Alex Pietrangelo did his homework before signing a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights as an unrestricted free agent Monday. The defenseman had played his entire 12-season NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and won the Stanley Cup with them as their captain in 2019.
“He made the comment that winning a Stanley Cup has made him even hungrier to do it again,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “So the commitment to winning is certainly a really big factor in his choosing to come here for the next stage of his career.”
No one can question Vegas’ commitment to win.
When the Golden Knights entered the NHL as an expansion team in 2017-18, owner Bill Foley set a goal: to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three years and win the Cup in six.
They got off to such a strong start in their inaugural season that they surprised even themselves and accelerated their timeline. Instead of moving pending UFAs for assets prior to the NHL Trade Deadline as planned, they added depth. Not only did they make the playoffs, they made the Stanley Cup Final.
They’ve gone for it, all out, ever since.
Pietrangelo is the latest in a long line of big acquisitions via trade or free agency, from forwards Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone to defenseman Alec Martinez to goalie Robin Lehner, not to mention coach Peter DeBoer.
It wasn’t enough to make the playoffs in their second season. It wasn’t enough to make the playoffs again in their third season and return to the Western Conference Final.
“It’s right from the top with Bill 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 possibility 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.”
Even if that requires being cold sometimes.
The inaugural group of players called themselves the “Golden Misfits” because they were castoffs from other organizations. The way they came together and brought together Las Vegas after the mass shooting on The Strip on Oct. 1, 2017, they forged a bond between each other and their city.
And Nate Schmidt.
Vegas traded the popular defenseman to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday to clear space under the NHL salary cap for Pietrangelo, after trading Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday. Not long ago, on July 1, 2018, Stastny was a big UFA signing for Vegas.
“This game, this business, the job that I have, often requires really hard decisions on good people,” McCrimmon said.
The Golden Knights fired original coach Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15 even though they were in a playoff spot, and his replacement was DeBoer, the former coach of the rival San Jose Sharks.
DeBoer ended up starting Lehner over Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs, even though Fleury was the face of the franchise and had been the No. 1 goalie since the beginning.
“It would be nice for all of us if we could do it the easy way,” McCrimmon said. “At the same time, we’re entrusted to do the best job with this organization that we can, to ice the best team that we can, to put our team in the best position to win that we can.
“So if that’s what you adhere to, that’s what you believe in, that’s the standard that you hold everyone in the organization to, then you have to do your part as well to make the team as strong as it can be. Is that easy? Certainly not. It definitely isn’t.”
The “Golden Misfits” were special in part because they had no hierarchy. Everyone had something to prove.
They were the product of a moment in time. The lack of hierarchy couldn’t last, and the roster couldn’t stay intact, not as players needed new contracts under the cap, not as management brought in upgrades.
But the turnover keeps players needing to prove themselves, and at least to this point, the Golden Knights have kept good chemistry. Their challenge will be to continue that.
“Just to reflect back on the Year 1, I think we did an incredible job laying the foundation of what needs to be done and how we play and how our room is,” a player said during the playoffs. “And that being said, that comes from management picking guys and fully vetting guys as good people, good players, and knowing that you can play different roles and be a different voice in the room. And the beauty of it is, is that although there has been some turnover, we have found guys that fit into our mold perfectly.”
Pietrangelo should fit the mold too. But the player who gave that quote? It was the player traded to make room for him, Schmidt.