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Five Sports Illustrated Experts Pick Vegas To Play For The Cup (Plus Our Picks)

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As we continue holding out for some level of hope for the NHL season to resume, some outlets are continuing the tradition of making their annual Stanley Cup predictions. This year Tampa Bay and Vegas were the two teams most picked to play in the Cup finals by Sports Illustrated.

Five SI experts chose the Golden Knights to participate in the Final if the season were to continue play. Unfortunately, four out of the five picked the Golden Knights to lose in the Stanley Cup Final.

Matt Larkin: Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Sam McCaig: Lightning over Golden Knights in five

Edward Fraser: Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Ryan Kennedy: Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Each prediction had Vegas losing to Tampa in six games or less. Ouch, not even one deciding game. The lone SI expert that awarded Lord Stanley’s cup to the Golden Knights left Tampa out of the Final completely. Here’s his explanation of why he chose VGK as the 2020 NHL champions.

Dan Falkenheim: Golden Knights over Bruins in six

Since Jan. 15, no team has a higher share of expected goals (58.5%). Robin Lehner’s arrival ensured Vegas would enter the playoffs with the NHL’s best netminding situation. And all the sudden, with Max Pacioretty turning back the clock, the Golden Knights looked like the West’s top team before the pause.

Much less drama for the Bruins, some 2,700 miles away. Save for a mediocre 4-5-6 stretch running from early December into the New Year, Boston has been the league’s most consistent team throughout the season. Tuukka Rask’s emergence as the Vezina frontrunner helped the Bruins carve out an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division and serves as a reminder that he can carry a team as far as he wants to. Both Boston and Vegas are built to withstand the rigors of postseason hockey—each has reached the finals within the last three years—but the Golden Knights are the team that comes out on top in a matchup between recent Stanley Cup losers. -Dan Falkenheim, SI.com

It’s an intriguing matchup, to say the least. The last two Stanley Cup runner-ups battling to end their finals losing streaks. Both teams are recognized for elite-level skill and fantastic goaltending. Plus after the pause, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone will be fresh and fully healthy for Vegas and Boston’s older veterans will get some much needed extra rest for their pursuit.

Although SI went heavy on Tampa, they’re not the team I selected to win the cup. Nor to come out of the East. Here are our predictions for this year’s Stanley Cup finals.

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Do Players Care If The Media Are Around Or Not?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For decades, locker rooms have been a common area for players and media to gather after games and after practices. It’s an interesting dynamic, as credentialed men and women get to bombard athletes with positive or negative questions about the outcome of the game. It’s regulated by the club and the league, however it’s mostly a free-for-all and the millionaire players have to suck it up. Or else they get reprimanded and/or look terrible in the public eye.

That was pre-NHL pause.

With health concerns of groups larger than ten, it would be impossible to allow that process to continue. Heck, at this point in time there are too many players for one locker room. So, while there’s uncertainty among the media and players, we all understand things could drastically change.

I don’t think they should be… It’s just intrusive. I would co-sign the idea that we shouldn’t eliminate all access. -JJ Redick, NBA Forward

NBA sharpshooter JJ Redick on The Ringer podcast last week discussed the NBA freeze. The conversation transitioned to the relationship between players and the media, and how Redick would like more restrictions once play resumes.

Redick’s gripe sounds a bit NBA’ish. There are fewer players on a team, and more media covering basketball. Plus, the NBA allows media lockerroom access before game, which doesn’t exist in the NHL. However, there are elements to his complaints that every player in any league would agree with.

Camera guys are in the lockerroom during the media availability and they’re filming you while you are getting dressed… Why are you filming me when I’m putting my tights on? Why do you need to know how I tie my shoes? That feels a little weird too me. -Redick

I often wondered if Golden Knights players were overwhelmed or annoyed dealing with the media every day. Let’s face it, many of us couldn’t compose ourselves as well as they do after a bad loss. Over the past few years, I’ve asked players how they felt about their media responsibilities and came away with different responses.

Since all of these questions were off the record, I won’t reveal the players’ names but they all had a common theme. The bottom line, the Golden Knights know it’s part of their jobs, and they recognize it’s a way to connect with fans. One player said he enjoyed it and had fun chatting it up with the media. Another player told me he’s so used to it that it’s part of his routine. A third player explained, it wasn’t often he spoke in postgame scrums, so when he did it usually meant his contributions helped the team win.

