DEER LODGE, Mont. — The Golden Knights were unexpectedly quiet Thursday, a day before the start of free agency in the NHL.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was still a member of the team, as were a handful of other players rumored to be on the trading block to clear salary cap space.
It had to be the calm before the storm, right?
The Knights continue to seek upgrades for a team that was bounced in the Western Conference Final and are expected to be active when free agency opens at 9 a.m. Friday.
But before the Knights can make any high-priced additions, general manager Kelly McCrimmon must make room on the payroll.
And he wore out the cellphone service at team owner Bill Foley’s 28,000-acre Rock Creek Cattle Company while working to make something happen.
“It’s different than past years where the draft might be on a Friday, Saturday and free agency might start on Wednesday or Thursday, maybe even as late as the Friday,” McCrimmon said Wednesday after the draft. “You see probably a few more that didn’t receive qualifying offers around the league. That puts some players into the mix that maybe wouldn’t have been on an ordinary year.”
The landscape of this free agency period is different and not just because it’s taking place in October when the league is usually beginning its season.
The salary cap stayed flat at $81.5 million based on the hockey revenue that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic, and the league’s middle class could feel the squeeze as a result.
The Knights currently are over the cap by almost $3 million, according to CapFriendly.com, and all indications are they’ve been trying to shed salary.
Fleury’s name continues to be mentioned prominently in trade talks after the buyout window closed Thursday at 2 p.m.
Reports vary on what teams are asking in order to take on some or all of Fleury’s $7 million salary cap hit, but an oversaturated goalie market has made it difficult for McCrimmon to find a deal.
His task was made tougher Thursday, as two more goaltenders were added to the merry-go-round when the New Jersey Devils bought out Cory Schneider and the Chicago Blackhawks announced they were not re-signing Corey Crawford.
That could force the Knights to pivot and focus their efforts on moving other players.
A trade involving Max Pacioretty, who led the team in scoring last season with 32 goals and 66 points, fell through during the draft, according to French-language television station TVA Sports in Montreal.
Notably, Pacioretty is represented by Allan Walsh, the agent for Fleury who tweeted, and later deleted, a picture of the goaltender being stabbed through the back with a sword.
There are rumblings out of Winnipeg that the Jets are interested in Paul Stastny and his $6.5 million cap hit as their No. 2 center. Stastny briefly played for the Jets in 2018 after being traded from St. Louis at the deadline.
Other names being floated on the rumor mill include defensemen Nate Schmidt ($5.9 million cap hit) and Alec Martinez ($4 million) as the Knights apparently are looking to upgrade the right side of their defense.
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo continues to be the name most prominently linked with the Knights. He’s been unable to come to terms on an extension and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday he expects to go to free agency.
The Knights also have unrestricted free agents Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill and Tomas Nosek, though it’s doubtful any of the three will return with money being so tight. Nick Cousins also is an unrestricted free agent after the Knights did not extend him a qualifying offer.
Golden Knights unrestricted free agents
— Nick Cousins, forward *
— Deryk Engelland, defenseman
— Curtis McKenzie, forward
— Jon Merrill, defenseman
— Tomas Nosek, forward
— Valentin Zykov, forward
* Not extended qualifying offer