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A Memorable Off Day That May Change The Golden Knights Season

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. You have the day off at a five-star oceanside resort in Fort Lauderdale. It’s a beautiful 80 degrees and sunny. Plus, a bunch of your co-workers/friends are there with you. So, what do you do?

Beach day!

We all spent our time together. We went to breakfast and then we met at the beach, played volleyball, a big tournament. Then we went and watched the Super Bowl, it was just the perfect day for our team. -Jonathan Marchessault

Last week after the Saturday game in Florida, nearly the entire team gathered for a meal, put on the swim trunks, and hit the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. It was unscheduled, it was completely voluntary, and apparently, it was a blast.

I think me and Reilly (Smith) were like, we need to go play volleyball that day, it’ll be fun. I think we played for 3 or 4 hours. -Marchessault

There are a few moments where you can really tell how close a group was, but with this, it was not mandatory, and everybody showed up, everybody came, it says a lot. Guys were free to do whatever they wanted (that day), but guys wanted to come and wanted to enjoy a day with the boys. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Get some Vitamin D, get in the ocean, pretty good workout, yeah it was good. We all just ended up in the same place and had a good time. -Max Pacioretty

It was the only true off day during the longest remaining road trip of the season. The Golden Knights had just taken frustrating losses in back-to-back nights in Carolina and Florida and were mired in the worst losing streak in franchise history. All eyes back in Vegas were on a Tuesday showdown with the best team in hockey, the Tampa Bay Lighting, but amid the panic at home, the Golden Knights had a different focus, a better one.

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Would A Trade Deadline Acquisition Even Be Enough To Fix The Third Line?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights top six has returned to normalcy for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, with Gerard Gallant’s decision to put Reilly Smith back on the line with Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

There’s no debating it, a top six of Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Alex Tuch, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny is as good as the Golden Knights can do. And, if you compare it against other top sixes in the NHL, it’s right there with the best of them.

The return of William Carrier appears to have re-stabilized the fourth line as well. Again, one of the best in the NHL.

But, this lineup leaves a void. It leaves a line with Cody Eakin as the center and a revolving door of Tomas Nosek, Valentin Zykov, Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, and Brandon Pirri on his wings. Let’s just be frank for a second, there’s not a combination of three guys that make a legitimately dangerous line.

So with the trade deadline a mere 14 days away, it begs the question, how much should George McPhee be willing to give up to fix it?

However, I’m here to pose a different question. Can it actually be fixed without breaking up the top six?

Just play along with me for a second here. Let’s say the Golden Knights acquire the best player available, Artemi Panarin. You liking a line of Eakin, Panarin, and Zykov? Does Eakin, Panarin, and Carpenter float your boat? What about Eakin, Panarin, and Pirri, that giving you the tickle?

Me neither.

Now, if they do something like…

Marchessault-Karlsson-Zykov
Pacioretty-Stastny-Tuch
Panarin-Eakin-Smith

or

Panarin-Karlsson-Smith
Pacioretty-Stastny-Tuch
Marchessault-Eakin-Zykov

or

Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Panarin-Stastny-Pirri
Pacioretty-Eakin-Tuch

Now you’re talking!

What if they get Mark Stone? Wayne Simmonds? Matt Duchene? Jimmy Hayes? Michael Ferland?

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The Pirri Dilemma

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Brandon Pirri isn’t scoring what does Gerard Gallant and the Golden Knights organization do with him? Well, we got one answer last night when Gallant healthy scratched Pirri in Detroit, the first game he’s missed while on the active roster.

While filling in for injured top six forwards, Pirri was as hot as any player in the NHL, but that dried up in a hurry.

First 9 Games
10 Points (6 Goals, 4 Assists)
4-Game Point Streak (5Pts)12/20-12/27
5-Game Point Streak (8Pts) 12/30-1/11
2 Game-Winning Goals
2 Power Play Goals
29 Shots on Goal (3.22 per game)
+10 Rating
9 Games Played
Team Record 6-1-2

Last 9 Games
2 Points (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
0 Point Streaks
0 Game-Winning Goals
0 Power Play Goals
19 Shots (2.38 per game)
2 Games With No Shots on Goal
-4 Rating
8 Games Played/1 Healthy Scratch
Team Record 3-5-0 *Healthy Scratch 1-0-0

As you can see, the 27-year-old forward’s production has dipped significantly. If he’s not adding offense, he’s hard-pressed to find a place in the lineup. Neither the club or the player wants that. If Pirri continued his point pace, it solves a roster spot, adds desperately needed third line scoring, and the flexibility to pass on a possible rental at the deadline. But if he doesn’t, because he doesn’t kill penalties, he’s not used in a defensive role, and he often can’t be trusted to help protect a lead, George McPhee might be forced to find a replacement.

