Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 | 2:11 p.m.
When asked about his time with the Golden Knights and how he felt about it ending, Nate Schmidt looked directly at the camera.
“I’ll speak right to you, Vegas, I’ll just say this: Thank you so much for embracing me where I can be my lovable, goofy self,” he said. “Forever a Misfit. Our run together is something that can’t be matched.”
The Golden Knights traded Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday as part of a salary-clearing deal so Vegas could sign defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Schmidt was acquired at the expansion draft and was part of the “Golden Misfits” team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.
He became a fan favorite, not just for his strong play on the ice, but for his jovial personality and childlike love of hockey that was apparent every time he stepped on the ice. While he was excited to be a part of the Canucks, he was also taken by surprise to not be a Golden Knight.
“Last night was hard,” Schmidt said. “You put down some roots in a place and you’re there from the beginning, which is always something special. Not very many guys can say they’ve been in a place from the ground up.”
Schmidt said he didn’t hear about a potential trade until it was done. He understood that something had to give in order to sign Pietrangelo, but it was still “a tough pill to swallow.”
From a business standpoint, the trade makes sense. Schmidt had five years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $5.95 million. Once Vegas became to determine to add Pietrangelo, who plays the same position and role as Schmidt, it was only a matter of time.
From a human standpoint though, this was perhaps the team’s most emotional departure.
“This game, this business, the job that I have often requires really hard decisions on good people. I’ve never worked with a finer man in my career than Nate,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Monday. “There is only one scenario, one situation, where we would have considered a trade involving Nate Schmidt and that was exactly the situation that presented ourselves with the opportunity to add Alex (Pietrangelo) to our team.”
Schmidt was not only a member of that 2018 Western Conference championship team, but has been through a lot personally in Vegas, on and off the ice. He blossomed from a depth defenseman with the Capitals to a top-pairing, two-way threat with the Golden Knights, and the modest return Vegas received in trading him — a 2022 third-round pick — took the hockey world by surprise.
Before the 2018-19 season, Schmidt was suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He maintains his innocence, and the organization stood by him adamantly from the day he was suspended, signing him to a six-year extension before he was eligible to return.
There’s no question this trade hurt Schmidt, as well as the fanbase. Paul Stastny was traded to the Jets last week in another cap-clearing move, and said in his introductory press conference with Winnipeg that as hockey players, they get used to being “pawns on a chessboard,” but holds no ill will toward the Golden Knights.
Schmidt echoed that sentiment but it is, as we’re constantly reminded, a business, and Schmidt was a business decision the Golden Knights made. They traded him for pennies on the dollar to a team in Vancouver that was one goal away from stealing a playoff series against the Golden Knights fewer than two months ago.
Schmidt joins an exciting young core in the Canucks, one that looks on paper to be the Golden Knights’ biggest threat to back-to-back Pacific Division titles. He joins former Capitals teammates Brayden Holtby and Jay Beagle in Vancouver, and repeatedly corrected himself to make his use of “we” refer to his new teammates and not his old.
In a normal year, Schmidt would face the Golden Knights at least four times over an 82-game schedule. We don’t know when the season will begin or what the schedule will look like, but whenever the Canucks and Golden Knights next meet, there is one former teammate Schmidt is excited to play against more than any other: fellow Vegas loudmouth Jonathan Marchessault.
“I can’t wait to hit Marchy a few times,” he said with a supervillain-like laugh.