Speaking to reporters including Jesse Granger of The Athletic, Vegas Golden Knights general manager confirmed what had been reported in recent days. Mark Stone is headed to long-term injured reserve with a back injury. This is notable not only because the Golden Knights will be without their captain for the next while but it also opens up enough salary cap space to activate Jack Eichel to make his season debut on Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche.
McCrimmon explained that the team’s medical staff or the numerous specialists he has met with haven’t been able to determine exactly what is causing Stone’s injury, and did not have a concrete timeline for his return. That answer will certainly draw some curious glances from around the league as the team escapes the cap crunch they were facing without trading away any assets.
Still, losing Stone is no small thing. The 29-year-old forward is among the best two-way players in the game as a two-time Selke Trophy finalist and point-per-game producer. In 28 games this season–broken up by multiple absences due to his back concerns–Stone has scored eight goals and 28 points while playing a little over 18 minutes a night. Taking him out of the lineup for an extended period of time will certainly not be an ideal situation for the Golden Knights, especially as they are in no sure position in the Pacific Division
While they are in first currently, the Calgary Flames are nipping at their heels with a better points percentage and the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Vancouver Canucks are all above .500 and within striking distance. With so much time left, it’s not even a sure thing that the Golden Knights make the playoffs, let alone secure the division crown.
One way to help your case–add a $10MM center into the lineup. Eichel hasn’t played an NHL game since March 7, 2021 but is now fully healthy and ready to resume what has been a strong career so far, at least in terms of individual production. The second-overall pick in 2015, he has recorded 355 points in 375 games and scored a career-high 36 goals in 2019-20. That put him eighth in Hart Trophy voting, meaning this is a potential MVP candidate that the Golden Knights are sliding into the lineup. Sure, there will be some rust for the 25-year-old pivot, but Vegas has also never had a center like this to build around.
If the team is to bring Stone back before the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to shed some salary. That would presumably need to be done before the March 21 deadline, so if they don’t–expect the captain to miss the rest of the regular season. Alec Martinez, the other key player on LTIR, is getting closer but there is also no clear timeline for his return just yet. Robin Lehner, who missed practice today, is out with an upper-body injury but his status for Wednesday is not yet determined.