The 2017 expansion draft is the gift that keeps giving for the Vegas Golden Knights. And the latest of those gifts is the crown jewel of the trade deadline. That’s because you can trace a direct line from the career-defining, outstanding work Vegas GM George McPhee did with his expansion draft deals and his ability to acquire potential difference maker Mark Stone.
Consider this. The Golden Knights were not only able to get the undisputed best player available at the deadline, but they were also able to sign him to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension. And he was able to do that only because he took his counterparts’ insecurity at losing assets in the expansion draft. McPhee, a consultant with the Islanders prior to becoming the Golden Knights GM, took the contract of Mikhail Grabovski, plus a first-round pick in 2017, a second-rounder in 2019 and Jake Bischoff in exchange for taking goaltender Jean-Francois Berube instead of one of Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Strome, Ryan Pulock or Adam Pelech (two of whom are not even there anymore). And with that first-round pick the Golden Knights selected defenseman Erik Brannstrom, the centerpiece of the deal for Stone. The fact they were able to offer a prospect of Brannstrom’s quality made it possible for them to negotiate an extension with him.
So now the Knights are well equipped for another long playoff run with a player who can contribute in all zones. He has one of the best sticks in the NHL in terms of taking the puck away from opponents and he’s on pace to have the best offensive season of his career. When the inevitable winners and losers analyses are done over the next day or two, the Golden Knights will be placed firmly in the winners category. That’s bound to happen when you get the best player out there and don’t give up a single player off your roster. Stone is a low-maintenance, high-quality player who has the potential to have an enormous impact on the Golden Knights this spring and beyond. He gives the Golden Knights a very real chance of once again getting through the Western Conference.
Going back the other way, even though it is not a first-rounder in 2019, is a potentially dynamic defenseman who is playing a regular role in the American League at the age of 19. Brannstrom is slated to be among the top 12 prospects outside the NHL in THN’s upcoming Future Watch edition and adds to an impressive corps of youngsters that will lessen the sting of dealing their first-rounder to get Matt Duchene, a player that could end up being phenom and first overall pick Jack Hughes. But things are actually looking pretty good in the long term for the Senators, who now have Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Colin White at the NHL level and Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Max Lajoie, Brannstrom, Josh Norris, Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson at other levels. And it’s important to note that Brannstrom, Norris, Abramov and Davidsson were all acquired in trades. And they have a combined 11 picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts.
The price for the rebuild has been painful and enormously high in Ottawa. You could make a compelling argument that since last June, the Senators have lost their five best players – Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman in the off-season and Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel at the deadline. The demise of the Senators has been precipitous and dramatic, with only Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci, Mark Borowiecki and Craig Anderson remaining from the team that came within an overtime goal of the Stanley Cup final less than two years ago.
So we’re left with one team that is a legitimate contender to win the Stanley Cup and another that is miles and miles away, with an eye to the future. Both of them got what they needed from this deal. And while there might be some concern that the Golden Knights have tied Stone up for a period that will go well beyond his peak, it’s important to note that players such as Stone often have a longer shelf life because they’re so versatile and they rely more on instincts and smarts than physical gifts. Yes, the game is getting faster all the time, but speed has never been one of the hallmarks of Stone’s game, so it’s not as though it’s going to abandon him.