I feel like Nashville and Winnipeg will be the most aggressive. Then I would rank it Vegas next, Calgary, followed by San Jose. -Pierre LeBrun, TSN Winnipeg

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George McPhee Expansion Draft Interview Transcripts

The other day I was asked to do an interview for an upcoming documentary on the Golden Knights magical season. It’s called Valiant and it’s supposed to be released by the Summer of this year, but more on that when it comes out. I knew I would be asked plenty of questions about the Expansion Draft, so I was going through some of my notes, reading some of the articles we published around the time, and trying to relive the entire thing so I’d be prepared.

Looking back, that whole week was a complete blur, and I’m assuming it was for everyone as the Golden Knights went from having Reid Duke, Tomas Hyka, and Vadim Shipachyov to building an entire roster which would eventually go on to win the Western Conference all within about five days time.

While going through everything I found something interesting, transcripts from George McPhee’s press conferences during the three days of the Expansion Draft. If you don’t remember, teams submitted their protection lists, and then Vegas had 72 hours to submit its list of 30 selections to the league. The next day each of the 30 players were announced to a massive crowd at T-Mobile Arena and Marc-Andre Fleury, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb, and Deryk Engelland donned Vegas jerseys after being selected. Each morning during those 72 hours, McPhee met with the media to take questions and his answers were pretty amazing now that we have context.

It truly was a wild time and as always, time gives us perspective on things. The entire transcripts from those press conferences are below (plus a video of the Expansion Draft), but I wanted to highlight a few comments McPhee made during a time when everyone believed the Golden Knights would be among the worst teams in the league.

I think it’s going to be a pretty good team. We’re happy that, you know, we got a lot of defensemen, we got really good goaltending, we’ve got a lot of centers and we’ve got scoring on the wings. Should have good speed, so it’s going to be a good team. -McPhee on 6/20/17

Actually, I think we’ve done pretty well in all the positions. We have lots of defensemen lined up, we have lots of centers and we have scoring on the wings, a little more scoring than we anticipated. The goaltending is going to be pretty solid. It’s looking pretty good. It’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish and that is have a competitive club that people are going to enjoy watching play, and then having the draft picks to be able to draft our way to a contending team, a championship team. -McPhee on 6/20/17

Most mock drafts were full of players even fans of the teams they were being selected from had never heard of, yet McPhee was confident in speed, scoring, and goaltending. Not sure he ever thought he had just selected one of the fastest teams in the NHL, but the foresight is pretty cool.

Also, the plan was to draft the way to a championship team. Instead, they went to the Stanley Cup Final and have a chance to do so again, and not a single drafted player has stepped on the ice for the Golden Knights. Things changed quickly.

We’ve got all kinds of different screens that we’re working off of that were getting us different kinds of data that we needed. And just in terms of trying to put the team together, again, it’s not easy, because you’re trying to put all of these bodies together and you have to meet all these requirements, and again, as I mentioned yesterday, if you move one, if you make one change, it sort of changes the whole matrix. So, we just designated certain people in blue and I always use blue sort of as a ‘blue chip’ in ratings, and we usually have lots of different ratings. But, blue in this case was, this was probably a player that we’re claiming and keeping and don’t have interest in moving, and we used a different color for a player that we would claim and may have to move, just to allow us to see what the team sort of looks like as we’re making all the deals. -McPhee on 6/20/17

The mental image of that war room with names like Marchessault, Schmidt, Tuch, and Theodore highlighted in blue as “blue chip” guys is fascinating. We have a sense of which ones they got right based on long-term contracts, but it makes you wonder if there were any major misses among the blue chips. Griffin Reinhart? Oscar Lindberg? Brendan Leipsic? All were selected and kept following the Expansion Draft. Heck, Lindberg even signed a contract the next day.

Negotiating with GMs has been the same, but maybe the best way to put all of it on this whole experience, there’s just a glow about it. You know? It’s been such a positive experience for all of us that I’m keeping my fingers crossed, hoping it can continue to go the same way. -McPhee on 6/18/17

Hopefully, those fingers are still crossed.

Click through for the full transcripts.

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“Would Have To Go Out And Find Another Better Kelly McCrimmon”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The hottest name to fill any open position on the GM market is Golden Knights assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon.

McCrimmon stepped away from being the owner, GM, and head coach of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in 2016 to join the Golden Knights staff as second in command behind George McPhee. Since then, he and McPhee took what was supposed to be a bottom of the barrel expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final and have them headed towards the playoffs and potentially another run in year two.

Now, with Seattle entering the league and in need of a GM and the Edmonton Oilers parting ways with Peter Chiarelli, McCrimmon’s name is at the top of the list of potential candidates to fill either role.

Speaking on a recent episode of the NHL Executive Suite podcast, The Creator sounded like he and McPhee are prepared to be without McCrimmon in the near future.

