The Vegas Golden Knights were close. Real close. Before their scoring dried up in the Western Conference final against the Dallas Stars, the Golden Knights arguably looked like the post-season’s most dominant team. It’s not surprising, then, to see GM Kelly McCrimmon clearing the decks in preparation for what will likely be one or more major moves.
With goaltender Robin Lehner inked to a five-year, $25-million extension and battery mate Marc-Andre Fleury’s cap hit still on the books for now, the Golden Knights found another way to clear salary space. They have sent No. 2 center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick, per TSN's Darren Dreger.
Stastny, 34, has one season left on his contract at a $6.5-million cap hit. Moving him creates some crucial financial breathing room for McCrimmon, and Vegas has repeatedly appeared on top UFA defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s shortlist. The puzzle is not complete for McCrimmon, however. Vegas still has to clear more cap space to land Pietrangelo, who will likely sign for an AAV of $8.5 million at minimum. There’s still pressure on McCrimmon to move Fleury’s $7-million cap hit if Vegas really wants to be a major player in free agency, and Fleury still has control over where he goes thanks to a 10-team no-trade list in his contract. With goalies absolutely flooding the UFA market, Vegas doesn’t have a ton of leverage in trade talks, either. Also: moving Stastny, creates quite a hole at center for Vegas, a team already in need of a true top-line star at that position. Cody Glass will continue to get more opportunities but is not a lock to take a big step forward yet. So are we sure Pietrangelo will be the target? Vegas is already strong on defense. Would it make sense to take a run at a top-end center instead? It just so happens Steven Stamkos is not on Tampa’s list of untouchable players, and the Lightning are even more desperate than the Golden Knights to clear cap space.
As for the Jets? They badly needed a second-line center with Bryan Little’s career in jeopardy because of an eardrum injury sustained in 2019-20. Stastny filled that role admirably for the Jets as a trade-deadline rental in 2017-18. He had six goals, 15 points and three game-winning goals in 17 playoff games that year and found good chemistry on line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine. Should the Jets choose not to trade Laine, they could try out that line again. Stastny remains an underrated play driver. Per naturalstattrick.com, Among 340 forwards with 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 since he joined Vegas in 2018-19, Stastny ranks a solid 77th in primary assists per 60 minutes, right between Sebastian Aho and John Tavares.
So the Jets cross an item off their shopping list, and the Golden Knights make room to go shopping.