The Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights are already preparing to try to repeat, trading a longtime franchise cornerstone and keeping their best trade deadline pickup.
Vegas traded Reilly Smith to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and re-signed fellow forward Ivan Barbashev to a five-year contract worth $25 million. The moves came hours before the start of the NHL draft.
“We think this will give us the ability to pretty much return our team in whole, so that was our objective,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said in Nashville, Tennessee, before the draft began. “All of the decisions that we were making were on people that we just won a Stanley Cup with, so by definition, that makes those decisions difficult and challenging to make. But we feel that we got our way through it and are excited about what it could mean for the makeup of our roster.”
Barbashev, a key contributor on the Golden Knights' title run with 18 points in 22 games, was expected to be one of the top players available in free agency. Instead, the 27-year-old Russian power forward will count $5 million against the salary cap through 2028.
“We’ve been looking for a player like this for some time,” McCrimmon said. "He’s in the prime of his career. We gave up a good young player to acquire him. He came in. He played extremely well. We won a Stanley Cup. He was a big part of that. We wanted to keep him.
Smith's cap hit was also $5 million, making this another set of bold moves by McCrimmon, who has shown a willingness to take risks in the name of getting younger and winning championships - and not worrying about sentimentality.
Smith, 32, was one of six original Vegas players left from the team’s inaugural season that included a trip to the final. He was the first player captain Mark Stone handed the Cup after the Golden Knights won it earlier this month.
“We’re proud that he leaves a Stanley Cup champion," McCrimmon said. “He is going to get a good opportunity in Pittsburgh. I know that he will do well.”
Vegas recouped the third-round pick it sent to Pittsburgh for forward Teddy Blueger prior to the trade deadline.
The deal is the first big roster splash for new Penguins president of hockey operations Kyle Dubas, who is tasked with getting the team back into the playoffs and continuing to contend with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang still around.
Neither team is likely done dealing.
Vegas still needs to finalize a new contract for Cup-winning goaltender Adin Hill and could soon start working on an extension for playoff MVP Jonathan Marchessault, who has a year left on his contract. McCrimmon said the team is in talks with Hill's camp.
Pittsburgh is in the market for a starting goalie, with Tristan Jarry expected to hit free agency.