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7 Trades That Led to the Downfall of the Vegas Golden Knights

While they became an elite team almost immediately, the Vegas Golden Knights are in a fast downward spiral due to several bad decisions.

There are few teams in any pro sport that have had a quicker fall from grace than the Vegas Golden Knights. They came into the NHL in 2017-18 and instantly gained respect and admiration from all hockey fans for their ability to rack up wins despite having what most considered to be a weak roster. Against all odds, they marched their way to the Stanley Cup Final and fell just short of the ultimate goal at the hands of Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. Things have changed dramatically since, as the once beloved team is now arguably the most hated throughout the entire NHL.

Related: 18 Reasons Maple Leafs’ Fans Want Kyle Dubas Fired

What made the Golden Knights so likable early on was that they took on castoffs from other NHL clubs and turned them into star talents. Since doing so, however, management has proved time and time again that they have no loyalty towards their players, and on top of that have been extremely reckless in their approach of trying to load their roster with star talent.

Even after a few years of some questionable decisions, it seemed that President George McPhee and GM Kelly McCrimmon’s way of doing things was working, as the Golden Knights continued to have success season after season. However, things finally caught up to the franchise, as they missed the playoffs entirely despite being viewed as a perennial Stanley Cup contender entering the 2021-22 campaign. Here are 7 of the organization’s worst trades that have played a big part in their downfall.

Poor Asset Management With Tomas Tatar

An example of poor asset management from the Golden Knights was first shown back in 2018 when they chose to trade a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 second-round pick, and a 2021 third-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Tomas Tatar. While gearing up for the playoffs was a reasonable decision, this was viewed at the time as a steep price to pay, and turned out to be a very unsuccessful deal from the Golden Knights’ perspective.

Tatar was never able to mesh well with the Golden Knights, posting six points in 20 regular season games and just two in eight playoff outings. Even worse was the fact that then head coach Gerard Gallant was not a fan of his game, healthy scratching him on numerous occasions.

Realizing what a bad fit it was, Tatar became a throw-in for a trade that offseason that saw Max Pacioretty brought to town. Heading to the Montreal Canadiens with Tatar was Nick Suzuki and a 2019-second-round pick. If you are keeping tabs, their trade essentially ended up being a first-round pick, two seconds, a third, and Nick Suzuki for Max Pacioretty. There’s a reason they have a very poor prospect pipeline, folks. I’ll get into how things worked out with Pacioretty in a bit.

Nate Schmidt Sent to Canucks

One of the first players to become a fan favorite in Vegas was Nate Schmidt. His somewhat quirky, fun-loving personality endeared him to many, as did his overall story as a player. Prior to being taken by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, he was a third-pairing defenseman at best, something that changed in a hurry.

Nate Schmidt Vegas Golden Knights
Nate Schmidt Vegas Golden Knights

In his last season with the Capitals, Schmidt averaged less than 16 minutes per game in ice time. That number jumped to 22:14 in his first season as a Golden Knight. On top of the massive minutes, he was able to establish career highs with five goals and 36 points. After that big season, he was given a six-year contract extension by McPhee, leading most to believe he would remain with the organization for a lengthy time.

That turned out not to be the case, however, as despite recording similar numbers in each of the next two seasons he was shockingly traded to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round draft pick. This was a move viewed as nothing more than a cap dump, as management needed to make room for Alex Pietrangelo, whom they had signed to a seven-year deal a day prior. This was seemingly the first move that started the Golden Knights’ reckless approach of selling low on players who had led them to success in order to bring in bigger names. It also divided their fanbase and is a move that many are still frustrated about.

Shocking Robin Lehner Acquisition

Perhaps the most unexpected and shocking move the Golden Knights have made to date came near the trade deadline during the 2019-20 season. Despite having an obvious number one goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, they chose to make a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to bring in Robin Lehner.

Related: Robin Lehner to Miss Entire 2022-23 Season for Golden Knights

This move is one that caused plenty of drama, none more than during the playoffs that same year when Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh took to Twitter to let it be known how he felt about the entire ordeal. Many have suspected that the veteran netminder felt similarly slighted, though to his credit he denied having any grudge when asked by media. To this day, this is a move that the Golden Knights likely still regret. More to come on that later in the article.

Picking Up a Struggling Dadonov

After recording just 20 points in 55 games in his first season with the Ottawa Senators, then signing a three-year, $15 million deal, Pierre Dorion wanted nothing more than to get the struggling Evgenii Dadonov off his roster. Despite already being in a tight spot cap-wise, the Golden Knights obliged, sending defenseman Nick Holden and a 2022 third-round pick to the Sens for the now 33-year-old winger.

