Knights’ GM McCrimmon scores hat trick of big deadline deals

Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
Slumping Vegas acquired three quality NHL players in Tomas Hertl, Anthony Mantha and Noah Hanifin to try to shake them out of their current funk.

LAS VEGAS — I’m pretty sure Kelly McCrimmon went to bed Thursday night not getting much sleep after what he saw earlier in the evening at T-Mobile Arena.

The same could probably be said of Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy after the Vancouver Canucks took care of business with a 3-1 win.

McCrimmon, the Knights’ general manager, can’t be happy with what he has been seeing. His team is struggling big-time, having lost four straight and going 2-7-1 in its last 10. With 73 points and 19 games remaining beginning Saturday vs. Detroit, they are the second wild card team in the Western Conference and are only six points secure of Calgary, Seattle and St. Louis, all in hot pursuit. If the Stanley Cup Playoffs began today, Vegas would be the No. 8 seed in the West and would play Vancouver, the No. 1 seed.

But McCrimmon had been busy this week, making three big moves designed to address some needs. With Mark Stone out with a lacerated spleen and on Long Term Injured Reserve, giving him $9.5 million to work with, McCrimmon dealt Tuesday for Washington power forward Anthony Mantha, a big body at 6-foot-4 with a scorer’s touch (20 goals this season). 

Wednesday, he traded for Calgary defenseman Noah Hanifin to take Alec Martinez’s place after Martinez was placed on IR with a lower-body injury that required surgery. Both times, the assets the Knights sent the other way were nominal and with both the Capitals and Flames retaining 50 percent of the salaries plus Philadelphia kicking in an additional 25 percent of Hanifin’s contract, it gave McCrimmon enough working capital to make one last move Friday at the NHL’s trade deadline.

He may have saved his best for last. With the noon (Pacific) trade deadline looming, he obtained longtime VGK nemesis Tomas Hertl from San Jose for 2023 first-round pick David Edstrom and Vegas’ first-round pick in 2025 while the Sharks sent their third-round picks in 2025 and 2027 to the Knights along with retaining 17 percent annually of Hertl’s $8.13 million salary which runs through 2029-30. Hertl also had a full no-move clause in his contract which meant he had to approve being sent to Vegas, a decision that was a no-brainer, going from one of the worst teams in the league to a Stanley Cup champion and a contender to repeat.

“We were trying to fit everyone in our lineup to play,” McCrimmon said Friday afternoon at a news conference at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility. “That’s why we did the retention on all three of the players we acquired.”

Hertl had surgery on his left knee last month and he will join the team at some point in what remains of the regular season. The 30-year-old center had 15 goals and 19 assists in 48 games before being injured Jan. 27. In 25 career games against the Knights, he has eight goals and eight assists.

“My comment to Tomas was, ‘Tomas, if you play as good for us as you did against us, we’ll all be happy,’” McCrimmon said. “He’s a real good fit for us.”

Both Mantha and Hanifn  made their VGK debuts Thursday against the Canucks with dubious results. Mantha took a double-minor two minutes into the game for high sticking Vancouver’s Nils Hoglander. The Canucks would score late in what turned into a 5-on-3 power play. In 20 shifts resulting in 15:14 in time on ice playing mostly with William Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson, Mantha failed to register a shot on goal and had one blocked shot.

Hanifin played 21:33 minutes after flying cross-country from Tampa the day before. He had two shots on goal, two hits and one giveaway playing with Alex Pietrangelo. He looked more comfortable as the game went on.

Cassidy said afterwards he wasn’t prepared to offer his opinion on the two newcomers, saying it was too small a sample size and that he’ll assess their performances in a few days. 

Frankly, Cassidy has bigger issues on his hands right now. His team is struggling to regain its footing. The Knights are easy to play against right now. They struggle to break out of their own end. They are unable to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. The centers are not coming back to pick up opponents in the high slot area of their defensive zone. The goaltending is spotty at best as both Adin Hill and Logan Thompson are underperforming.

After starting the season a torrid 11-0-1, Vegas is an underwhelming, below .500 hockey team at 22-23-6 since.

“I look at tomorrow (vs. Detroit) as turning the page,” McCrimmon said. “It’s time to turn the page and get going.”

I have no doubt Mantha, Hertl and Hanifin will help. Mantha had 20 goals this season in Washington but it never appeared he was fully comfortable as a Capital. He might be a better fit with Stephenson at center and Cassidy said after Thursday’s game he wasn’t married to keeping Mantha with Karlsson. 

Hanifin gives Vegas another puck-moving defenseman, somewhat similar to Shea Theodore. He can do the things needed to implement Cassidy’s system once he gets comfortable with it and playing with a skilled partner like Pietrangelo will help him quickly assimilate into the Knights’ style of play.

Hertl gives Vegas depth up the middle and can contribute to the power play. At 6-foot-3, he’s hard to move off the puck and he wins more than his share of battles in front of the net and in the corners.

But one way or another, this team needed to regain its identity. There is an obvious disconnect right now and Cassidy admitted as much. The stretches of good play, of domination, are too brief and not sustainable right now. That has to change. The Canucks out-skated Vegas for the most part, essentially beating the Knights at their own game. They were strong on the forecheck, opportunistic when it came to creating opportunities and cashed in on mistakes.

Sound familiar? That’s what the Knights do when they’re playing winning hockey. They need to find a way to recapture that identity and do it quickly.

McCrimmon said in making the deals he made, his concern was more big picture than recent developments.

“The recent play of the team doesn’t come into play,” he said. “You have to take the perspective that it’s bigger than the day-to-day.

“That said, we wanted to help our team. We haven’t been good enough recently and we’ll fix that.”

That no regular currently on the roster was part of the three trades tells you McCrimmon believes the talent is there to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Defenseman Daniil Miromanov, who was sent to Calgary as part of the Hanifin deal, had spent the majority of the time in Henderson with the AHL Silver Knights. The Knights also traded their No. 1 pick in 2026 to the Flames.

“Our players have earned he respect of management to try and help,” he said. “They know we want to win and will do what it takes to win.” 

The good news is despite their current funk, the Knights are just two points behind Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division and five points behind second place Edmonton. Vegas is done playing the Kings this year but will face the Oilers April 10 at Edmonton in what will be a four-point game. They also have two more games with Vancouver.

And if you’re looking further down the road, the final four games of the regular season are at T-Mobile, only one of which is against a current playoff team, that being Colorado on April 14. The other three are vs. Minnesota (April 12), Chicago (April 16) and Anaheim (April 18). You’d like to think things will have straightened themselves out by then. But I wouldn’t say it’s a sure-fire lock that it will. 

So while it might be a bit early to hit the panic button, you have every right to be concerned. Obviously, McCrimmon didn’t think his roster was good enough given all the injuries — the Knights also remain without William Carrier, Pavel Dorofeyev and Brett Howden along with Stone and Martinez — so he adjusted things and he shares your concerns.

Which is why he was never standing pat. That’s just not the way they do things at City National Arena.