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The Golden Knights Identity; What Is It? What Is It Supposed To Be?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When Pete DeBoer was first hired a common term he would use in talking about his new team was “identity.” He said it in a number of ways but the refrain was always the same, that the team had a great identity and when they played with it they were almost unbeatable, but recently it had been lost and they were playing without it.

Here’s one example from five days after he was hired.

I think for me just playing aggressive, and dictating games and wearing teams down with our depth because we have the ability to roll four lines and be really hard to play against. I think we want to get back to that. Not that that slipped totally off the table but that’s something this team did better than anybody in the league for a long time and we want to try and get that type of identity back. -DeBoer on 1/20/20

I have to admit, it’s a term that’s always troubled me. Identity. I don’t even really know what it means. Everyone uses it, heck I’ve even used it, but if you pinned me down to explain exactly how it relates to a hockey team, I can’t do it. So to hear it over and over again from the new head coach as basically the primary focus on how to solve the issues the Golden Knights had been having, I couldn’t help but tilt my head the way Wiglaf and Rupert do when I ask them if they want a piece of cheese.

What is the Golden Knights identity? What’s it supposed to be? Has it changed?

I’ve spent the last three weeks pondering all of this and finally had a chance to ask a few players, and the coach, specifically about it. Take a listen to it all, in its raw form. First is Jonathan Marchessault, then Nate Schmidt, Paul Stastny, and it ends with Pete DeBoer.

I’ve listened to each of those four interviews about 10 teams apiece and I still have no clue how to define the Golden Knights identity.

It’s just a bunch of buzzwords that apply to every hockey team.

Relentless. Heavy. Fast. Aggressive. Play as a unit. Hard to play against.

Put that aside for a second though, I’ll get back to it.

However anyone defines it, it seems to have shifted. Well, sorta shifted. Actually, no it hasn’t shifted at all. It’s exactly the same, it just looks a little different because this team is more skilled, or to use a simpler term, better.

But it’s not. Or at least it hasn’t been when counting wins.

Both teams have the ability to check off all the buzzwords. The makeup of the team really isn’t that different aside from adding a new buzzword, “heavy,” which really just means “we have Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty now.”

So why aren’t they playing the same way? Why are they going through all these problems? Why was the identity lost in the middle of the third season?

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Carp: The Joy Has Returned To Nate Schmidt’s Game

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Nate Schmidt had just come off the ice after Saturday’s morning skate at City National Arena and he was wearing a big smile.

Nothing new about that. Schmidt is usually smiling. As one of the members of an exclusive club, he gets the fact that playing in the NHL is a privilege and it’s one that he embraces.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But there was something different about Saturday’s grin. I don’t know if it was an aura or a sudden uptick in demeanor, but Schmidt was really, really in a good mood. Perhaps it was the fact that after being away from home for nearly a month, he got to sleep in his own bed Friday night and that he and his teammates would finally get to skate in their own rink later that night in front of their fans.

My theory is Schmidt is a happier person these days because he is playing better hockey and he seems to enjoy playing for Peter DeBoer.

Let’s not sugarcoat it: it has been a tough year for the 28-year-old defenseman from Minnesota. He hurt his left knee on opening night in a collision with San Jose’s Logan Couture and he missed 12 games. He struggled early upon his return. Then his coach was fired as the Golden Knights went through another befuddling stretch of inconsistent play.

But lately, Schmidt has shown signs of being his old self, the guy who jumped into the play and made things happen, which is what the Knights got from him their inaugural season in 2017-18 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final.

I think one of the big things is simplifying your game. I was trying to do too much the first half of the year. You tear it down, bring it back up, sort of like a grassroots kind of thing. Schmidt

Schmidt and Shea Theodore have both been contributors to the Knights’ attack. Since DeBoer took over for Gerard Gallant Jan. 15, Schmidt has score two goals and has six assists. He has had back-to-back multi-point games and now has 26 points for the year.

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A New Type Of Tough

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights schedule came out it was impossible to not focus directly on the eight-game road trip smack dab in the middle of it. Four games before the break, four after, and a 28 day period away from home is about as daunting as it gets in the NHL.

