourth in scoring for Vancouver's AHL affiliate at the time of the trade.

One final note from the folks at the Knights On Ice blog (which I hope isn't a bad omen):

In the 17 games Leipsic didn’t play this season, the Golden Knights had a record of 8-8-1. With Leipsic in the lineup, they were 33-8-3. For whatever reason, the Golden Knights were far more likely to win with Leipsic than without him.


While the majority of the trade action took place at the end of February, the month did kick off with a minor transaction as Vegas acquired defenseman Zac Leslie from the Kings for future considerations. Yes, a minor-leaguer being moved for free is usually not much to get excited about, but it's always nice to see McPhee attempt to improve the club in any manner.  The talk was that Leslie was brought in with the hope that he would regain some of the offensive spark that he had during an impressive junior career, which had not been fully realized during his tenure in the AHL.  It looks like he's on the right track: after only scoring 1 goal and 4 assists in 26 games with the Ontario Reign, Leslie immediately tallied 2 goals and 2 assists in his first 6 games in Chicago.  Who knows what the future may hold, but young defensive depth is always a good thing!


Even though it didn't happen, I still contend that trading Neal was the best move for the franchise.  I'm not keen on signing him in the summer, and the acquisition of Tomas Tatar should make him expendable going into next season.  To add some salt in the wound, Neal was injured in his first game after the trade deadline had passed, so I hope that doesn't linger going forward.  I know that his return should help the team in their chase for the playoffs, so now I can only hope to see his rights traded before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

I always wish the best for these guys, so I really wanted to see Garrison contribute after having spent so much time in the minors this year.  But after appearing in only two games in February - then being a healthy scratch for three more - Garrison was sent back to the AHL without having registered a single point during his most recent callup.  With the return of Luca Sbisa and Jon Merrill from injured reserve, it's highly unlikely that we'll see Garrison in a Knights uniform for the rest of the season, barring another string of injuries on the blue line.

Oh, so close.  After kicking off the home stand with a disappointing loss to Philadelphia, the Knights played very well in winning five of their next six over the two-week stretch.  But it wasn't enough to meet my lofty expectations, as a shutout loss to Anaheim sealed the deal.


Next month will be a busy one, as Vegas plays 16 times in 30 days!  Combine the exhausting schedule with some roster fluctuation and that should lead to an underwhelming month.  It seems like each opponent in March is either a bubble team trying to cement their playoff standing (New Jersey, Columbus, Calgary) or a mediocre team that wants to finish the season on a high note (Buffalo, Arizona, Vancouver).  In addition, there's also a home-and-home series against an improved Colorado team that will want revenge for the 7-0 shellacking they received in Vegas back in October, as well as a final matchup against a Minnesota team that has yet to lose to the Knights.  I know I try to be optimistic on this blog, but I'm setting the bar rather low for the time being - here's hoping I'm wrong.

Now this is where the optimism comes in: while I do fear the team could struggle in the coming month, I also believe that Tatar will break out and show the fans why McPhee felt comfortable giving up all those draft picks to get him.  He'll be playing with renewed energy, and will want to impress his former club when the Knights travel to Detroit on March 8.  I think a goal every two games seems like a good bet.

Now that the trade deadline has passed, George McPhee's attention will shift to contract extensions for the upcoming free agents.  I would imagine he would wait until the offseason to sign the RFA's (Karlsson, Nosek, Carrier, Hyka, Theodore, Miller), but I think we'll see at least one of the soon-to-be UFA's get a new deal and continue to call Vegas home.  While most of these UFA's were selected in the Expansion Draft strictly to be traded, it's now apparent that management feels confident in keeping them around to help mentor the young team as they move forward.  Luca Sbisa and James Neal have certainly earned their spot on the team next year, but if I had to guess I'd say that David Perron will be the first to re-sign with the club.

And with that, I bid thee farewell...

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