As expected, their moods change after a loss. Most players don’t look forward to the media rush after dropping two points, but again, they understand their role. If an individual player missed an open shot, turned the puck over, or gave up the game-winning goal those players will likely answer the bell. One player hinted if they are good enough to make millions of dollars playing the sport, they can handle the heat after a loss.

A player that caused his team to lose would rather take the needling questions from the media then have his teammate do it for him. Also, certain players don’t want to be known only for answering questions after a win, and ducking out after a loss. It’s bad for their image, and some feel like they’re letting down the fans. Again, these are proud, honest NHL players we’re dealing with, not other professional athletes.

The overall feeling I got after a few casual conversations was that Vegas players want a genuine working relationship with the media. As long as it’s respectful, players don’t mind giving 5-8 minutes of their time after a win or loss. However the NHL decides to regulate the flow of media it will be completely foreign for both parties. One thing is for sure, the players will adjust quicker. Realistically, they are players and would rather focus on playing hockey. They won’t mind the change because there’s a good chance they get their locker room back and get to keep it for themselves.

It’s up to us at SinBin.vegas to work within the forthcoming new accessibility rules to bring information and content fans expect. If not, you all have full access to harass Ken and I. We can handle the heat.

Poll: 70% Will Attend Golden Knights Games

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last week Seton Hall University conducted a poll asking fans their level of concern attending a sporting event after the threat of COVID-19 is gone. The Stillman School of Business canvassed what fans would do if the leagues resumed play before there was a coronavirus vaccine? The results were lopsided.

72% of those who responded to the poll said they would not feel safe attending games until a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is developed.

Asked what they would do if the leagues resumed play before there was a vaccine, 12 percent said in the poll released on Thursday that they would attend but only if social distancing could be maintained.

Only 13 percent said they would feel safe. The poll run by the Sharkey Institute within the Stillman School of Business was conducted over April 6-8 with 762 respondents. -Steve Keating, Reuters

The university polled under 800 sports fans who overwhelmingly showed hesitation about returning to a venue without a successful vaccine. Something, we’re all concerned with. However, the numbers seemed broad, and possibly too regional. Seton Hall is in New Jersey, a state devastated by the coronavirus, and the poll participants were mostly sports enthusiasts from the NY/NJ area.

So, we decided to get a little more precise and ask a similar question to Golden Knights fans. The results were optimistically different.

With over 2300 votes, the SinBin.vegas poll found a much different response than the one conducted back East. Surprisingly, 48% clicked they would feel safe returning to a Golden Knights game after the league resumed and 70% said they would be willing to attend a game. Compared to the 13% of respondents from the Seton Hall poll.

Locally, Vegas residents are proactively isolating and keeping their distance as the governor told us to. However, many believe this is only temporary and the poll positively reflects that.

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Lehner Could Be Part Of Upcoming Game Of Goalie Musical Chairs

The Golden Knights have a goaltending issue. Not in the desperate sense that other clubs have, instead, for Vegas, it’s a luxury problem. The problem is Vegas has two really good ones and they likely won’t be able to hold on to both. Other teams need to address their goaltending positions as well, and the Golden Knights may be a part of the carousel expected to take place.

Vancouver for one, is a team that will end up spending a lot of money on goaltending this offseason. Either ponying up to the demands of their current tender Jacob Markstrom, or by investing in one of the available free agents such as Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner.

Whenever it comes, this offseason will have a slew of unrestricted free agent goaltenders, led by Lehner, Markstrom and Braden Holtby. Each is expected to be offered term and money, something Vegas probably isn’t considering.

We weren’t sure with the work that we’ve done to position our team, with the work that we’ve done to build our team, we didn’t have confidence that we were as strong at that position as we needed to be… If anything ever happened to Marc-Andre Fleury, we weren’t strong enough to win playoff games if we get to that point. Those are hard decisions, but we felt that way. -Kelly McCrimmon on trade deadline day

Many teams will most certainly be interested in Lehner, and at 6’4″ he could be the most attractive candidate available. Teams that could be searching for a backstop include Calgary, Chicago, Detroit, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Washington. Not to say all of these clubs would pursue Lehner, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they reach out.

