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Mark Stone, Jack Eichel embrace Golden Knights’ relentless approach


Mark Stone is just as sophisticated as his last name.

Ask the captain of the Vegas Golden Knights, Mark Stone, what he thinks of X or Y, and he won’t be afraid to blank his thoughts on the table, as provocative as they can be. Such was the case a few weeks ago, at the NHL Player Media Tour, he raised some questions about his team’s constantly changing lineup.

On the new top winger and soon-to-be Iron Man titleholder Phil Kessel:

Stone said: “When I first saw him, I expected him to weigh 300 pounds, and he was the furthest from that. “This guy can throw weights in the gym. He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen. He is not real. Brings great dynamism to the dressing room. Still sliding like the wind, still snapping as hard as I’ve seen, so I’m excited for him.”

About star center Jack Eichel, who joined the Golden Knights midway through last season after a blockbuster deal and recovering from disc replacement surgery:

“I’ve never met him – definitely thought he was the bad guy by all accounts, and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Stone said. “This guy works harder than anyone, wants to win more than anyone and just wants to be part of the team that gets it right. There are many false stories about this guy. I think he’s going to have a big year for us. “

Thank you Mr. Stone. He’s not exactly a tad subtle in his words, but it’s probably perfectly suited to his work. Stone, 30, leads the NHL’s most ruthless, no-nonsense franchise. If you get in the way of the frantic pursuit of the Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup? You’re being kicked out into the desert like Joe Pesci at the end Casino.

Love the presence in the dressing room? Sorry, Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny. We want to have Alex Pietrangelo in 2020 free agent. Vezina Trophy winner? Good for you, Marc-Andre Fleury, but we’ve hit the maximum salary and we want to trade Eichel, so you’re going to Chicago for nothing. Non-trading terms? Never mind, Evgenii Dadonov, we want you to give it up. Front left winger? That’s great, Max Pacioretty, but we’re against the limit, so you’re out of here.

So for players like Stone, part of this singular team culture, there’s almost no time for fun and subtlety. The Golden Knights have sent a message that they want their players to win or something else. It’s almost as if they cursed themselves with the 2017-18 Stanley Cup final, their first season, because it created an insatiable thirst for success at any cost, mortgage included. Players with depth and potential are drawn up in the first round. .

But for Stone and Eichel, who comes from the trading losses? They adopted that culture.

“We expect a change every year,” Stone said in September. “The salary cap hasn’t changed in two years and we’ve spent the limit, so you can’t complain about that. . I’ve been on teams that don’t spend to the limit and you wish you did. So I will never complain about a team that spends to the max and wins. “

“It’s great – that’s what you want as a player,” said Eichel. “You want a team that wants to win every year and has the highest expectations, and that’s obviously the way it is here, so I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”

Like Stone, Eichel is one of the only players we can count on to “be a part of it” in Vegas for the long haul. He signed on for four more seasons, including this one, for $10 million AAV. And he still aspires to be in a real, high-stakes NHL competition. At 409 career games without a playoff, he’s a safe distance from Ron Hainsey’s NHL record record of 907, but Eichel, 25, has now had seven seasons without one. tickets to the big ball.

Last season was supposed to break his record. After all, he was exchanged with a brilliant Stanley Cup contender in the Golden Knights. His disc replacement surgery was successful enough to return him to NHL service on February 16. It was the first such procedure in NHL history, one that the Buffalo Sabers did not. willing to allow but the Golden Knights were happy, and he set a precedent for other players.

“Johnson had it, Joel Farabee had it, so I thought I did, well, because a year ago nobody had it, now suddenly three people have it,” Eichel said. “It’s a more common injury than you think, and it’s a good way to deal with that trauma, so I’m glad you guys had the opportunity to do that.”

There’s just one problem with Eichel’s debut in Vegas: he’s rejoining the graveyard of a list. Stone came in and out of the lineup with chronic back problems. Pacioretty can’t stay healthy. Starting goalkeeper Robin Lehner has multiple injuries. The Golden Knights are almost never at full strength, and the constantly depleted lineup sends Eichel back to a situation similar to the one he wanted to escape in Buffalo.

“He got into the squad and then four or five of us left the squad,” Stone said. “So in Buffalo, all the pressure was on him, and when he got here, it wasn’t all for him, and then it was to be It’s all on him (laughs). I think it’s been tough for him, but we’re happy to have the group back together.”

Ahem, not quite the group. Pacioretty and Dadonov have been traded for the season, while Lehner hip surgery will be available to him in all of 2022-23. But you get what Stone meant. The Golden Knights believe that last season, the first time they missed a playoff spot in their five-year history, did not reflect who they really are. They have most of their core ready, including Stone, who insists he is back to normal following his back-to-season surgery. They have new head coach Bruce Cassidy, brought in just days after the Boston Bruins fired him, and Eichel praised Cassidy’s intelligence and ability to read the game and adjust.

Where do the rest of you sit from? This group has gotten worse on paper and is likely to continue to grow after making too many monkey mallet deals over the past half-decade, damaging their future in the pursuit of power. their short term.

But as for Eichel and Stone? What they see is a team that will do anything to win. And that’s exactly what they want.

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