Golden Knights Improve Stanley Cup Odds at Trade Deadline

General manager Kelly McCrimmon of the Vegas Golden Knights hoists the Stanley Cup in 2023

Getty Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon

The Vegas Golden Knights made three major moves at the March 8 NHL trade deadline, making it clear that the reigning Stanley Cup champions are gearing up for another deep playoff run.

General manager Kelly McCrimmon got the ball rolling with a trade for the Washington Capitals’ Anthony Mantha on March 5. Just over 24 hours later, he acquired highly touted Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin. Then, on March 8, in the final minutes before the deadline, McCrimmon pulled off his biggest move yet, trading for San Jose Sharks forward Tomáš Hertl and the remaining six years of his eight-year, $65.1 million contract.

In Hertl, Hanifin and Mantha, Vegas added scoring forwards and a top-four defenseman who all fill areas of need.  Mantha and Hanifin are pending unrestricted free agents, but Hertl comes with multiple years remaining on his contract, setting him up to be part of the team’s core moving forward.

Vegas Lands Big Trade Targets

The Golden Knights are in the middle of a slump, earning points in just three of their last 11 games, but McCrimmon and his staff saw an opportunity to maximize cap space and add talent in an attempt to turn the season around and repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

The Golden Knights have developed a somewhat polarizing reputation in recent years with their ability to consistently add expensive, big-name trade targets and land prized free agents while remaining under the salary cap.

“Contrary to popular belief, we don’t go after every good player,” McCrimmon said when addressing the media immediately following the deadline. “We go after good players we like, good players we identify, and opportunities we identify.”

Golden Knights Maximize Cap Relief

The Golden Knights also owe their polarizing reputation in part to their aggressive approach to the salary cap, which includes using long-term injured reserve (LTIR) to circumvent cap restrictions — particularly with captain Mark Stone and his $9.5 million cap hit.

Stone went on LTIR last season following two back surgeries but returned for the playoffs, when the salary cap restrictions are lifted, and led his team to a championship. He landed on LTIR again this season with a lacerated spleen of Feb. 20, sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season.

Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone

GettyVegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone

As unfortunate as the injuries themselves are, they have come at a fortunate time for the Golden Knights. NHL teams using LTIR relief are allowed to exceed the $83.5 million salary cap, giving them a creative way to gain competitive advantage. In the Golden Knights’ case, it allowed them to add three significant pieces at the trade deadline.

All three of Vegas’ trades this week involved salary retention, including San Jose retaining 17 percent of Hertl’s cap hit through the 2029-30 season. It cost Vegas some extra draft capital, but McCrimmon and his team were willing to take the risk.

Vegas Improves Stanley Cup Odds

The NHL Trade Deadline is arguably the part of the regular season schedule that has the potential to make the biggest impact on a team’s odds to win the Stanley Cup. The Golden Knights saw their odds begin to creep up as the dust settled on deadline day, from the +1,500 to +1,600 range a week ago to as high as +850 in some books.

McCrimmon and his staff built a Stanley Cup champion in 2023 by identifying talented players who fit into the roster and taking advantage of the right situations around the league with aggressive offers. The Golden Knights’ aggressive strategy at this year’s trade deadline indicate that they are ready to make a run at defending their title.

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