The Vegas Golden Knights conquered the NHL, capturing their first Stanley Cup in just their sixth NHL season. Still, they can’t rest on their laurels, as there will be no shortage of teams looking to dethrone the Golden Knights next season.
As good as they were in their inaugural season, most Golden Knights from the championship squad were acquired elsewhere. Only four players remain from their 2017-18 roster, highlighting their ability to adapt their roster and compete consistently.
That’s their challenge again heading into this offseason as the Golden Knights look to create some cap space heading into 2023-24. Thankfully, they’ve already done most of the heavy lifting earlier this offseason, but there are a few moves the Knights should consider if they hope to defend their crown.
Trade Away Alec Martinez
This is probably an unpopular opinion, but it’s time for Vegas to move on from Alec Martinez. The three-time Stanley Cup winner has served his purpose but is in the twilight of his career and could create some much-needed salary cap breathing room.
Unfortunately, Martinez has regressed into a replacement-level player. The soon-to-be 36-year-old posted a sub-optimal 45.7% Corsi rating this season. Worse, that translated to the lowest-scoring season of his career, with Martinez averaging a paltry 0.2 points per game and 0.6 points per 60 minutes.
These types of players have a spot on every team, but not at $5.25 million. Further, with only one season left on his contract and a stable of prospects beneath him, Martinez might not figure into Vegas’ plans.
Selling Martinez at his highest perceived value benefits the Golden Knights most in the long run.
Move on From Robin Lehner
As it stands, Robin Lehner is serving an essential purpose for Vegas. The Masterson Trophy winner is on the long-term injured reserve, allowing the Golden Knights to reduce their overall cap hit. However, if Lehner is expected to return for the start of next season, they can’t afford to have him in the lineup.
Buying out Lehner would be ill-advised. The Knights already have their backs up against the wall. Handcuffing themselves to two extra years of multi-million dollar cap hit doesn’t afford them the flexibility they need. Moreover, with the emergence of Adin Hill and Logan Thompson, Lehner is expendable.
There is a shortage of quality starting netminders in the NHL. Vegas needs to identify a franchise in need of a primary goalie, but they might need to sweeten the pot with a draft pick or prospect to wiggle free from Lehner.
Replenish Depth Scoring
Since coming into the league, no team has accomplished as much as the Golden Knights in terms of depth scoring. Perennially, Vegas rolls through all four lines getting production from top to bottom. With the team trading away Reilly Smith and electing to move on from Phil Kessel, there are gaps in the middle of the lineup that need to be filled.
In 2022-23, Smith and Kessel combined for 92 points. Additionally, both players averaged at least 12:49 per game while spending time on powerplay and the penalty kill. Their locker room presence will also be missed. Smith was a leader in the postseason, while Kessel has been a preferred teammate with every team he’s been a part of. The loss of production is the biggest part of the equation, but Vegas will also be missing some intangibles by losing both players.
Their cap situation doesn’t afford the Knights the space they need to acquire another mid-line scorer. Consequently, this third move is contingent on the team freeing up salary by trading away Martinez and Lehner. From there, they could make a splash in free agency by going after a gritty secondary scoring forward.
If Vegas could pull off this trio of moves, there might not be a team that stands in their way next year.
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