The 2017/18 NHL season is just a few days old, and the league’s newest team has already made a splash on the trading side.
The Vegas Golden Knights made their first regular-season trade ever by sending goalie Calvin Pickard to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In return, the Golden Knights gain forward Tobias Lindberg and the Maple Leafs’ 2018 sixth-round draft pick.
Shortly before the trade, Pickard cleared waivers and was sent to the Knight’s AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
When Pickard was first claimed by Vegas in the expansion draft earlier this year, the consensus amongst many fans was that he would back up starter Marc-Andre Fleury, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But that didn’t happen, and the Golden Knights snagged netminder Malcolm Subban from the Boston Bruins via the waiver wire before the season began.
With Subban joining the fold in Sin City, there would not have been any room for Pickard on the Knights’ NHL roster.
Subban was dressed for the Knights’ first-ever regular season game Friday night against the Dallas Stars.
Pickard saw preseason action with Vegas, however. The 25-year-old backstop started two games and went 0-1-1 with a 4.00 goals-against average.
What Toronto gets in Pickard
Where Pickard cleared waivers with no other team taking him, he could report to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies immediately after the trade.
This could create a logjam in net for the Marlies, who already have Maple Leafs prospect Garret Sparks and Kasimir Kaskisuo, who was called up from the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.
But this situation would not have been any different with the big club, with Toronto depending on starter Frederik Andersen and backup Curtis McElhinney.
If either Andersen or McElhinney go down with an injury, however, calling up Pickard would seem like a no-brainer where he is proven to be a reliable backup on average (and even sub-par) teams.
Pickard was chosen by the Colorado Avalanche 49th overall in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He played his junior years with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League before a four-year stint with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.
Pickard played 16 NHL games in the 2014/15 season, going 6-7-3 and posting a 2.35 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
He then split the following season between the Avalanche and the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. But he looked solid in 20 NHL games in 2015/16, recording a 7-6-1 record along with a 2.56 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
Pickard likely saw more NHL time than expected last year, during the worst full season in Colorado in 21 years. The Avalanche had no other choice but to turn to Pickard after starter Semyon Varlamov got hurt in January, so it was all Pickard and Spencer Martin between the pipes for Colorado in the second half of the franchise’s most dismal campaign since 1991/92.
He went 15-31-2 with a goals-against average of 2.98 and a save percentage of .904 that left a lot to be desired, despite how bad the Avalanche were in 2016/17.
The struggles in Colorado last season were not Pickard’s fault, but who can blame the Avalanche for wanting to put their recent past behind them and expose Pickard in the expansion draft in case he had time to shine in Vegas?
The Avalanche also signed Jonathan Bernier to a one-year, $2.75 million contract in the offseason, meaning they would have identified their backup for at least the start of this season. So Pickard may still have been waived even if Colorado had not let him walk in the expansion draft.
With the Marlies, Pickard could easily step in and battle Sparks for the starting role if Kaskisuo turns out to be a flop.
Pickard is in the final year of a two-year deal with a $1 million annual cap hit.
What Vegas gets in Lindberg
Lindberg was selected by the Ottawa Senators 102nd overall in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He played junior in his native Sweden before finishing with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, where he won a Memorial Cup in 2015.
Lindberg, 22, played in 34 games with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators in 2015/16. The winger notched 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) before being sent to Toronto along with Jared Cowen, Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and a 2017 second-round pick.
Ottawa got Dion Phaneuf, Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and Cody Donaghey in return.
Lindberg recorded 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 22 games with the Marlies, but he also appeared in six games with the Maple Leafs. He picked up two assists in his brief NHL stint.
Lindberg scored 16 points (six goals, ten assists) in 44 contests with the Marlies last season.
With the Maple Leafs stacked depth up front, Lindberg making the lineup seemed unlikely. So the Golden Knights picking him up is a win-win situation, as Lindberg may get a shot at a longer-term roster spot in Vegas.
If any of the Golden Knights’ forwards go down with injuries, or if (and when) Vegas has a fire sale of veterans for prospects and picks, Lindberg could contribute in at least a bottom-six spot.
Lindberg is in the last year of his entry-level contract, which was worth $2.5 million over three seasons.
The draft pick
Before completing the trade with Vegas, Toronto would have had 13 picks in the 2018 entry draft.
It’s hard to say if the sixth-round selection sent to the Golden Knights will amount to anything, but the Maple Leafs may not need it as much where they (finally) appear focused on making a deep playoff run.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights will likely stockpile picks and prospects as they hope to be contenders at least in the next few years.
Adding Toronto’s sixth-rounder brings Vegas’ total pick count to 15 in the 2018 draft. With that many chances to pick a good prospect or find a hidden gem on draft day next spring, the Golden Knights should definitely find a diamond in the rough somewhere.
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