The Vegas Golden Knights traded goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the offseason to create cap space, but the mismanagement of that relief has been on full display early in the season.
Trading the face of the franchise yielded the intended result for the Golden Knights: cap flexibility. With that, Vegas should have been able to address the only true deficiency in the lineup, which is its first line center. Instead, the team spent over $7 million on backup netminder Laurent Brossoit and winger Evgenii Dadonov.
As the Golden Knights currently own a disappointing 4-5 record, they are without one of their top centers, William Karlsson, who had already been underperforming this year (three points and a minus-4 rating). Chandler Stephenson has been good for Vegas at center, recording a team-leading nine points, but other players like Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden have combined for only three points down the middle.
All of that is to say that the move to acquire Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel is much needed and long overdue. Eichel will have zero immediate impact, so Vegas won’t simply see its fortunes reversed. However, adding Eichel to the mix, regardless of when he may be healthy, is about the only thing that the Golden Knights could have done to correct its fumbled attempt to improve via the cap space gained by trading Fleury.
It is worth noting that other significant injuries are partially to blame for the Golden Knights’ frustrating start. Captain Mark Stone is on the IR, while Max Pacioretty and now-Sabre Alex Tuch have been on the long-term IR. While that will hurt no matter what offseason moves were made, this team is struggling in areas where the addition of a clear number one center would have been, and now will be, a tremendous help.
The first is faceoff win percentage, where the Golden Knights rank 28th, winning only 46% of its draws after ranking 20th in that category last season. In addition, the power play, which clicked at 17.8% last year in the regular season and 9.3% in the playoffs, has yet to cash in this season. Again, key absences do not help these numbers, but a number one center would, and Vegas hasn’t had that.
This move for Jack Eichel should have been made months ago. With $7 million off the books after moving on from Fleury, Vegas should have jumped on the opportunity to acquire a center like Eichel from the Sabres over the summer. As it stands, though, the Golden Knights got their man in the end.
With or without the former Sabres captain, the Golden Knights are too talented to not right the ship this season. If the goal, however, in Nevada is to win the Stanley Cup, a number one center absolutely had to be added to the roster. Vegas botched the Fleury trade, but they got what they needed anyway.