Did anyone see this coming? An expansion team is currently one of the best teams in the NHL. The Vegas Golden Knights are currently fourth in the NHL in the standings, and as a surprise team in the West, they will have an interesting dilemma come deadline time.
Before the season began, many assumed that Vegas would be at best respectable and semi-competitive. A lot of these same people assumed they’d be sellers at the deadline. James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, all names that could have been gone had Vegas fallen out of the playoff spot. It’s still possible they fall out of a playoff spot. It’s also possible they make the playoffs, but only trade a guy like David Perron. Did anyone expect the possibility of Vegas actually keeping James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault?
Many teams kill to be in the position that Vegas is in right now. Who wouldn’t love to have their team at the top of the standings? I mean, most teams that are among the ten in the standings we end up talking about as potential Stanley Cup Contenders. Is their start a fluke? We shall see, as some fans have expressed scepticism on their start.
Many have cited the schedule advantages they had early in the season as a factor. We are only a third of a way through the season. But, if by February the Vegas Golden Knights are still in the same spot, things get interesting.
The point of Vegas drafting a lot of the players they did was with the idea that they could flip some players for assets in return to build for the future. Little did anyone know, they might have already built a playoff team. Not only does this team have players on the main roster, they also have a solid collection of prospects and young players. Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Malcolm Subban are all 23 or younger. William Karlsson is the team's leading scorer. A player who was cast off by both Anaheim and Columbus, has 13 goals, 22 points, in 22 games.
What about the farm system? Many teams look for centers to build around, and they drafted Nick Suzuki and Cody Glass in the top thirteen of the 2017 NHL Draft. They also took defenseman Erik Brannstrom 15th overall. With three more first-round picks, six-second rounders, and five third rounders over the next three years, they will have plenty more opportunities to continue to stock their farm.
The point is, they very well could afford to stand pat, enter the playoffs, get their fans excited, and more importantly, collect some of that playoff revenue. After all the success Vegas has had, and for how well positioned they are for the future, do they really sell off any of their top assets if they sustain the success?
For teams that are currently looking for scoring help, many could look to Vegas, as well as Buffalo for help. According to TSN’s trade bait list, Evander Kane is the number one target on the market right now, and his stock only continues to rise. James Neal is the number two option. TSN also identifies three Vegas players that are trade bait, one of which is David Perron, who ranked sixth, and another is defenseman Luca Sbisa, who ranked fourth.
In terms of renting true top line scoring help, it really comes down to James Neal and Evander Kane. Both players have had similar production this year. The next tier players for rentals also include Rick Nash, Alex Galchenyuk, and Thomas Vanek. There is also a possibility a team acquires Max Pacioretty at the deadline. Sam Reinhart could also be a darkhorse option.
If we arrive at the trade deadline, and the Golden Knights are still among one of the top ten maybe twelve teams in the league, they could look to stand pat. It might be a stretch, but maybe they look to do a little light shopping at the trade deadline, instead of just selling like people thought they would.
Maybe they do a little bit of both. Maybe they just trade Perron and keep Neal. Any trade value is obviously going to revolve around supply and demand. If James Neal is removed from the trade deadline, then that is a huge boost to the Evander Kane value.
How many more potential suitors does that create for Kane, given the appeal of Neal for some teams. Nashville and Pittsburgh are two teams that really could be interested here.
Nashville never wanted to lose Neal, to begin with, and after acquiring Kyle Turris in the Matt Duchene trade, they are clearly going for it again. This time, they might want to do everything they can to seal it up, and re-acquiring James Neal could be that move. If he’s not available, maybe the Predators look at a player like Evander Kane. With an intriguing prospect pool of players such as Dante Fabbro, Alexander Carrier, Pontus Aberg, and Yakov Trenin, they could be a very intriguing partner.
Pittsburgh is another team that could be interested. Their scoring is starting pick up of late after a slow start, but they have had issues on left wing all year. Carl Hagelin has just one goal this year, and Conor Sheary is the only left winger they have who can score. James Neal could certainly appeal to them as a former player who knows both Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.
Pittsburgh has actually not been good in anything related to defensive play this year, including the penalty kill. They also really miss Nick Bonino and his defensive abilities as a third line center. If they’re going to win anything this year, it’s clear they are going to have to score their way out of trouble.
Maybe Evander Kane becomes a suitor for the Penguins if James Neal is not as available as he might have been earlier this year. Jason Botterill could also call his former boss, Jim Rutherford. It would not be a surprise to see these two make a deal. The Penguins and Sabres might even be better trade partners than originally anticipated. With Matt Murray on I.R, and week to week, could the Penguins also be interested in Robin Lehner? We will see how good backup goaltender Tristan Jarry does in his opportunity. If it turns out to be a problem, they might be left scrambling to find goaltending help.
Of course, we still have plenty of the season left, but if Vegas plays the next 25 games like they played their first 25 games, I would have a hard time seeing Vegas selling James Neal at the deadline. This a new expansion team that is having a lot of success, both on the ice, and even with ticket sales. They have been at full capacity all year, and continue to get excellent reviews regarding the atmosphere.
After being given every opportunity to succeed by the league with how the expansion draft was set up, it might be horrible for business to trade its biggest star player in James Neal if they indeed remain in contention.
If Vegas remains a top ten team in the league, I could see them hanging on to James Neal, and more importantly, attempt to sign him to an extension after this season. If they fall off and end up on the bubble for a playoff spot, I could them selling at will. Hopefully, Vegas continues to have success up until the trade deadline as the Buffalo Sabres could reap the benefits come deadline time if James Neal is held at the deadline. So until the trade deadline Sabre fans, be sure to root hard for the Golden Knights.