It is such a deep list of UFA’s this summer. It was going to be the craziest game of musical chairs we’ve ever seen potentially… Lehner should’ve been one of the guys to go off the list last year early, and for good money. He ended up signing for a one-year ticket at five million coming off a Vezina finalist season .-Kevin Woodley, NHL.com

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Playoff Participation Plan Diminishes Vegas’ First Place Finish

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Silly comments from P.K. Subban shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone around the Golden Knights. Remember this?

He knows he bit me. I’m not trying to rip his head off. I’m not that type of player… I don’t know how I walk out of there with four minutes in penalties… It wasn’t explained. They tried to apologize after the fact that they gave me four minutes in penalties. My finger is bleeding. I don’t know what you want me to do.-P.K. Subban accusing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of biting his finger, 01/23/19

Well P.K. is back, and he’s pushing the idea of a ridiculous 31-team playoff. Subban believes the NHL should allow every club a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, including his 68 point Devils team. Contenders like the Golden Knights worked hard to position themselves for a Cup run, but none of that matters to the former Norris Trophy winner.

It was kind of floated around… I saw a few things on social media and I like that. For my team specifically, we were pushing to make the playoffs down the stretch. I would like to see our team have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. I’d love too see a 31-team playoff and give those pesky Devils an opportunity of bringing the Cup back home to New Jersey. I’d love to see that. -PK Subban on ESPN

While it might sound intriguing to certain fanbases, it makes zero sense for any legitimate contender. In fact, the real losers would end up being the Golden Knights and other elite clubs. Why should they be punished for playing strong during the 71-game paused season?

The NHL is not college basketball, or even the World Cup. The Stanley Cup playoffs is not a tournament of rewarded participants, it’s a tournament of winners. So, why would Vegas, St. Louis, Boston or Tampa want to risk playing a team that has nothing to lose, and face losing to a #16th seed? They wouldn’t, and frankly, they’d be wronged if the league forced them too.

If you’re New Jersey, you’re sitting there and you say, ‘okay fair enough we realize below the cut line.’ Then you say but Montreal, sitting with 71 games 71 points. The Devils go ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, time out, we’re three points behind Montreal with two games in hand. Why would you give Montreal a chance?’ The Devils would say ‘well Montreal can’t be a part of any postseason thing because we got a better point percentage then them.’ So, I guess that’s kind of where P.K. was coming from. -Bob McKenzie

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The Golden Life After Hockey

The one downfall of being an NHL player is that it’s not a lifelong job. The average American retires around 65, but for the average pro hockey player it’s 33. While it’s a highly desirable job, earning high salaries, and entertaining millions, there’s still plenty of life after hockey.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie was asked which current player he thought could become a good NHL GM, and his answer was not surprising.

Sidney Crosby is a hockey junkie. He loves the game. He loves to talk about the game, he follows things closely. He has a great awareness of what’s going on. I don’t know if he’ll go into management but it won’t surprise me. If he did go in, he would be all in. He’s got a real passion for the game and that reflects in knowledge and a thirst for knowledge about all things hockey.-Bob McKenzie, TSN

So it got us thinking, which current/former Golden Knight would make a good NHL general manager?

Jason’s candidates: Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Shea Theodore

Ken’s candidates: David Perron, Nate Schmidt, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Max Pacioretty

There are many elements that go into being a successful general manager, the biggest one is accepting the harsh reality of the business side of hockey. The Islanders Lou Lamoriello is a great example of being a stone-cold executive, even Vegas’ George McPhee has an icy side. Maybe it’s education, or it comes with experience. Pacioretty felt the chill up in Montreal where he was constantly made the scapegoat. From the fans, media, to team executives, #67 had a lot on his plate. However, he still managed to score 226 goals for the Canadiens. Pacioretty accepted his high-profile role as an American captain in Montreal, and professionally handled his daily responsibilities, no matter how combative they were. In the end, he was traded by the organization he gave it all for, and it didn’t phase him. By then, he had already been schooled about the dirty business.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After one year at his local high school, Pacioretty moved on to a hockey prep school, then to the USHL, and lastly the University of Michigan before becoming an NHL player. Since the age of 15, the Connecticut native was heavily recruited and scouted, so he’s well aware of that process.

