Vegas Golden Knights: Grading the Knights’ Free Agency moves

It was a pretty big off-season for the Vegas Golden Knights.

After coming up short in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing in five in the Western Conference Finals to the Dallas Stars, the Vegas Golden Knights opted to go big-game hunting once again.

They went fishing with the big boys in Free Agency and finally caught their White Whale in elite defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract.

It came at a steep price, however, with the Golden Knights having to deal both Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt in order to clear the cap space needed to make a run at Pietrangelo.

Vegas achieved what they set out to do, though, and they are automatically a much better team with Pietrangelo on the roster.

And, with their off-season business likely all but done, we decided now was the perfect time to grade the Golden Knights’ off-season, although we haven’t included what they did in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft as we’ll be doing something separate on that.

Let’s delve in shall we…

Additions

  • Alex Pietrangelo, D, seven-year, $61.6 million contract
  • Tomas Nosek, C, one-year, $1,250,000 contract
  • Tomas Jurco, F, one-year, $700,000 contract
  • Danny O’Regan, C, one-year, $700,000 contract
  • Carl Dahlstrom, D, one-year, $850,000 contract (Acquired in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets)

It goes without saying that the biggest business of the off-season for the Golden Knights was landing the biggest prize of Free Agency in Alex Pietrangelo, who is one of the best defensemen in the entire National Hockey League.

Pietrangelo transforms this Golden Knights roster from a very, very good one into an elite one over night, and able to eat huge minutes, play in all situations, play big in all zones and provide offense, the 30-year-old is the horse on the backend that this organization has long craved.

Outside of the Pietrangelo signing, the Golden Knights re-signed bottom-six forward Tomas Nosek to a one-year, $1,250,000 contract, while they made two depth signings in Tomas Jurco and Danny O’Regan.

Nosek is elite on the penalty kill and he’s got proven chemistry with William Carrier and Ryan Reaves, so bringing Nosek back for one more year was a smart move by General Manager Kelly McCrimmon.

Both Jurco and O’Regan are likely to begin the year in the American Hockey League with the Henderson Silver Knights, and we probably won’t see either player in the NHL unless injuries hit the Golden Knights’ bottom six forward group.

Vegas also acquired defenseman Carl Dahlstrom from the Winnipeg Jets as part of the Paul Stastny trade, and the 25-year-old is a solid depth option for the Knights.

While Zach Whitecloud and Nick Holden will likely start the 2020-21 season as Vegas’ third-pairing, and we’ll have more on that soon, Dahlstrom is a good seventh defenseman and he’s a potential replacement for Holden if the veteran gets hurt or struggles early on.

Finally, the front office’s decision to not trade Marc-Andre Fleury and ride with a goalie tandem of Robin Lehner and Fleury, while not conducive to long-term success given the combined $12 million cap hit, gives the Golden Knights yet another strength heading into next season.

Nate Schmidt #88 and Paul Stastny #26 of the Vegas Golden Knights converge on Tanner Pearson #70 of the Vancouver Canucks

Nate Schmidt #88 and Paul Stastny #26 of the Vegas Golden Knights converge on Tanner Pearson #70 of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Departures

  • Nate Schmidt, D, Traded to the Vancouver Canucks
  • Paul Stastny, F, Traded to the Winnipeg Jets
  • Nick Cousins F, signed for the Nashville Predators in FA
  • Deryk Engelland, D, Unsigned
  • Jon Merrill, D, signed for the Detroit Red Wings in FA

As a direct result of signing stud defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in Free Agency, the Golden Knights had to make some moves in order to free up the cap space.

Therefore, General Manager Kelly McCrimmon made some tough decisions by dealing veteran center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a 2022 Fourth-Round pick, before trading defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a Third-Round selection in 2022.

While it did the trick by clearing over $11 million in cap space, a Third-Round pick for a top-four defenseman is a hell of a steal from Vancouver’s standpoint, but needs must when you are as tight up against the flat cap of $81.5 million as the Golden Knights are.

Vegas also opted not to re-sign defensemen Jon Merrill and Deryk Engelland and depth forward Nick Cousins, with Merrill and Cousins signing for the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators respectively, while Engelland could retire and take up some kind of role within the Golden Knights front office.

All three would have been role players at best for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21, while letting Merrill, Engelland and Cousins walk freed up some much-needed dollars.

Alex Pietrangelo (27), St. Louis Blues

Central Division defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) of the St. Louis Blues. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Verdict – Grade A

The blockbuster signing of Alex Pietrangelo warrants a high grade alone, while bringing Tomas Nosek back for one year is a smart move depth-wise, as is keeping hold of Marc-Andre Fleury when it comes to maintaining high chemistry within the locker room.

We would have given the Golden Knights an A+ but giving up Nate Schmidt for a Third-Round pick, while necessary, wasn’t the best trade while they also lost some center depth after dealing Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets.

That may not matter if Cody Glass can step up in his sophomore season and establish himself as a true second-line center in the NHL, but we won’t know that for a few months at least.

Next: Pietrangelo AND Hall? It could have happened

However, overall, the Golden Knights achieved their ultimate goal this off-season by acquiring their White Whale in Alex Pietrangelo and that addition alone warrants a very high grade.

It is now up to this talent-laden roster to deliver the goods on the ice once the puck drops on the 2020-21 NHL season.