As mentioned, this move came at a time the Golden Knights had limited cap space and only made things more complicated. Realizing that they needed to shed salary, management attempted to trade Dadonov at this year’s trade deadline in what ended up being a very embarrassing debacle. As you likely remember, the NHL had to step in and veto this trade, as McCrimmon tried to send Dadonov to the Anaheim Ducks despite them being on his 10-team no-trade list. As a result, he was forced to finish out the season with the Golden Knights in a very awkward fashion.

This offseason, the Golden Knights were able to successfully trade Dadonov in another cap dump transaction, shipping him off to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the contract of Shea Weber. This move will free up money for McCrimmon but it was an entirely avoidable situation altogether.

Horrendous Fleury Giveaway

While the Golden Knights have made several questionable moves in recent years, none have damaged their reputation more than the decision they made regarding Marc-Andre Fleury. The future Hall-of-Famer was beloved by the fanbase and performed brilliantly during his four seasons with them. In fact, his best season with the team and in his career came in 2020-21, where he won his first ever Vezina Trophy.

Marc-Andre Fleury Golden Knights Blackhawks
Marc-Andre Fleury

One would think that after winning the Vezina, the Golden Knights would be thrilled to have him back the following season. However, as you have probably come to realize, this organization doesn’t operate like most. They instead chose to deal him that offseason to the Chicago Blackhawks, with the only return being an underwhelming prospect in Mikael Hakkarainen, who is no longer a part of the organization. Once again, this was a cap dump from an organization that had, and still to this day continues to put itself in unnecessarily difficult situations.

Trading Fleury backfired in a major fashion, as Lehner battled inconsistencies and injuries in his first year as the Golden Knights true number one, resulting in the team missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. This move is one that will continue to be scrutinized for years to come and was one that resulted in them becoming arguably the most despised organization in the NHL.

The Jack Eichel Conundrum

Heading into the 2021-22 season, it was well known that Jack Eichel was going to be traded from the Buffalo Sabres. The two sides needed to part ways, and many teams expressed interest given the now 25-year-old’s elite skillset. That said, few expected the Golden Knights to be in on him, given their already deep roster and limited cap space. As we have come to learn, however, one should always expect the unexpected when it comes to McCrimmon’s management style.

McCrimmon chose to deal Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2023 second-rounder to the Sabres in exchange for Eichel. This move put the Golden Knights in a serious cap crunch and even resulted in them having to ice 17 skaters on more than one occasion because they didn’t have the room to insert an 18th. While undeniably talented, Eichel and his $10 million cap hit have resulted in the Golden Knights’ roster thinning out in several other areas.

To be fair to both McCrimmon and Eichel here, there is still plenty of time for the perception regarding this deal to change. Due to neck surgery, he was limited to just 34 games last season but is now fully healthy heading into 2022-23. If he is able to get back to the elite-level player he was during his time with the Sabres, this deal may be a win for the Golden Knights. As of now, however, it appears to be yet another reckless, shortsighted decision.

Max Pacioretty Cap Dump

In large part due their tough salary situation given the Eichel acquisition, the Golden Knights were forced to part ways with Pacioretty this summer. It is a tough loss for them, given that the 33-year-old has been one of their most productive players in recent years. Despite his productivity, however, teams sensed that McCrimmon was in a tough spot, and made him pay.

Max Pacioretty Vegas Golden Knights
Max Pacioretty Vegas Golden Knights

While many teams would have loved to have Pacioretty on their roster, none were willing to give up pieces to acquire him knowing that McCrimmon was in trouble. Coming to the realization of what was happening, he had no choice other than to trade the star forward to the Carolina Hurricanes for nothing but future considerations. This was a shockingly bad move and one that really made fans realize just how bad of a job this team has done in terms of managing their cap space.

Related: Golden Knights Trade Pacioretty, Coughlin to Hurricanes

An Ugly Future Ahead

After a frustrating 2021-22 season, the jury is out on whether or not the Golden Knights can bounce back in 2022-23. By all accounts, they still have plenty of talent on their roster, though they have much less depth than in previous years.

While it is possible they still have a few good years ahead, their reckless approach of giving away draft picks like candy will soon enough come back to bite them and could result in some dark times ahead. Their approach was fun in the early going, but soon began to irritate the vast majority of NHL fans, and this proves why no other general managers in the league go about their business in this way.

Next: Pastrnak Expects Extension to Get Done With Bruins

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