LAS VEGAS — And you thought the Vegas Golden Knights were going to stand pat with their roster just because they won the Stanley Cup?
Not a chance.
That’s not how they do business at City National Arena. George McPhee, the team’s president of hockey operations, and Kelly McCrimmon, the general manager, are always looking to make the team better and Wednesday, they attempted to do just that. But they did come pretty darn close in keeping the band together.
Goodbye Reilly Smith. Welcome back Ivan Barbashev.
Smith, one of the six original Knights and a longtime member of the team’s Misfit Line, was dealt to Pittsburgh for the same third-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft the Knights had used to acquire Teddy Blueger in March. Smith, 32, had two years to go on his deal at an average annual value of $5 million.
With that money, McCrimmon went and signed the 27-year-old Barbashev to a five-year, $25 million extension after acquiring him before the trade deadline in March. In doing so, the Knights keep their top line of Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault and Barbashev intact. Barbashev, a two-time Cup champion (he won in 2019 with St. Louis), had a strong postseason with the Knights, scoring seven goals and having 11 assists in 22 playoff games.
And prior to those big deals, the team also resigned defenseman Brayden Pachal, who was the Henderson Silver Knights’ captain this past season and gave him a two-year extension with an AAV of $775,000. Pachal, 23, played 10 games with the Golden Knights and appeared in one game during the first round of the postseason.
“We were not looking to bring anyone in from outside our organization,” McCrimmon said. “All of the decisions that we were making were on people that we just won a Stanley Cup with. Our objective is to keep as much of our roster intact. Unfortunately, we had to move Reilly to help facilitate some of the other moves we needed to make.”
Barbashev said he wanted to stay in Vegas and in signing his extension, got the bump in salary he was seeking after making $2.4 million last year along with the desired lengthy term in his contract. By living and working in Nevada, he’ll also see his money go farther as there’s no state income tax for him to have to pay.
For Smith, who played 399 games with the franchise and all 88 playoff games, his departure opens the door for the team to look from within for a more economic alternative if it wants to fill his spot on the third line with William Karlsson and Michael Amadio. Pavel Dorofeyev could be Smith’s replacement. So could Paul Cotter. Both saw action with the NHL club before injuries sidelined them. In addition, Brendan Brisson, the team’s No. 1 draft pick from 2020 who spent the 2022-23 season in Henderson, may get an opportunity to play on that line.
Wednesday was also the first round of the NHL Draft. The Knights, by virtue of winning the Cup, picked last. They selected center David Edstrom from Frolunda of Sweden at No. 32. Vegas will have four picks on Day 2 Thursday (two in round 3, one each in rounds 6 and 7).
It’s highly unlikely McCrimmon is done dealing. With free agency set to begin Saturday and the Knights with several UFAs and RFAs to resign, the salary cap becomes the focal point in trying to make the team good enough to defend its title.
Among the UFAs are forwards Blueger and Phil Kessel, the NHL’s ironman, goaltenders Adin Hill, Jonathan Quick and Laurent Brossoit, and RFA forward Brett Howden. McCrimmon said recently he was confident the team would get their RFAs signed, which was the case Wednesday with Pachal and likely will happen for Howden, who played with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson and has also indicated he’d like to remain a Golden Knight.
But of the team’s remaining UFAs, it appears Hill is the priority. He is seeking a sizable increase from his $2.65 million he earned last year stepping into the breech and backstopping the Knights to the Stanley Cup. along with long term. At 27, he has the opportunity to hit the open market come Saturday unless the Knights can come to terms with him.
There were rumors earlier in the week that Hill and the Knights were close to an extension of just under $5 million a year for two years. Ironically, that would be close to what the team is currently paying goaltender Robin Lehner. Lehner, who makes $5 million, did not play this year after undergoing surgery on both hips and his shoulder and spent the 2022-23 season on Long Term Injured Reserve.
McCrimmon said Wednesday negotiations with Hill and his agent Gerry Johansson are ongoing but no deal has been made.
McCrimmon has not said whether Lehner intends to try to play this coming season or remain on LTIR. The team could take him off the injured list and attempt to trade him should he be cleared medically to play. But that would be a big gamble for any prospective suitors. In addition, Lehner’s off-the-ice issues are well known and he is in the midst of some legal battles over some business deals that went sour.
If Lehner were to be dealt, he would have to provide the Knights with an eight-team list that he would refuse to be traded to before any deal would be consummated.
But that’s getting ahead of things. For the moment, Barbashev’s staying in Vegas, Smith is in Pittsburgh, the team hasn’t gotten any deal done with Brossoit or Quick, Blueger or Kessel and Hill could essentially make what Lehner is making should Lehner stay on LTIR for the next two years.
Quiet? Sorry, that’s not the Golden Knights’ way.