Updated October 12, 2020 - 9:54 pm
The Golden Knights landed the top free agent available Monday in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. It cost them Nate Schmidt.
The popular defenseman was the Knights latest salary cap casualty, as Schmidt was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 third-round pick.
Schmidt carries a $5.95 million salary cap hit through 2024-25 and will fill the Canucks’ hole on the right side of defense.
“I’ve never worked with a finer man in my career than Nate,” Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “An incredibly popular player in our community. An incredible ambassador, community person that did charity work. A top-pairing defenseman on our team for his entire three years.
”There is only one scenario, one situation where we would have considered trade involving Nate Schmidt, and that was the exactly the situation that presented (itself) with the opportunity to add Alex to our team.”
This was the latest cost-cutting move by the Knights, who dealt center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick on Friday.
Schmidt, 29, was selected from Washington in the expansion draft, and his gregarious personality made him an instant fan favorite.
Schmidt emerged as the Knights’ No. 1 defenseman during their inaugural season and led the team in average ice time. His play against Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele during the Western Conference Final drew praise from scouts and analysts.
However, Schmidt was suspended 20 games for violating the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.
Schmidt, who was the Knights’ player representative on the NHL Players’ Association executive committee, maintained his innocence and cited “environmental contamination” in his statement of defense.
The Knights backed Schmidt, and he signed a six-year contract extension worth $35.7 million while serving his suspension.
Schmidt and defense partner Brayden McNabb served as the Knights’ shutdown pairing and were often matched against opposing teams’ top forward line.
But with the emergence of Shea Theodore, the signing of Pietrangelo and the acquisition of Alec Martinez in February, Schmidt became expendable.
Schmidt was on track for his career-best offensive output and finished with seven goals and 24 assists in 59 games. In 196 career games with the Knights, Schmidt posted 21 goals and 97 points with a plus-52 rating.
“As good a player as Nate is, he’s even a better person,” McCrimmon said. “He came here as a young player from Washington with something to prove and leaves here as one of the premier players at his position in the league.”