I certainly wouldn’t want to lose Kelly, he’s helped build a great team here along with George. He’s a different kind of personality than George so they are great together. But you know you can never stand in someone’s way. -The Creator

McCrimmon is a laid back, cerebral person who always comes across as the smartest guy in the room, probably because he is. According to reports, he masterminded “the pledge,” which forced teams engaging in an Expansion Draft trade with the Golden Knights to pledge not to make any other moves that could effect Vegas, thus limiting the roster distribution McPhee feared.

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The Fictional Curse Of The Backup Goalies

It’s not a curse, it’s just good goalies being good against Vegas. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before the break, Juuse Saros played an excellent game in net against the Golden Knights, his second such terrific start facing Vegas this season. About a week prior, Laurent Brossoit played the game of his life for the Jets against the Golden Knights.

These three performances have led to a common belief that back-up goalies dominate the Golden Knights.

Honestly, going into the research, I kind of expected to find exactly what everyone has been saying, that backups do indeed play better against Vegas than they do normally. However, after looking up the numbers it’s much more of a case of the Saros and Brossoit curse than it is all backup goalies.

(For the purpose of this article, a backup goalie is defined as a goalie who does not lead his team in starts or wins.)

The Golden Knights have faced 12 backup goalies this season. Their record in those games is 5-4-2. In the 12 games, the backups have recorded a .920 save percentage and have allowed 32 goals for a goals against average of 2.86 (Cory Schneider was pulled early so the GAA number is a bit inflated).

The backup outperformed his season averages in five games, underperformed in four, and hit the averages in three. Aside from Saros and Brossoit, Jack Campbell (LAK) and Philipp Grubauer (COL) were the other two to over perform, both games Vegas went on to win.

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Nate Schmidt Wants To Be A Star

We know he has pretty good feet. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Nate Schmidt is a character. Yet even amongst all the crazy stuff he’s said or the wacky situations he’s placed in on national TV, he always finds a way to surprise us. The most recent revelation is something you would probably never expect.

I love dancing. I used to (take lessons). I haven’t been taking them. It’s been probably 2 years since I’ve been. (My girlfriend and I) go to swing dancing where you dance to jazz music. I like high intense jazz. -Nate Schmidt

He says it’s a great work out and he has fun doing it.

The first time I went I made a mistake, I only brought one shirt. The second time I brought three. -Schmidt

So, obviously, the next step for an athlete on a high profile team with a personality made for TV… Dancing with the Stars!

I would love to. If you can run it by George (McPhee) and he would allow it I would do it for sure. -Schmidt

Posting this article is our way of “running it past George.” Schmidt would be tremendous on the show and I can almost guarantee the producers would love to have him. So, if anyone has any connections to ABC, hit us up, we want to make this happen, it would be a great thing to distract us from how awful offseason is.

Plus, Schmidt actually thinks he would fare pretty well on the show.

I have decent rhythm, great energy, and excitement and facial expressions. -Schmidt

I can already envision it. The ridiculous costumes, the terrible dancing (at least in the first few episodes), Fleury and Reaves in the crowd rooting him on. Schmidt holding up the mirror ball trophy.

This needs to happen.

McPhee “Committed” To Keeping 2019 1st Round Pick

Vegas didn’t have a 1st round pick last year, they don’t intend on that being the case this year.

Historically, George McPhee is active around the trade deadline. Whether his team is good and he’s buying reinforcements (like he did last year in Vegas) or if he’s bad and selling for the future, McPhee normally takes advantage of the closing of the marketplace at the end of February.

In his 17 years in Washington, McPhee made a move at the deadline (within three days) in 15 of the 17 years.  Last year, McPhee pulled off three deadline trades, adding Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reaves and moving on from Brendan Leipsic making it 16 of 18 seasons at the helm he’s swung a deadline deal.

However, he’s in a bit of a bind this year in regards to future assets. Appearing on the Golden Knights official podcast, The Creator mentioned an unwillingness to move on from draft picks.

We’re going to be very careful about the draft picks, giving up draft picks, this year. You know we gave up a #1 last year and George is really committed to keeping that #1 this year. It’s a pretty good draft class. -The Creator

The Golden Knights currently have nine picks in the 2019 Entry Draft including two extra 3rds and two extra 5ths.

Courtesy of CapFriendly.com

Aside from the few extra picks, the Golden Knights are not exactly stocked with tradeable assets. The only true position of strength is at defenseman with Erik Brannstrom, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, and Jake Bischoff all projected to be NHLers. But, it doesn’t sound like The Creator has much interest in losing any of them either.

We have four really good d-men with the Wolves right now and they’re getting ready. They really are. You might see them up and down a little bit later on in the year. Definitely next year I’m sure we’ll be doing something. -The Creator

So, while history suggests McPhee will be interested in making something happen at the deadline, a bare cupboard may force him to sit on his hands.

