Golden Knights may need to juggle cap space after Eichel acquisition

Source: Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP

The Jack Eichel trade watch officially came to an end early Thursday morning, as the Buffalo Sabres traded him along with a third-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a future first-round pick and a future second-round pick.

While the Golden Knights were considered heavy favorites to land the 25-year-old in recent weeks, this announcement came as somewhat of a surprise given that a credible source in Kevin Weekes suggested the night before that the Calgary Flames made a serious offer to the Sabres. It has since been confirmed that Weekes was incorrect on his assumption, and thus a deal was reached with the Golden Knights instead.

This is exciting news for the Golden Knights. Though Eichel won’t be able to play for some time yet due to a pending neck operation, they will be adding an elite centerman to the lineup once he has recovered. Once he is able to return to the ice however, some difficult decisions will need to be made cap wise.

The Sabres didn’t retain any of Eichel’s $10 million cap hit, meaning the Golden Knights will be responsible for all of it. Currently, it doesn’t affect them as Eichel is on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR). In fact, a quick look at Vegas’ roster on Capfriendly shows that they have north of $16 million in cap space at the moment.

From that, it would seem like they are a team who has a ton of room for Eichel’s cap hit. The issue is that their current cap space doesn’t include Max Pacioretty’s $7 million deal, or Mark Stone’s $9.5 million, as they too are on the LTIR. That means that when all three are healthy, they would be approximately $10 million over the maximum salary cap. It won’t be an easy decision to maneuver around, something general manager Kelly McCrimmon acknowledged.

“That takes any immediate pressure off our salary cap,” McCrimmon said, alluding to the three currently being on LTIR. “You do have to ask yourself what happens when we return to full health, and yet sometimes you never return to full health. … If and when that poses a challenge for us, we’ll address it at that time. All things considered, we’re happy to have Jack Eichel as part of our organization and prepared to deal with that if need be.”

As McCrimmon said, it is possible they don’t get fully healthy at all this season. In fact, there is no guarantee Eichel will be ready prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning his cap hit wouldn’t be an issue this season. If him, Pacioretty and Stone are all able to return at some point however, tough decisions will have to be made.

One player who could potentially be moved is Reilly Smith. This wouldn’t be ideal by any means as he has been a Golden Knight since day one and is a leader in their locker room. However, his offensive game this season and last has dropped off significantly, and he has a fairly significant $5 million cap hit. On top of that, he is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) who will almost certainly find a new home this offseason.

Even with that $5 million off the board, that still wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps they also consider moving Evgenii Dadonov and his $5 million cap hit, though they just required him this summer and he also has a modified no trade clause which makes moving him difficult. Mattias Janmark, who is also a pending UFA on a $2 million deal, is another option they may look to move.

This won’t be an easy process for the Golden Knights, though since coming into the league in 2017-18 they have managed to get out of tricky cap situations time and time again. It will be fascinating to watch how they look to do it this season if they are forced to do so.

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