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When the Vegas Golden Knights first acquired Jack Eichel, the natural question was how they could fit him in under the salary cap. When everyone on Vegas is healthy, they’re over the ceiling by about $10 million – or roughly Eichel’s salary. When everyone is healthy being the operative phrase though.
As long as they have big contracts they can store on the long-term injured reserve list, Vegas doesn’t have to make any significant sacrifices. On Wednesday, Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer revealed that Eichel isn’t going to be returning for another month or two, so there isn’t any urgency for Vegas to make any trade to address their cap situation just yet. Even when Eichel does return though, they might not find themselves suddenly needing to free about $10 million in cap space. That’s because Max Pacioretty, who comes with a $7 million cap hit, is out indefinitely due to a wrist injury. Pacioretty is presently on the regular injured reserve list, but he can be moved to the LTIR if needed for cap purposes. It’s not clear how much longer Pacioretty will be out for, but his timetable will help inform the Golden Knights’ decisions.
Keep in mind, as anyone who paid attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning last year will already know, there is no salary cap in the playoffs. So, hypothetically, if Pacioretty misses the remainder of the regular season, Vegas would then be able to activate him in the playoffs and at that point it wouldn’t matter if that technically puts them over the ceiling. So, the answer to what Vegas has to do to make room for Eichel’s return is: It’s complicated.
Assuming though that Vegas will get completely healthy at some point before the end of the regular season though, they will have to make some major moves. Trading Evgeni Dadonov ($5 million cap hit) and backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit ($2.325 million) would go a long way towards addressing their cap issues without sacrificing any of their core players, but other teams won’t be in the mood to do Vegas any favors so the Golden Knights might have to sweeten the pot to move those players. It’s all less than ideal, but it can be done, and the end result would be that an already deep offensive group would be adding a star forward in Eichel to the mix.
While Vegas has some questions that need addressing in the coming months, the Toronto Maple Leafs have more immediate concerns. With a 24-10-3 record, no one can say that the Leafs are bad, but no fan can be comfortable with their play either. Toronto has blown lead after lead lately. Sometimes they bounce back and win anyways sometimes, as was the case last night, they don’t.
To give you a quick rundown of Toronto’s recent collapses, Toronto blew a 3-0 and 4-1 lead against Columbus on Dec. 7, but won 5-4, they blew a 4-1 lead against Chicago on Dec. 11, but won 5-4, they blew a 4-1 lead against Colorado on Jan. 8 and lost 5-4 (if you think that’s a big gap between blown leads, keep in mind Toronto played only three games between them), they blew a 3-1 lead against Vegas on Jan. 11, but won 4-3 in a shootout, they blew a 3-1 lead against St. Louis on Jan. 15, but won 6-5, and they blew a 3-1 lead against the Rangers on Wednesday and lost 6-3.
Give the Maple Leafs full credit for managing to pull out a win in the end as often as they have, but that’s still six games in which they blew a multi-goal lead over their last 11 games. That’s insane. This is a team that is still on course to make the playoffs by a healthy margin, but what will they do when they get there if they’re having this much trouble holding a lead? Fortunately, they still have another half a season to address these issues.
One related factor to keep an eye on is Jack Campbell. The Maple Leafs’ netminder has had a great season overall and he was fantastic in 2020-21 too, but lately he’s been showing some cracks. As Sportsnet Stats noted, Campbell went from posting a 1.67 GAA and .943 save percentage in his first 14 starts to a 2.84 GAA and .912 save percentage in his last 14 starts. Those aren’t disastrous numbers, but they are somewhat concerning, especially given that Campbell doesn’t have a large body of work to fall back on. He’s been a backup goaltender for most of his career and his 28 starts this season is already a career high. Is he going to succumb to fatigue as he continues to carry a sizable majority of Toronto’s workload, or will he figure it out? I imagine he’ll end up being an above average goaltender this season when all is said and done, but his early Vezina Trophy pace was probably too good to be true.
Let’s close out with some more trade rumors. Last week we discussed the possibility of Philadelphia trading Claude Giroux and another name that’s making the rounds lately is Seattle’s Mark Giordano. Elliotte Friedman recently wrote that it’s unlikely Giordano ends up staying with Seattle and it’s not hard to see why he’d come to that conclusion. Giordano is 38-years-old and on the final year of his contract. He is providing the team with some valuable veteran leadership, but the expansion Kraken aren’t a repeat of Vegas. Seattle isn’t about to have a deep playoff run or even make the postseason at all based on their 11-23-4 record. They might as well trade Giordano for whatever picks/prospects they can get to help the franchise build towards the future.
Giordano should attract a fair amount of attention on the trade market. Even at the age of 38, he does still provide more than just veteran leadership. He has four goals, 12 points, 57 blocks, and 28 hits in 32 games while averaging 21:13 minutes. For a playoff team looking to add to their defensive depth, he’d be a good pickup. One interesting destination for Giordano would of course be back to Calgary, but that would depend largely on the Flames’ performance between now and the trade deadline. Calgary has been struggling lately and with a 18-11-6 record, they’re far from a safe bet to make the playoffs. If the Flames drift further and don’t look like a serious contender, then what would be the point of bringing back Giordano at this time? On the flip side, if the Flames get on a roll and are gearing up for a postseason push, then bringing back their former captain would make a lot of sense. Keep in mind that the Flames have been playing this season without a captain, so if Giordano does return then he could conceivably get his ‘C’ back.