Though still in their relative infancy, the Golden Knights have made of a habit of buying at the trade deadline through their first two seasons in the NHL. Last year, it was Mark Stone. The year prior, it was Tomas Tatar. And with the annual player-swap kicking into high gear, Vegas finds themselves right back at the center of the trade action, landing top-four defenseman Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a pair of second-round picks.
Martinez’s profile made him an intriguing target for any team looking to upgrade their ‘D’ corps. He’s a left-shot defenseman who can play and excel on either side of the ice, log major minutes, has decent size and a post-season resume that was going to generate interest from any organization that puts stock in players who have been there, done that and won the trophy. Though he wasn’t a top-pairing blueliner on either of the Kings’ Stanley Cup-winning teams, Martinez skated steady shifts, particularly during Los Angeles’ title run in 2014, and it’s pretty tough to beat his contributions in the conference and Stanley Cup finals. He scored the series-winning goal that sent the Kings past the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 before netting the Stanley Cup winner in Game 5 against the New York Rangers. Both tallies were scored in overtime.
The 32-year-old’s offensive chops will surely make him a valuable hand on one of the Golden Knights’ power play units, too, but he’s by no means one-dimensional. He’s been relied upon for his defensive acumen, as well, and his play in all three zones makes him a worthwhile addition.
The question, however, might be whether Martinez is a piece Vegas absolutely needed to spend to add. The Golden Knights aren’t altogether lacking scoring punch from the back end. Shea Theodore has eight goals and 39 points and Nate Schmidt has seven goals and 28 points. That makes Vegas one of only a dozen teams in the NHL with at least two blueliners with 28 or more points. And it’s not as though a defensive upgrade was of utmost importance, either. The Golden Knights have been among the most sound outfits in the league in their own zone. Per 60 minutes at five-a-side, Vegas allows the third-fewest shot attempts against (51), second-fewest shots against (28.7) and have the 10th-lowest expected goals against (2.15).
The deal makes more sense, however, when taking the longer view, and as much acquiring Martinez is a move to bolster the blueline ahead of the playoffs, it’s a trade that’s been made with next season in mind.
At season’s end, Golden Knights defensemen Nick Holden, Jon Merrill and Deryk Engelland will all be eligible to walk as free agents. With projected cap space around $16.7 million for next summer prior to the acquisition, cost-controlled assets are valuable to Vegas, and Martinez fits the bill. He has the remainder of this campaign and all of next left on his pact at a manageable $4-million cap hit. If the Golden Knights entered the off-season in search of a similar veteran top-four defender, there’s next to no chance Vegas would be able to add one of Martinez’s caliber at Martinez’s price.
And it’s not as if the payment was all that steep considering the Golden Knights’ cache of picks. Two second-round selections is no small price, to be sure, but Vegas is still in possession of three second-round choices – Pittsburgh’s in 2020, New Jersey’s and their own in 2021 – over the next two drafts. The Golden Knights still own their first-round selections in each of the next two drafts, too, and have the benefit of a pair of third-round choices in the 2020 draft. This isn’t some future-mortgaging overpayment, not with the stockpile of early round picks with which Vegas was able to work.
Just because it’s a price the Golden Knights could easily afford isn’t to say Kings GM Rob Blake was taken to the cleaners in the swap, either. Quite the opposite.
In both of his pre-deadline dealings thus far – first the Tyler Toffoli swap with the Vancouver Canucks and now the Martinez deal with Vegas – Blake has done well to obtain exactly what a rebuilding Los Angeles franchise needs: future assets that can help the Kings build a foundation. With the addition of the Golden Knights’ 2020 second-rounder and a 2021 second-round pick originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles now has potential to make 11 picks in the opening three rounds across the next two drafts. The players taken with those picks will complement an already well-stocked stable of prospects that includes, but is by no means limited to, Gabe Vilardi, Alex Turcotte, Akil Thomas, Rasmus Kupari, Kale Clague and Mikey Anderson. The Kings have drafted well, and continuing to do so will give Los Angeles every opportunity to return to their former glory.
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick)
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