No matter what has been going on this season, that trip was always in plain sight. Whether the Golden Knights were in 1st, 2nd, or out of a playoff trip, none of it would be real until they completed that trip.

It was like a boss in a video game, but not the one at the very end, the one in the middle that ruins your chances of ever even getting to the end. Mr. Sandman for those who played Mike Tyson’s Punchout or that damn Tubular level on Super Mario World.

And like that boss, the only thing that matters is coming out alive.

The Golden Knights tallied nine points on the eight-game trip and actually advanced up the standings in the Pacific (mostly because the division is a dumpster fire). They come back with a different coach, some different tactics, a few new faces in the lineup, but most importantly, with the trip in the rearview mirror.

The entire season has always been clouded by “yeah, but what about that road trip.”

They made it and it didn’t destroy their season (unless you are Gerard Gallant).

But the going isn’t about to get easier, yet. Despite having 10 of the next 12 games at home, the Golden Knights are playing four of the league’s top six teams and six out of seven games against teams currently in the playoff picture.

The first game home off a long road trip is always a trap game and this one especially after stealing a win from Carolina in Raleigh. Then a quick trip out to Minnesota to play the only non-playoff team, followed by home games against five excellent teams and a few repeat opponents from the road trip.

This stretch is arguably tougher than the road trip itself, just with the comforts of home-ice behind it.

Welcome home, now here’s St. Louis, Tampa, New York, Washington, and Florida.

It’s probably just what the Golden Knights need though. They beat the toughest level and can use the confidence to get through another challenging one.

They’ve had a habit of playing down to competition this year. With losses against Detroit, Buffalo, Anaheim, and Los Angeles (twice) the Golden Knights might actually benefit from a gauntlet of a schedule. When installed as a -200 or more favorite, Vegas is just 5-4-2 this season. Meanwhile, when slight favorites at home they have wins against St. Louis, Calgary (twice), Arizona (twice), and Toronto.

The tests keep coming. Some they’ve passed, some they’ve failed, but thanks to a terrible division they are alive and well. Hopefully, it’s hardened them enough to deal with the real test in April and beyond.

Mike Tyson and Bowser await.

Reaves Moves On From Bad Calls

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

No NHL player enjoys being called for a penalty. It puts their team at a disadvantage and could change the momentum of a game. While it’s frustrating for players to skate over to the box, inevitably minors and double minors are going to happen. It’s just how a physical game like hockey plays out.

It’s definitely frustrating because I pride myself on being a guy that leads the league in hits and I don’t take a lot of minor penalties. Especially, off of my hits. -Ryan Reaves

A few weeks before the break, Reaves was whistled for a tripping call that even the biggest Reaves detractors agreed was a terrible call by the officials. Not only was it a clean hit, but it also took a referee a few seconds to stop the game and lead Reaves to the penalty box. The bruising forward was livid and refused to listen to the ref’s explanation. Normally, a customary thing officials do after the whistle. This time around Reaves wasn’t having it.

I don’t think that was really a conversation at the time because I was a little fired up. I wasn’t too happy so the refs weren’t really talking to me. -Reaves

There’s a certain reputation Reaves carries around with him, and it’s only human nature for referees to lean towards calls against him. However, as he’ll constantly remind you, he’s been suspended once in 632 games.

Has he taken it over the edge a little bit? Sure, but some will note Tom Wilson is fair game. Either way, the tripping call against Reaves on January 2nd against Philadelphia was neither a vendetta or a response to a prior incident. It seemed like a routine check that resulted in a tough fall for the opponent. It was an unfortunate hit that resulted in an official away from the puck to whistle the play dead and toss Reaves out for two minutes. That didn’t sit well.

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Kelly McCrimmon Dispels Two Theories On Gallant Firing

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There have been plenty of theories surrounding the firing of Gerard Gallant and subsequent hiring of Pete DeBoer.

