NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Vegas Golden Knights have one measure of success entering their fourth season in the NHL: the Stanley Cup.
In the latest big move for an expansion team that made the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season in 2017-18, returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018-19 and reached the Western Conference Final last season, Vegas landed a prized free agent by signing defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to a seven-year contract Oct. 12.
“The expectations are high, which is a good thing,” said Pietrangelo, who had played his entire 12-season NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and won the Cup as their captain in 2019. “When you start off as well as the franchise has in the first couple years, you expect a winning environment, and you want to be part of that winning environment.
“We had success in St. Louis for the most part the whole time I was there. It’s fun to be part of a winning environment, because it pushes you to become better every single year. I think now with the success that guys have had, getting close, I think it certainly pushes guys to get more hungry. They’re willing to do what they have to do.”
The Golden Knights have turned over their roster significantly since their inaugural season, adding players like goalie Robin Lehner, defenseman Alec Martinez and forwards Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty while subtracting or demoting popular players.
To make room for Pietrangelo, they traded defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 12 and center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 9. Schmidt had been with Vegas since the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft; Stastny was a big signing in free agency himself July 1, 2018.
More moves could be coming. Owner Bill Foley told KLAS-TV the Golden Knights have NHL salary cap issues that need to be resolved.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon said Vegas wouldn’t have traded Schmidt if not for the opportunity to add Pietrangelo.
“We get a guy that’s in the discussion for the Norris Trophy each year,” McCrimmon said of the award given annually to the defenseman voted best in the NHL. “He’s one of the top four or five defensemen in the game. He’s the first over the boards in every situation for his team. He had 52 points, including 16 goals last season, which would have put him fourth on our team in scoring. He’s a four-year captain. He’s extremely high character, very committed to winning, Stanley Cup champion, right shot. He’s 6-foot-3, brings great size to our blue line.”
Vegas could afford to trade Stastny because of the development of center Cody Glass, selected No. 6 in the 2017 NHL Draft as the first amateur draft pick in Golden Knights history. Glass scored 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 39 games for Vegas last season.
“You can’t sit still,” McCrimmon said. “There’s a balance between having a real strong nucleus that gives you that chance to win, but there’s also the importance of having enough churn that you give opportunities for new players, so we’re mindful of all that.
“We’re not an organization that’s only focused on winning next year. We’re trying to build a really strong organization that’s got good depth throughout.”
The Golden Knights enter the season with two No. 1-caliber goalies.
Lehner, acquired in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 24 (after the Maple Leafs acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks earlier that day), took over the starting job in the playoffs from Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of Vegas since the expansion draft.
The Golden Knights signed Lehner to a five-year contract Oct. 3. Fleury has two seasons remaining on the three-year contract he agreed to with Vegas on July 13, 2018.
Coach Peter DeBoer, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15, has said he will start the goalie who gives the Golden Knights the best chance to win.
“It’s right from the top with [owner Bill Foley] in terms of culture, in terms of what we stand for, in terms of what we believe in, and players want to win,” McCrimmon said. “Good players expect you to try to improve your teams as much as you possibly can, and I think the guys that are here know that we’re trying to win a Stanley Cup.
“We’re not going to apologize for that. We’re going to continue to work as hard as we can to be the best team we can be.”