Farewell, Haula. Hello Roy.

Farewell, Haula. Hello Roy.

Eric Haula for Nicolas Roy
Erik Haula Traded for Nicolas Roy

-Jack Manning

Late in the evening on June 26, 2019, the Golden Knights traded away Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for 22-year-old center, Nicolas Roy and a conditional fifth round pick (conditions: Haula is either extended or traded for a player, or multiple picks, or a pick in rounds 1-5).  The 6’4” Nicolas Roy projects to be a bottom-6 center in the NHL and will have a very good chance of playing minutes for the Golden Knights this year. Haula was the last remaining piece of the Golden Knights’ inaugural second line, and his departure may sting for many fans that rose and fell with every goal scored that season.  As the old cliché goes, ‘hockey is a business’ and unfortunately for those that fell in love with the original Golden Misfits, the business of hockey left no room for Haula in Vegas.

With the Golden Knights sitting well over the 2019-20 salary cap, the Golden Knights were forced to shed at least one significant piece before July 1, 2019 when the new season’s cap limits become effective.  While the pieces coming back to Vegas are nothing to sneer at, it’s unsurprising that many fans are frustrated at the return for a top-6 forward who is only one season removed from a 29-goal, 55 point season.  The reality is that when Haula suffered a horrific freak accident (believed to be a fractured patella) only 16 games into the 2018-19 season, his trade value plummeted. Since his injury, Haula’s future has remained uncertain.  The key to Haula’s offensive game has always been his speed.  Now on the back-half of his career, until he demonstrates that he can regain his footspeed and agility he remains an unknown commodity.  That uncertainty is ultimately what made this trade happen.

Without diving in depth into the Knights’ cap troubles, it is obvious that Vegas had to shed a few contracts, and Haula is likely the first of two or three trades.  The entire league knows that McPhee and McCrimmon (“The McManagers”) have no choice but to shed salary, leaving them with little leverage in negotiations.  The Knights remain squarely in their window to win a Cup, and despite a first-round exit, were a better team last season than the first.  With William Karlsson and Paul Stastny centering the top-6 forwards and Cody Glass looking to push for a roster spot in the fall, the Knights were always going to have to make a choice between Cody Eakin and Erik Haula.  Eakin was key to the Knights success last year, and was one of their best defensive players and penalty killers.  That he posted 22 goals certainly didn’t hurt the team either.  The Knights know exactly what they have in Cody Eakin.  As The McManagers laid out their depth chart for the upcoming season, there were few scenarios in which Haula and Eakin could both appear on the opening night roster.

While Haula is a good middle-6 forward, his -16 plus/minus rating in 17/18 seemed to give the McManagers and Gallant doubts about whether he was defensively responsible enough to center his own line.  Haula began last season as a winger, and with the additions of Gusev, Stone, and Glass to the lineup since Haula’s last game, it is difficult to imagine where Haula might have slot in. By contrast, Eakin is a pure center who can serviceably drive the 3rd line, but could also potentially be the best 4th line center in the game.  In terms of roster construction, Eakin is simply the better fit.  With Haula’s injury leaving him as a question mark in the lineup, the Knights took the conservative path and moved Haula at a discount to ensure that there were no holes in next year’s roster.  The McManagers know full-well that there is a chance that Haula will meet or exceed his scoring totals for 17/18, but this move puts all the risk on Carolina.

The Knights also filled an organizational need by acquiring Nicolas Roy.  Because the Knights are only two years out from their first draft, most of the forwards prospects they have acquired are not yet ready for the NHL.  Aside from Cody Glass and potentially Keegan Kolesar, it would take a small miracle for any of the Knights’ other forward prospects to be viable call-up options for the upcoming season.  Roy remains waiver-exempt, meaning that he can be sent up and down without risk of being claimed by another team.  Roy matched Cody Glass’ playoff point production with 15 and has the physical frame to meet the demands of the NHL. While Roy will need to improve his foot speed to make a significant impact at the next level, when Vegas has an inevitable injury to the bottom-6 Roy will be an obvious choice to call up from Chicago.  Long term, Roy has the potential to be a high-end 3rd line center. 

While the sting of losing Haula is real, this trade is not nearly as lopsided as it might first appear on paper and positions the Knights to keep their window open for as long as possible.

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June 2019