Nothing sends a message in sports like a trade deadline.
Buy, sell or rent.
Win now. Win later.
Work for owner Eugene Melnyk and probably never win again.
The one delivered Monday from the Golden Knights to their locker room and fan base was as clear as it was needed for a team trying to find itself in late February: The taste of reaching a Stanley Cup Final last season was far too delicious not to attempt a second straight helping.
In trading for high scoring winger Mark Stone from Ottawa, one of those high-profile players Melnyk’s team wanted to move and did, the Knights continued to obliterate what expansion era thinking has always been in these matters.
Of course, such rational never saw the Knights coming last year. Nobody did.
But this is a different team and season with different needs, specifically someone who can help ignite a side that ranks 19th in goals at an average of 2.9.
Alex Tuch leads the Knights with 43 points, which is tied for 87th in the NHL.
Stone steps off the plane in Las Vegas with 62, which ranks 32nd.
It becomes an even bigger issue when the teams (and at least one likely playoff opponent, if not two) ahead of you in the Pacific Division — Calgary and San Jose — rank second and third in goals, respectively.
“(Stone) is the type of player you always look for and hope to land,” Knights general manager George McPhee said. “We knew he was going to be available at (Monday’s) deadline … Had we lost every game or won every game (the last month), it wouldn’t have affected this. You don’t get players like this very often, players this good. Usually, you draft a player like this and he plays his whole career with you. The price was right for us.”
First: They haven’t won every game the past month.
In fact, they’ve gone 3-8.
Second: The price included an elite prospect in defenseman Erik Brannstrom, who along with Knights forward Oscar Lindberg and a second-round draft pick, went to Ottawa for the 26-year-old Stone and prospect Tobias Lindberg.
Brannstrom had gained an almost cultlike status locally among some media and fans, bizarre in that he has yet to play in an NHL regular-season game. But his skill and potential were such that many couldn’t contain their excitement over the thought of him as a potential star for the home team inside T-Mobile Arena.
And yet you make this trade every time and twice on deadline day, if that’s what it takes.
You don’t think twice about shipping Brannstrom.
Cap has changed
Not all trades work. The one for Ryan Reaves around last year’s deadline has for the Knights. The one for Tomas Tatar — and then again by sending him to Montreal — has never come close to being viewed as positive. Tatar produced little in the short time he was here and is now having a better season for the Canadiens than the guy he was dealt for — Max Pacioretty.
But in Stone you have a whole different level a player, and the end result will include him signing an eight-year contract extension reportedly worth $9.5 million annually which can’t be made official until March 1 (you can bet he’s excited about Nevada’s lack of state income tax).
The salary cap flexibility once owned by the Knights isn’t as apparent now for a team that appears fairly set at its top nine forwards for the coming years.
There will likely be an offseason trade or two. Salary will probably be cut along the way. It might take some doing for top prospect Cody Glass to even make the team next season.
But for a team that has had more second lines than anything resembling many top ones around the league, Stone gives the Knights the sort of piece they lacked.
He does everything well, much of it superbly.
Bill Foley’s mantra from the beginning was playoffs in three years and competing for a Stanley Cup in six, the timeline of a Knights owner obviously accelerated with last season’s magical run.
Monday just reiterated that even more.
“We start every day by putting our blueprint up,” McPhee said. “What were our objectives a couple years ago and what are we tying to do here? It’s a good reminder to read it over and have everyone look at it and talk about where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to accomplish. This fit.”
These guys want to win, then, now and later.
It’s the sort of message the room and fans love to hear.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.