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Golden Knights positioned to make big move in free agency

Updated October 9, 2020 - 8:17 pm

DEER LODGE, Mont. — On the first day of NHL free agency, the Golden Knights were involved in a significant trade and made one signing.

Except it wasn’t that trade. And it wasn’t a big-name free agent, either.

The Knights shipped center Paul Stastny to Winnipeg early Friday and also re-signed forward Tomas Nosek, though they held off on making any major moves for the time being.

But with free agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo all but certain to leave St. Louis, the Knights’ pursuit of the 30-year-old all-star is expected to pick up steam.

“We’ve had discussions with lots of different people over days and weeks now,” general manger Kelly McCrimmon said on a videoconference call. “I won’t get into speculation on individual players. But safe to say that across the National Hockey League it’s a busy time for general managers and for organizations.”

The Knights reportedly were among the teams that spoke to Pietrangelo’s representatives, and Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas confirmed the Maple Leafs did, too.

But Toronto signed defenseman T.J. Brodie, and St. Louis signed defenseman Torey Krug to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract, all but signaling the end of Pietrangelo’s time with the Blues.

That leaves the Knights as one of the few teams willing to spend in Pietrangelo’s tax bracket. Colorado also could be involved, and at this point, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if a surprise team jumped in the mix.

By dealing Stastny and his $6.5 million salary cap hit to the Jets for depth defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022, the Knights are approximately $2.7 million under the salary cap with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies signed.

As a result, they have room to offer Pietrangelo a maximum seven-year deal with an average annual value over $8 million. Teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent in the offseason.

And since there’s no immediate need to clear cap space, that also means there’s no rush to make a decision on the future of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Knights watched several goaltenders change addresses Friday. When the musical chairs stop, the Knights can assess their own cap situation and the market to determine whether to trade or maybe even keep Fleury.

“There’s a lot of things that have to fit when you’re putting together an NHL roster,” McCrimmon said. “There’s a lot of circumstances and situations that impact decisions and define what the opportunities are exactly.”

Stastny is entering the final year of his contract and expected to revisit the second-line center role he played for the Jets in 2018 after being traded from St. Louis at the deadline.

Stastny, 34, got off to a slow start last season while he recovered from an offseason injury and finished with 17 goals and 21 assists in 71 games.

“We were ready for anything, and we kind of heard rumblings, so we figured something would happen,” Stastny said on a conference call. “We were hoping if we did go somewhere, it was back to the Jets. We’re all excited.”

Nosek will help fill the hole down the middle that was created with Stastny’s departure. He signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract that includes a small raise over last season when he made $1 million.

Nosek tied his career high with eight goals and added seven assists in 67 games.

“The familiarity with the player, the trust level, the trust factor with Tomas and his game, those are all part of the reasons why he’s back with our organization again this year,” McCrimmon said.

While Nosek returned, one of the original members of the Knights moved on. Defenseman Jon Merrill signed a one-year, $925,000 deal with the Detroit Red Wings and returns home.

Merrill grew up in Brighton, Michigan, and played three seasons at the University of Michigan.

“As a kid, as a pro hockey player even, I always said if the opportunity to play for the Red Wings came up, I would jump at it,” Merrill said. “To see them calling right away today, it was an honor and it was a really easy decision for me.”

Forward Nick Cousins also went elsewhere, signing a two-year, $3 million contract with Nashville.

Cousins was acquired at the trade deadline for a 2021 fourth-round pick and played 24 games (seven during the regular season) with the Knights. He was not tendered a qualifying offer this week and was an unrestricted free agent.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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