If I had to guess, I’d still expect something minor, but everyone with their eyes on the blockbuster, it may have to wait a year.

Hunt Trade’s Impact On Zykov, Rest Of VGK Roster

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights moved up one round in the 2019 Draft essentially giving away Brad Hunt for next to nothing. The move has much more impact on the roster than next to nothing though.

First, the trade opens a roster space for the time being. With Reilly Smith and William Carrier on IR and the Golden Knights roster at the limit of 23, the move of Hunt brings that number down to 22. Thus, when either Smith (maybe as soon as Wednesday) or Carrier are ready to return, no other corresponding move will be necessary. When the other one is ready to return, another move will be needed.

Second, this trade appears to further cement Valentin Zykov on the Golden Knights roster. Zykov has played in just one game and it was in an “emergency” situation as the Golden Knights literally did not have any other forwards available. Zykov was picked up for a reason and odds are the Golden Knights are probably not going to give up on him having seen just one game and a handful of practices.

After Wednesday’s game, which Zykov will probably not play in, the Golden Knights are off for almost two weeks. Smith is almost assuredly going to be ready on February 1st and Carrier who has been out with an illness will likely be back as well. Therefore, the final roster decision will likely be made before Zykov plays again.

Gallant said there was “no pressure” to use Zykov before the bye week and went on to say, “he’ll get his chance eventually.” There’s quite a bit of reading between the lines going on, but it would certainly be a bit of a surprise to me if Zykov is the one to go when the bye ends.

Finally, the Golden Knights now only have seven defensemen on the roster. Historically, meaning through more than 130 regular season games, they prefer to carry eight. So, the obvious first thought (at least to anyone who reads this website) would be Erik Brannstrom. It’s certainly possible down the road, but with the roster clutter remaining as is, it’s highly improbable he gets the call in the next few weeks. If there’s an injury, things could change though and there’s no question moving Hunt increases Brannstrom’s odds of seeing NHL ice this season.

That being said, McPhee probably will eventually bring up another defenseman to fill that hole, even if it’s after the roster expands on February 25th. It might be Brannstrom, at least for nine games, or it might be Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague, or Zach Whitecloud. Or, there could be another trade in the works before the deadline. However, something will change on the blueline, even if it’s nothing major.

So all in all, while it may seem like a fairly insignificant move, eventually something had to happen and McPhee at least turned it into something. Clearly, as the Wild were willing to make a trade to get him, Hunt would not have cleared waivers. From a hockey perspective, it’s always better to get something to move on from Hunt even if the return was peanuts.

As for Hunt, this is a good situation for him as he should step right into the Wild lineup, at least while Matt Dumba is injured. He will be missed in Vegas much more for his personality than his hockey (and that’s not to say he’s bad at hockey). Brad was always the nicest, most positive, person in the locker room and in the community. Last year Steve Carp wrote a terrific article illustrating this point wonderfully.

Max Lagace’s Wild Ride As A Golden Knight

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights take the ice tonight there will be a familiar face on the bench. With Malcolm Subban out with an injury, Max Lagace will don the pads and serve as the back-up for Marc-Andre Fleury for the second straight game. This isn’t a new experience for Lagace and nor should it be for fans to see him in a Golden Knights sweater. However, it’s easy to forget how wild a ride last season was for the 26-year-old French Canadian goaltender.

July 1, 2017 – Lagace signs as a free agent with the Golden Knights.

October 5th, 2017 – Lagace does not make the opening day roster with the Golden Knights, is optioned to the AHL.

October 14th, 2017 – Following an injury to Fleury, Lagace is called up to back-up recently acquired Malcolm Subban.

October 19th, 2017 – Without appearing in a game, Lagace is sent back to the AHL and replaced on the roster by Oscar Dansk.

October 22nd, 2017 – Lagace is recalled to the NHL following the injury to Malcolm Subban. Dansk assumed the role as the starter after helping lead Vegas to a win over St. Louis and then shutting out Colorado.

October 30th, 2017 – About halfway through a game against the Islanders, Dansk is injured and Lagace makes his NHL debut. He allows four goals on 11 shots in a loss.

November 1st, 2017 – The very next night, Lagace is the now the starter for the Golden Knights against the Rangers. He allows five goals on 37 shots in a 6-4 loss.

My first game in Madison Square Garden was pretty crazy. I can’t even remember the first few minutes of the game and then after it started to sink in. -Lagace

November 4th, 2017 – Lagace earns his first career NHL victory is a 5-4 win over Ottawa.

November 7th, 2017 – The Golden Knights travel to Montreal to play the Canadiens, Lagace gets the start.

The Montreal game was something else too. Being from there, the story of that building, and I had about 20 people (family and friends) in the building there. -Lagace

November 10th, 2017 – Lagace appears in his first game at T-Mobile Arena, a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

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