As captain, Pacioretty needed to work the room and find balance with all of his teammates. Even loud, overbearing teammates like PK Subban. Being captain allowed him insight on how the team was built. What the front office was doing right and what went wrong. With several failed seasons in Montreal, I’m sure the 31-year-old veteran took note of the poor decisions made by the organization.

His experience early on with the recruitment stage, witnessing of building up and tearing down rosters, adding in his tough skin and Pacioretty has the resume to become a future general manager. (written by Jason)

David Perron

Man, I miss David Perron. Perron is one of the most intriguing players both on and off the ice.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

His hockey mind is always on full display when he’s playing as he just seems to have a knack for finding holes in the offensive zone where he can hold onto the puck for a little longer than anyone else who has ever worn a VGK jersey. He sees the game at a different speed than most and I’d have to think that would translate well into scouting as well as team construction.

Off the ice is where he really made me believe he has what it takes to be a GM though. He’s one of the few players in Golden Knights history who really cared about stats and even advanced stats. He’d talk about Corsi, zone starts, through-percentage, and many other pieces of data that proved he’s a true hockey junkie.

The intelligence he displayed in breaking down complex game situations as well as his understanding of the salary cap and the business end of hockey has me believing he would be not only the most likely to become a GM, but also the best future GM of any current or former Golden Knight. (written by Ken)

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Golden Knights Hockey Card Checklist

Being stuck at home isn’t ideal but it does open up time to basically do just about anything. Some are working on loose handrails, others are taking up painting, Netflix binging, but in my case going through boxes and boxes of NHL common cards.

About six months ago my young son starting getting into hockey and baseball cards. It started with a Golden Knights team set, then grew to a few packs at Target, to eventually pulling singles from the local card shop. On one visit my four-year-old became overly excited when he pulled a random Roberto Luongo card. Valued at .65 cents, it’s become one of his favorite cards. No idea why, but it doesn’t matter.

With time in hand, the boy and I decided to do some inventory. Two full seasons and a paused one later, we found the Golden Knights are well represented in the hockey card world. From common cards like Nick Holden, Jon Merrill or William Carrier, to specially autographed and game-worn jersey inserts from your favorite stars.

According to Trading Card Database, there are a total of 3,811 separate Golden Knights hockey cards. Most are common cards you find in most packs, but there are plenty of insert cards available.

Autographed or signature inserts include; Shea Theodore, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, Cody Glass, Zach Whitecloud, Nic Roy. Not shocking, the most valuable auto-cards are Upper Deck’s Marc-Andre Fleury autographed, VGK jersey cards. Most range $175-$200 in value. Autograph cards are hard to find (1:276), as in one per every 276 individual packs.

My personal favorite inserts are game-worn jersey cards. They’re not as elusive as player signature cards. Beckett.com lists jersey cards as (1:40), or one per 40 packs. If you do get lucky, hopefully, it’s a card with value or has some sentiment. As cool as they are, most are overpriced. For instance, on eBay, you can buy an Upper Deck game-used Fleury jersey card for $2,669.99, and an Alex Tuch patch insert for $499.99. As well crafted as these cards are, there are plenty of them released so they don’t hold value. Consider them like a car. However, here are a few that could hold value.

Trading card companies don’t produce as many cards as they used to, so not every player is featured in a series. Also, companies sign contracts with younger players and develop entire lines of cards around those projected stars. Tuch has the most trading cards as a Golden Knight. Fleury would be second, but you’d be surprised who follows. Cody Glass has upwards of ten separate autograph/jersey cards, including several Draft Day autographed jersey cards. At the young age of 20, the 2017 sixth overall pick has 341 different trading cards, most being released before he played a game for Vegas. If Glass pans out like the organization expects his cards could hold and possibly gain value over time.

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Out Of Shape Already?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s been two and a half weeks since the Golden Knights last suited up. Their 3-2 overtime victory in Edmonton was their final game before the league pause.

You miss two weeks without doing anything, your wind goes, your legs go. They’re not nearly the same. Not like an NHL player needs to be. Two weeks is probably the most they can miss, and then it becomes a real hard struggle to get back in a hurry. -Pierre McGuire, TSN Montreal

Established players hit camp around the second week of September, and their first game isn’t until early October. That allows them plenty of time to get the rust off, build endurance, strength, and prepare for a lengthy 82-game season. Most, if not all, are ready to get back to work by camp because they’ve been training and playing scrimmages with other NHL’ers. I’m sure you’ve heard of Da Beauty League or the Comm Ave Classic.