No matter what the powers that be inside City National Arena say, many of those will continue on, however, one of the two voices that actually know the whole truth took to the radio in an effort to dispell a couple of them.

Kelly McCrimmon went on Fox Sports Radio with JT The Brick last week to chat about the firing of Gerard Gallant, hiring of Pete DeBoer, and the team’s expectations moving forward. (It’s a terrific interview start to finish, so I’d highly recommend a listen. Here’s the link.)

The first theory surrounds The Creator’s involvement in the firing. No matter who you talk to, while there are varying degrees as to the extent, just about everyone believes he was involved in some way in the coaching change.

Bill Foley’s been a great owner. This decision went from George McPhee and myself up to Bill Foley, not the other way around as has been suggested by some. -Kelly McCrimmon

This would be the normal order of operations for an NHL team. GM decides the coach needs to go, he brings it to the owner, who signs off on it. That’s how McCrimmon says it went down, but the timing and shockwaves it sent off across the NHL has many skeptical.

McCrimmon and McPhee are an experienced pair, one that is not prone to panic or hastiness as this decision appeared to be. Thus, the new owner with ultra-high expectations would make sense to be at the center of it. According to McCrimmon, this is untrue.

The second theory is in relation to when and where the decision was made. It was not made during a seven-game homestand in which the Golden Knights were in Las Vegas for more than two weeks. Then, one game into an eight-game road trip which had the Golden Knights away from their home city for 28 days, the bomb is dropped. No local media availability has been offered from either the new head coach or the pair that pulled the trigger on the move. It feels incredibly convenient when the move was clearly going to be met with resistance.

McCrimmon insists that timing wasn’t a catalyst for the change.

The timing of a decision like this, as much as it comes as a surprise to some people, is never based on one or two games, it’s never based on where you are at in the schedule or certainly whether you are playing at home or away. It’s a decision that takes precedence over all of those things. -McCrimmon on Fox Sports Radio

Thus, the location of press conferences, the next opponent, and the amount of time before the hated (at the time, I think that’s fading) new head coach makes his debut in Las Vegas was all coincidental, or reactionary, according to McCrimmon.

If you believe that’s the best course of action for the organization than you aren’t doing your job properly if you don’t address it. That was what led to the decision being made. -McCrimmon on Fox Sports Radio

McCrimmon said they knew there would be backlash and the fan base would be “emotional” over the decision, but he’s always remained steadfast that the decision was not made in haste and that both he and McPhee “just had a feeling” that the move needed to be made.

So, they made it and dealt with everything that came with it, no matter how it looked to the outside world.

Carp: The AHL In Vegas? An Interesting Proposition

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Before the NHL accepted Bill Foley’s $500 million and let him join their exclusive club, I floated the idea to him about the possibility of putting his American Hockey League affiliate in Las Vegas.

After all, the perfect venue was right down the street from T-Mobile Arena in the Orleans Arena. It sat around 7,000 for hockey. It had free parking. The concessions were fairly priced. He probably could cut a decent deal with Boyd Gaming on the lease.

Best of all, he could get players to transfer back and forth from the parent club without having to get on a plane to do so.

Foley didn’t think it would work. He thought the franchise would be better served having its farm team in another location.

Of course, no one back in 2016 had any idea what was going to happen a year and a half later. The Golden Knights took the league and the city by storm and had unprecedented success on and off the ice. Suddenly, there were people on waiting lists to purchase season tickets. And even as the team jacked up the price of season tickets, most of the subscribers have stayed loyal.

So now there was a glut of hockey fans who go gaga over the Golden Knights but can’t get into T-Mobile Arena. It is indeed a fortress, accessible only by financial largesse to a privileged few.

What to do?

Bring another team to town. Play at the Orleans for a couple seasons until your rink in Henderson is built for the AHL team. Use the guys you already have under contract with the Chicago Wolves. Hell, the fans already know who all those guys are. It’ll be an easy transition. They could play in a division with Ontario, Bakersfield, Stockton, Tucson, San Diego, Palm Springs (when Seattle launches in a couple of years) and yes, San Jose.

Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?

