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Former NHL GM on Vegas "Problem" + Should Knights Go for...Erik Karlsson?

December 22, 2017, 4:39 PM ET [12 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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When is being 22-9-2 and two points away from leading the Western Conference a problem?

Perhaps when you have key players James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, and Luca Sbisa as UFAs, and you're an expansion team that was presumed to be looking long-term for its success.

It's a great problem, of course.

If you're offered a first-round pick for the 30-year-old Neal, you have to consider it. If you can't lock up the 26-year-old Marchessault to a reasonable long-term deal, you can probably fetch another first for him.

On the other hand, if the Knights keep winning, do you consider what was once unthinkable: Adding players for a first-year run for the Cup? Let's say a game-changer like Erik Karlsson becomes available -- could he be the missing piece for a long playoff run? For a transition-happy team lacking a premier defenseman, Karlsson could be a perfect fit.

It's safe to say that there's never been an expansion team like the Golden Knights. The decisions which George McPhee is facing now are unprecedented.

I asked a former NHL GM about the Vegas "problem." I even asked him about the Golden Knights trading for Erik Karlsson, and he didn't laugh in my face.

HockeyBuzz: A lot of people criticized George's expansion draft. Some people said he didn't get enough quality players right now. Some people said he didn't bleed teams enough for even more young assets and picks. How do you think he did?

Former NHL GM: I thought he did a tremendous job.

As far as amateur picks in the amateur draft, he's 3-4 years ahead of any expansion team ever with the extra picks he's got. And the thing of it is, you don't take all the picks in one year either. You kind of spread them out.

The number-one priority in expansion, get a goalie. He's got a couple [good ones].

HB: Yeah, I agree that was smart, spreading out picks. Some people didn't like the Marc Methot deal; he got a second-round pick in 2020. But I thought that made sense; teams are more willing to give up a higher pick later. And you're just building up your warchest for later too. What's better, a 2018 third-round pick or a 2020 second?

Former NHL GM: Yeah, I don't know how you could be critical of that.

HB: Do you accept a 1st for Neal or Perron or Marchessault right now? Or do you let it ride until Trade Deadline, see where the team is then?

Former NHL GM: I can't answer that question. Because you don't know the way they feel about their players. There may be some guys who the coaching staff is looking at like they're having a good run, but I don't think this is going to be forever.

There's just so many questions. But he's in a tough spot.

HB: Getting away from specifics, if you're in his position, and you're unexpectedly in first place, do you think, I'll just wait a little longer? This first-round pick you're offering me right now for my star UFA, in theory, it's going to be there in a couple months too.

Former NHL GM: Yeah, it might be that [first-rounder]...and more. As you get closer to the Trade Deadline and teams know exactly what their situation is...

HB: When you picked up these players, Neal, Perron, etc., in the expansion draft, you probably guessed that the team wouldn't be that good, but these guys are going to get me something at the Trade Deadline...

Former NHL GM: That's exactly what they were thinking. (laughs)

HB: But this team has blown up all those expectations, right?

Former NHL GM: Yup.

HB: So when you get to the deadline, if the team is still firmly in the top-eight, can you really trade James Neal at that point for a first-round pick?

Former NHL GM: Like I said, depends what you have coming. If you can replace him.

HB: Let's say you do trade Neal. But that takes the team out of the playoffs?

Former NHL GM: You think one player will take you out of the playoffs, the way they're going?

HB: True. But isn't there a danger of upsetting your fanbase -- especially in a non-hockey market, don't you need all the fans you can get? Truthfully, does that enter your thinking at all?

Former NHL GM: Never a big factor. You have to do right for the team. You worry about the fans, what they think, you'll be sitting with them shortly.

HB: It's not looking likely, but what happens if Vegas collapses? At what point in the standings do you sell?

Former NHL GM: They'd have to [drop] a long way. I mean, we're almost at the halfway mark. They're going to be fine.

HB: This might seem crazy. But is there a point where you might consider adding players?

Former NHL GM: Yeah. Could be. You could have an injury. You've got extra draft picks. Yeah, you could be a buyer.

HB: There's never been an expansion team like the Golden Knights, right? Maybe you approach the construction of an expansion franchise in a radical way by building a winner right now.

So let me give you this hypothetical: It's mid-February. The Golden Knights are still leading the conference, or close. The Ottawa Senators have decided to trade Erik Karlsson. They want Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Shea Theodore, and let's say first-round picks in 2020 and 2021. Do you go all in?

Former NHL GM: I don't know. I can't answer that. I don't know know, internally, what they think of all those kids. Sometimes, the perception is a lot higher than what the organization thinks of those guys.

HB: Let's put it differently then, no specifics: Ottawa comes to you and they're willing to trade you Karlsson for 4-5 prime young pieces. Do you think, "Hey, we're leading the conference? A guy like Erik Karlsson might put us over the top. We're strong up front, we have Marc-Andre Fleury."

Former NHL GM: They have to think about it. I'm not so sure they'd actually do it. But they'd have to think about it.

HB: Like I said, there's never been an expansion team like the Knights. There's never been an opportunity for a team to pick up so many of this caliber of player in the expansion draft. You walk out with Neal, Perron, Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. Those are four legitimate top-six forwards on any team in the league.

Former NHL GM: They did a hell of a job. They're in a very unique position. George is going to be presented with a lot of examples and tests to see how he's going to react.

HB: Looking back at the expansion Panthers: In the first two seasons, they missed the playoffs by one point each year. Third year, lost in Finals. But then, they might have felt pressure to stay relevant in market, traded for Bure, things of that nature. That led to a decade out of the playoffs.

On the other hand, Senators were awful, had the highest picks, then went on a 11-year playoff run with the help of picks like Yashin, Berard for Redden.

Which path do you take if you're George McPhee? Or is there another path that he's on now?

Former NHL GM: I think he's going to create his own path.

Nobody has ever been hit with these issues before. He's going to set his own path with how he directs that franchise.


It was a full practice, though Gerard Gallant wouldn't shed more light about the current roster crunch. Both William Carrier and Luca Sbisa look ready to go, but they're still on injured reserve.

Otherwise, it was a fun affair, as some masked men (and women) visited this morning.

Of course, the Golden Knights take on Nate Schmidt's former team tomorrow evening.


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