Outside of injuries, players rarely spend two weeks or more off the ice during a normal NHL season. So why is it that easy for players to lose their condition after all of the hard work they put in the offseason and regular season?

Two weeks if they haven’t done anything. A lot of guys will tell you if you miss five days it’s tough to get it back right away. It takes two or three (games). Usually after two weeks players start to lose whatever they had built up to this point during the regular season. It becomes really difficult to get it back on the track. -McGuire

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Expected Financial Loss May Be Worse For The Players

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As the pause continues, it’s no surprise the NHL is preparing for a severe loss in revenue. It’s not to suggest they would rush to play, but like most of us, the league is facing serious financial issues. It’s already started inside the league office.

But the players may be the ones that get hit the most.

Hall of Fame hockey scribe Larry Brooks reported NHL players were alerted to a staggering amount of earnings lost due to the pause.

The NHL has informed the NHLPA that revenue losses could range from the best-case low of a couple of hundred million dollars to a worst-case amount of up to one billion dollars, The Post has learned. -Larry Brooks, NY Post

The NHLPA spoke with player representatives and explained the escrow share could reach a loss of 21% if the season and/or playoffs are canceled. Under the current labor agreement, it’s possible player contracts would be paid only 65% of their salary for 2019-20.

The season is approximately 85-percent complete. The discrepancy reflects a combination of the 6-to-10 percent of revenue generated by the playoffs and the fact that a full playoff would come at the cost of the remaining 15-percent of the season that would not be played. No wonder the players are pitching the idea of resuming the season in some form and playing for the Stanley Cup in August and September.-Brooks, NY Post

For a team like the Golden Knights who were expected to make a deep run, the pause takes significant money out of the players’ pockets. Playoff shares, according to the NHL are distributed by “A single lump-sum payment of $6,500,000 shall be made by the NHL to the players on account of a player fund, which shall be allocated to the players on clubs participating in the various playoff rounds and/or based upon club finish, as shall be determined by the NHLPA, subject to approval by the League.”

Without the postseason, players stand to lose a good chunk of change, and because of their escrow agreement, they stand to be impacted financially even more than the owners.

Players and owners split the NHL’s “hockey-related revenue” 50/50 (players get their share in salaries). At the end of the playoffs every year, both sides get together and count up how much money the NHL made that season. They then use that number to estimate how much it’ll make the next season (a five per cent bump is a typical ballpark guess). The salary cap, which is designed to make sure the players get 50 per cent of the revenue and no more, is then set based on that number.

But because it’s impossible to predict exactly how much revenue will come in, a percentage of every player’s paycheque is held in escrow until the money is counted at the end of the season (it isn’t always the same, but 15 per cent is a good ballpark number). If the NHL does really well and exceeds the revenue projection by a significant amount, all that money is returned to the players. But if it doesn’t, the owners get to keep however much they need to ensure they end up with exactly 50 per cent of the revenue. –Jesse Campigotto, CBC Sports

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Season Review: Reilly Smith

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When it comes to a top-six player, expectations are usually high. Over his first two seasons with Vegas, Reilly Smith has a total of 113 points (41 goals, 72 assists) in 141 games. He averaged 21 goals and 36 assists per season.

Coming into the season, projections were about the same, 20 goals and 35 assists. However, Smith exceeded anyone’s expectations in this shortened 2019-20 season, passing career highs in goals, shorthanded goals, game-winning goals, and shooting percentage. He earned every bit of his $5M annual salary pitching in .76 points per game.

One of Smith’s season highlights was a beautiful, breakaway backhand goal he scored on December 2nd against the New York Rangers.

Seems like I’ve gotten a lot of breakaways this year. I’ve done that move four or five times, and I’ve gotten lucky. I think it worked on a few. It’s probably one of those things that I’ll probably go back to. Hopefully, none of the goalies in the league are listening to this interview. -Reilly Smith

His backhand was so effective that his brother stole the move four days later.

We did it a week apart, and with him playing forward this year, in the past he hadn’t had as many breakaways. He made it look a lot better than I did. It is pretty cool that we did it in the same week.- Reilly Smith

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