LAS VEGAS — Now that we know where things stand with Mark Stone, what will the Vegas Golden Knights do to replace their captain, at least in the short-term?
Stone had back surgery Tuesday and is out indefinitely according to the team. It’s the second time in eight months he has had an operation on his back. He made it to opening night the first time around. Can he return to the ice at some point this year the second time?
Perhaps. The team was pretty vague about Stone’s status going forward. As of Friday morning, he had not been placed on long term injured reserve, which is important. Stone earns $9.5 million. The Knights have $3.87 million of salary cap space according to capfriendly.com. They’ll use much of that when Zach Whitecloud, who makes $2.7 million, returns from LTIR when the season resumes next week.
Since they don’t play until Tuesday when they’re in Nashville to face the Predators, there’s no need to rush when it comes to replacing Stone. However, if general manager Kelly McCrimmon is looking to make a deal this weekend while at the NHL All-Star Game in Florida, the team will have to make a move regarding Stone to free up the cap space in order to get any deal done.
McCrimmon may decide to wait a couple of weeks and see how things shake out. The NHL trade deadline isn’t until March 3. But after seeing what the New York Islanders did earlier this week in acquiring high-scoring center Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks, McCrimmon may decide to move early to fill the spot.
I don’t see any immediate help coming from Henderson in finding Stone’s replacement. Brendan Brisson is not ready. Ditto for Ivan Morozov. Pavel Dorofeyev is injured and he’s not a realistic option even if healthy. So the answer isn’t likely coming from within the VGK organization.
Let’s remember, Stone doesn’t just represent offense for the Knights. He’s not a big-time goal scorer, but thanks to his high hockey IQ, he sees the ice better than most and the fact he has more assists (21) than goals (17) backs that up.
To that end, he helps make his linemates better. Jack Eichel and Chandler Stephenson, who were skating with Stone prior to his injury, have both struggled mightily in his absence. Eichel hasn’t scored in his last eight games, Stephenson in his last 10. Coach Bruce Cassidy has shuffled both players up and down the lineup in an attempt to jump-start their offense but to no avail.
And Stone is missed on special teams. He’s a net presence on the power play, which has struggled mightily recent weeks. He’s an excellent penalty killer and with that long stick of his, he breaks up a lot of opposing rushes before they manifest themselves.
Finally he’s the captain and his presence in the locker room is something that can’t be ignored. His leadership is being missed.
So replacing Stone isn’t that simple. It’s unlikely McCrimmon can find someone who has all of Stone’s on-ice attributes. But if he can come close, perhaps that’s good enough.
The Knights are in a battle to stay atop the Pacific Division. They are currently in third place with 62 points, one behind Seattle and Los Angeles. The Knights are just two points ahead of Edmonton and five in front of Calgary. Suffice to say, they’re in a dogfight to make the playoffs despite their 29-18-4 record. If McCrimmon can make a move to bolster the lineup offensively, he needs to try.
As I have said previously, at some point, the bill will come due when and if everyone gets healthy and the LTIR list is empty. Of course, we don’t know Nolan Patrick’s future or Robin Lehner’s for that matter. Shea Weber, the other current LTIR member, is likely done playing hockey. Of course, the Knights will have until opening night in October to make everything fit under the cap. So I guess he can worry about that later.
So who do the Knights target?
NHL insider Elliotte Friedman threw out the name of Noel Acciari of St. Louis as a possibility. Acciari played for Cassidy in Boston. He would come cheap ($1.2 million) and the 31-year-old right wing has 10 goals and 18 points in 51 games for the Blues this season. I’m not sure putting him with Eichel and Stephenson jump-starts Acciari’s offense, much less gets Eichel and Stephenson going. If Vegas acquired him, I’d see him as more of a bottom-six forward.
There are more expensive items out there when it comes to pending unrestricted free agents such as Acciari’s St. Louis teammates Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev, San Jose’s Timo Meier and Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks’ Max Domi could also be a possibility. Domi, who is only 27, has 15 goals this season for Chicago. Maybe a move to a contender allows him to build on those numbers while giving Vegas some added toughness up front.
Regardless, the talent pool is shallow for McCrimmon to go fishing. And if you are lamenting him for moving on from former first-round picks Cody Glass and Peyton Krebs, consider Glass has just seven goals in 38 games with Nashville this season and Krebs has six goals in 42 games with Buffalo. Both have spent time in the AHL this season. So how much help offensively do you realistically believe either would have given the Knights?
Like most NHL GM’s, don’t expect McCrimmon to tip his hand. There’s no doubt he’s been working the phones and he’s not exactly dealing from a position of strength when it comes to trying to cut a deal. But I’m sure he will look to try and fill the void left by Stone’s surgery. However, he may have to settle for a single or a double instead of a home run in trying to improve his team’s roster.