Sure does, especially If you’re Kerry Buboltz, the team’s president who continues to come up with creative ways to separate you from your money so they can pay Mark Stone $9.5 million annually for the better part of this decade.

Would this AHL in Las Vegas/Henderson idea work? My thinking to Foley was it would be an affordable alternative for those who couldn’t go to an NHL game, like the Wranglers were while cultivating more fans for the Vegas NHL team.

Yes, I knew it would cost more to go to an AHL game instead of an ECHL contest. But if you could take your family to a game at the Orleans for under $100, that would help make it work.

Where it really works is from a hockey standpoint. A defenseman goes down, an AHL callup could drive 10 minutes from the Orleans to T-Mobile. The AHL guys can live in Summerlin and practice at City National Arena or the team’s under-construction rink in Henderson. George McPhee could still pull his creative strings to clear salary cap space and the team would save a ton on travel costs. They can scout the organization’s players more often. They can regularly interact with the AHL team’s coaching staff. It would certainly streamline things.

However, would it work at the turnstiles? Could you turn a profit by owning your own AHL team? Currently, the Knights have a partnership with the Wolves, who are independently owned. The Wolves are staying put, though they’ll get a whole new roster of players from their next NHL affiliate once Vegas pulls its players out of Chicago.

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On A Set Play Vegas Comes Through In The Clutch

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It was the play of the game, if not one of the biggest plays of the season (feels like we’ve said that a lot, hopefully this one actually sticks). Having given up a 3-1 lead, Vegas could have easily skated out the period and secured at least a point in Carolina. However, the Hurricanes gave the Golden Knights one more chance to come away with a win. And that’s exactly what they did.

The late-game power play allowed Vegas to execute a perfectly set up game-winning goal. The beautifully designed tic-tac-toe sequence by Shea Theodore, Paul Statsny and Alex Tuch clinched a wild game for the Golden Knights. Not only was it a big goal for Tuch, but for the new coaching staff as well.

It was a good play by Theo and Stas, something we were kind of looking to do and we were able to execute. I just put my stick on the ice and made sure I hit the net. -Alex Tuch

The play began with a faceoff won by Stastny, purposely to his left, which Mark Stone jumped on and fed out to Theodore. Instead of taking his own shot, giving the puck back to Stone or Max Pacioretty to his right, the defenseman walked the blue line with the puck, opened up the seam and then used a little shot pass to feed the puck through an incredibly tight window to Stastny.

Theodore’s stutter-step/fake shot shifted the defense and goaltender just enough to find an open passing lane to Stastny who was waiting on one side of the net.

Knowing the puck was coming to him, he quickly directed the pass across the crease and on to the stick of Tuch, who tapped in the game-winner.

From the initial pass by Stone, to Theodore’s shot fake, to Stastny’s quick touch pass, each player knew exactly where the others would be. You’ll even notice Pacioretty charging in behind Tuch ready to scoop up any rebounds in case the puck was blocked. Or perhaps as a secondary option. Either way, all five players did their job and the execution paid off.

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Bettman Still Gloating About Vegas’ Success

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Earlier this month NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reminisced about the early stages of Golden Knights history. Bettman discussed the infancy of the franchise, how the inaugural 2017-18 season proved the sporting world wrong, and the emotions the players carried with them all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

Bill Foley has done an amazing job. It starts with the fact that he was in love with the game of hockey, and he believed hockey would work in Las Vegas. Most people at the time thought we were crazy. We had done our homework. Finally, there was a state of the art arena that was built with MGM. We believed based on everything we knew and learned about the market… including a season ticket drive that we let him do, that this market would support a team. -Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

None of what Commissioner Bettman said is new to this fanbase, but two and half years later he still finds himself explaining why Vegas was successful from the get-go. Maybe it gets annoying but Bettman has no problem reminding sports fans that the Golden Knights paved the way for the Raiders relocation.

