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Penguins' Jim Rutherford, other GMs boosted Golden Knights into championship position

Jonathan Bombulie
| Monday, June 4, 2018, 2:48 p.m.
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith, left, celebrates his goal with center Jonathan Marchessault, center, as Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby lays on the ice during second period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Monday, May 28, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith, left, celebrates his goal with center Jonathan Marchessault, center, as Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby lays on the ice during second period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Monday, May 28, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has some tough decisions to make this summer.
Getty Images
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has some tough decisions to make this summer.

By hitting a handful of home runs in the expansion draft process, general manager George McPhee helped the Vegas Golden Knights go on an unprecedented playoff run in the franchise's first season.

Before his team began its matchup with the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final last week, McPhee explained how opposing general managers interacted with him during the expansion process.

“Some guys just said, ‘Take who you're going to take,' ” McPhee said. “Some teams tried to do other things to protect their roster.”

Safe to say the Golden Knights wouldn't be where they are without the “other things” a few opposing general managers did.

Here's a look at the five GMs who most helped Vegas' cause.

1. Dale Tallon, Florida

Winger Reilly Smith signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Panthers in 2016, then proceeded to turn in a 15-goal season.

To get Vegas to take Smith's contract off their hands, the Panthers offered to leave 30-goal winger Jonathan Marchessault unprotected.

And just like that, the Golden Knights filled two-thirds of their top line. Marchessault had 27 goals and 75 points. Smith recorded 22 goals and 60 points.

The Panthers also provided Vegas with its coach, dumping Gerard Gallant unceremoniously in November of 2016, though that happened before Tallon officially took over as GM.

2. Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus

It's an unfair case of 20-20 hindsight to suggest Kekalainen should have known exactly what he had in William Karlsson. The 25-year-old center had six goals in 81 games in a checking-line role with the Blue Jackets in 2016-17.

Still, Karlsson's emergence as a 43-goal man gave the Golden Knights their only bona fide scoring star on the roster.

Columbus was willing to give up Karlsson, a first-round pick and a second-round pick in exchange for Vegas taking on David Clarkson's contract and leaving winger Josh Anderson and goalie prospect Joonas Korpisalo alone.

3. Jim Rutherford, Penguins

Once Matt Murray moved into the No. 1 goalie spot on the Penguins roster, Rutherford didn't have a ton of options when it came to dealing with Marc-Andre Fleury last summer, especially if he wanted to do right by the popular goalie, who was agreeable to a move to Vegas. So he gave the Golden Knights a second-round pick to make sure the move took place.

The acquisition turned out to be a critical one for Vegas, of course. Fleury has probably been the Golden Knights' most valuable player in both the regular season and playoffs.

But here's an interesting hypothetical to consider: What if Rutherford had moved Fleury to another team at last season's trade deadline? Washington might be gunning for back-to-back championships, and its opponent probably wouldn't be Vegas.

4. Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota

Fletcher was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. If he didn't play ball, trading Alex Tuch to Vegas for a third-round pick and leaving Erik Haula unprotected, he probably would have lost promising young defenseman Mathew Dumba.

Regardless, Haula having a 29-goal season and Tuch emerging as a solid top-nine forward were significant reasons why the Golden Knights had success.

5. Bob Murray, Anaheim

Like Rutherford and Fletcher, it's hard to say Murray did anything wrong. He gave up Shea Theodore so the Ducks could keep defensemen Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen, and he got Vegas to eat Clayton Stoner's $3.25 million contract in the process. He later used Vatanen to acquire Adam Henrique.

Still, Theodore emerged as a critical piece on the blue line for the Golden Knights.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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