Now everybody thinks, ‘oh sure, we’re going to come Vegas too,’ well that’s not what people were saying initially.-Bettman

What mostly confuses fans of other sports is how the Golden Knights became so good so fast. Also, fans are curious how Vegas has maintained their achievements. Bettman went on to explain the progressive expansion rules that set up for a competitive team immediately. After two playoff bound seasons, it would be tough to envision a bad Golden Knights hockey team. Thankfully, this market didn’t have to suffer from the outdated expansion rules Atlanta, Minnesota, Nashville and Ottawa struggled under. Bettman learned from those teams early troubles and didn’t want Vegas limping from the start.

In every sport when an expansion team comes in, historically the leagues give a weak team to the expansion team. Make them suffer for a few years. What typically happens is the team comes in, there’s the initial enthusiasm in the marketplace, the team continues to underperform, there’s a dissipation of the initial enthusiasm, and about ten years after the team starts they get competitive and then they rebuild. We didn’t want that model. Since we have a model where every team can be competitive, why were we going to bring in a team initially that couldn’t be competitive? Therefore, we had the deepest expansion rules that I think any league has ever had. -Bettman

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The Fourth Line Fisherman

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s bye week for the Golden Knights so naturally the players will find ways to escape the game and recharge. Some will spend quality family time, others will soak up the sun in Speedos (unnecessary image), and one might be chilling out on a bass boat reeling in some stripers.

Striped bass. The water is pretty clear and it’s nice and quiet. It takes you away from the Strip and the hockey life. It’s nice to get out there and refresh yourself.- William Carrier

Known for being an outdoorsman, William Carrier is an experienced angler, fishing all across the globe. Much like many people in this area, the physical forward peacefully enjoys Las Vegas’ favorite fishing hole.

Yeah, Lake Mead. I have my boat down there, my bass boat. Our schedule has been tight this season but I’ve been out on a few off days. It is really clean. I’ve been all over the world fishing and the water is really clear. Depends on where you go. If you go further out the water’s clear. You can see 40 feet deep.-Carrier

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With his boat secured in a Lake Mead slip, Carrier tries to get out on the lake as much as he can. However, with limited off days and travel, he values the time he can spend casting his reel. Fishing isn’t ideal in the wintertime but there’s enough bites to jump on his bass boat and cruise.

Right now, when I go out there it takes me two hours to catch 16-20. You can find them based on water temperature and depth. Right now, those shiners are really deep because the water is cold on the surface. I’ve caught a couple of nine, ten pound Striped bass. Normally, the average is one to two pounds. It’s fun for the kids. You can go out there and catch 40 or 50 fish easily in day. If you get on a bunch of them, it’s pretty much a catch with every cast. It’s fun for guys that are just starting out.-Carrier

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Orleans Arena Expects To Become Home To Golden Knights AHL Affiliate Next Season

Photo Credit: Brian Idziak, SinBin.vegas

The Golden Knights AHL affiliate is currently the Chicago Wolves, but according to multiple sources that may change as soon as next year.

Per SinBin.vegas sources, Boyd Gaming and The Orleans Hotel and Casino are expecting the Golden Knights to purchase an AHL franchise and move them to Vegas to play at the Orleans Arena.

The current plan is expected to have the team play at Orleans Arena for two seasons before moving to a new rink built specifically for the AHL.

Earlier today, David Andrews, the President of the AHL, said the Golden Knights are in talks with other AHL team owners about purchasing a team.

The Orleans Arena was previously home to the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL from 2003-2014. Orleans announced in December 2013 that they would not be renewing the Wranglers lease which eventually forced the team to cease operations.

Per Wikipedia, Orleans Arena’s capacity for hockey is 7,773. The Wranglers’ highest season average attendance was 5,531.

Two teams have their AHL affiliate playing in the same building as the NHL team (Winnipeg and San Jose), while another four (COL, MTL, BOS, TOR) play within an hour drive. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs play in an arena 2.1 miles away from the Marlies. Orleans Arena is located 2.0 miles from T-Mobile Arena.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Golden Knights and Wolves had agreed to a 5-year partnership. However, a SinBin.vegas source indicated that there is an “out-clause” for the Golden Knights after three seasons.

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