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Other Postseason Teams Not Sounding As Confident As Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we near the end of Phase 3, the Golden Knights confidently continue to prepare for life in the bubble. Coach Pete DeBoer and his players have expressed their goals throughout training camp and sound as if they are already in postseason mode.

We’re not going there for vacation. We’re going there for work and a goal in mind to win the Stanley Cup. –Alec Martinez, SiriusXM NHL

The message is clear from this organization that while their surroundings will be unique, nothing has altered their objective. The chatter from the Golden Knights since training camp has been focused and positive, more so than other clubs. And it starts with the head coach.

Even if we had a first-round opponent, through this portion we would be spending 90% of the time on our game anyway. I’m a big believer that if our game is in a good place that we throw that out there and let the other team adjust to us. –Pete DeBoer, NHL Network

While the local team feels good about their playoff chances other franchises are still trailing in preparation. The clock is ticking for some to get their act together before traveling to their hub city destination.

The Blue Jackets have a qualifying round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, however, neither seem to be feeling as confident as Vegas. As most fans already know, Tortorella never holds back and he isn’t now. Maybe it’s motivation or maybe he’s legitimately concerned that his players aren’t ready for August.

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Robin Lehner Contract Comparisons

It’s a story that will continue to dominate the Golden Knights landscape, and one that will only get more and more complicated as the team starts to win and lose games in the playoffs.

Currently, Lehner’s the 15th ranked goalie against the salary cap, but with a pair of stellar seasons in tow and a deadline that saw him fetch a 2nd round pick plus prospects as a rental, the pending UFA is likely destined for the Top 10 when he inks his next contract.

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

This past offseason Lehner signed a $5 million, one-year deal with Chicago and that number essentially represents the average salary for starting goalie in the NHL. The good news for Lehner is that he’s been well above average.

To illustrate where Lehner’s next contract may land, whether with the Golden Knights or elsewhere, I’ve taken a look at the most recent goalie contracts, many of which have been signed since the beginning of the pandemic. There have been eight goalies signed since Lehner inked his one-year $5 million deal with the Blackhawks on July 1, 2019. Here are the closest comps to Lehner.

Elvis Merzlikins
$4M

The most recent major goalie contract to be signed in the NHL was that of the inexperienced Latvian, Elvis Merzlikins. He’s spent the majority of his professional career in his home country but came to the NHL this season and lit it up. Originally a 3rd round draft pick, Merzlikins signed and quickly burned his entry-level deal, then took a one-year $1.8M deal last year. He played in 33 games, winning just 13 but posting a stellar .923 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average.

The biggest difference between Merlikins and Lehner is proof. Lehner’s numbers over the past two seasons are similar (actually a bit better) than Merlikins’ and he’s done it with three different teams. Lehner should easily make more than a goalie with just a handful of games in the NHL and just a few years age difference. Comp: Lehner +++

Darcy Kuemper
$4.5M

Kuemper is older than Lehner but has not played as many games over the course of his career. 2018-19 was a breakout year at the age of 29 for Kuemper as he placed 5th in Vezina voting (Lehner was 3rd) and nearly single-handedly willed the Coyotes into the playoffs. That being said, his numbers in his best season are fairly similar to what Lehner produces most years and come up quite short of what Lehner did in his best.

Kuemper was good again this season and appears to be a solid long-term option for the Coyotes. His contract is for just two years which is one of the reasons why the AAV is a bit on the lower side. Hitting free agency again in a few years will be beneficial for Kuemper if he continues his solid play. Lehner has done it longer, done it better, and is a few years younger. He has to make more than Kuemper. Comp: Lehner ++

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Tomas Nosek Could’ve Opted Out, But He Chose To Play Despite Valid Reasons Not To

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The concept of leaving your family to live in a bubble for two months while competing for the Stanley Cup is going to be challenging on everyone. For everyone who experienced the first few months of nationwide lockdown, staying in your house, or hotel, for days and days on end is not ideal.

It’s even less ideal when you are forced to leave your seven-month-old baby and first-time mother behind. That’s the spot Tomas Nosek is in and it’s one that very easily could have led to him opting out of the playoffs.

Nosek’s son was born on January 2nd. He missed a game against the Flyers to be with his wife when young Patrik was born. Then, when the season was placed on halt, Nosek had to decide what to do, stay in Vegas, or head back home to the Czech Republic.

The most important thing was the health of our baby. We decided to stay. I didn’t think the Pause would be that long but it is what it is. -Nosek

That decision was made in March, well before there was any clarity about how, when, or what the return to play scenario would look like.

Unfortunately no one can come here from Czech Republic so he’s only been with us so hopefully (my wife) will go home soon and my parents and her parents can finally spend some time with their grandchild. -Nosek

To make matters even trickier, Nosek’s hockey situation is about as sticky as it gets for a bottom-six player. He’s currently set to become an unrestricted free agent when the season ends while he’s also on the bubble as to whether or not he’s even going to be in Golden Knights playoff lineup.

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Fleury’s Streak Unmatched in Pro Sports

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s not much Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t accomplished over his NHL career. Part of five Stanley Cup Finals and winner of three of them, the 35-year-old goaltender has been fortunate to play on competitive teams for most of his career, but here’s something fans and I doubt even Fleury is aware of.

Fleury currently holds the longest active playoff streak of any individual player across the four major sports leagues in North America. This postseason will mark Fleury’s 14th consecutive trip to the playoffs, a streak unmatched by even Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Sidney Crosby.

Fleury played in his first NHL playoff series at the age of 22 back in 2007, and he hasn’t missed a postseason yet.

Marc-Andre Fleury’s Playoff Run

14 Straight Postseasons
142 Games Played
78-62 Postseason Record
4176 Saves
3 Assists
5 Stanley Cup Appearances
3 Stanley Cup Rings

Most would’ve assumed that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were on the same path, but both missed the entire 2011 postseason due to injuries. Another former teammate Chris Kunitz was ahead of Fleury but broke his streak last year as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. So currently, the Golden Knights goaltender leads the entire league in appearances in 14 straight postseasons.

The athlete that is the closest to Fleury plays in the NBA. It’ll shock you. New Orleans Pelicans sharpshooter J.J. Redick is technically tied with Fleury with appearances in 13 straight postseasons. However, in the NBA’s loopy return-to-play format, Redick and the Pelicans have eight regular season games, and then some to clinch a playoff bid. So while Fleury is already locked in at 14 consecutive, Redick still has some hurdles to jump.

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Dallas Coach Says Colorado’s The Team To Beat In The West

It’s bulletin board season and today’s material to be pinned to the wall comes from Dallas Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness.

The veteran head coach appeared on NHL Network’s NHL Tonight (video below) and was asked “which team is the biggest threat to your chances at winning the Cup?”

Unlike most coaches who would go with a cliche answer, Bowness did not hesitate and blurted out…

Colorado. In our conference Colorado. -Bowness, Stars interim head coach

The Stars are one of the four teams in the round-robin and their first real game comes against the Golden Knights. However, his sights are not set on Vegas, they’re set on a team his Stars defeated four times out of four this regular season.

Colorado has a lot of young, talented, high skill level players and they’re going to be coming at us with a lot of speed. Listen, nothing but respect for St. Louis, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Vegas, they’re a great hockey club, but Colorado’s a team that when you are coming out of a break like this and a short time to turn things around you’re going to rely on high skill level and speed and Colorado has a lot of that. -Bowness

Sure, the Avalanche have MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen, Makar, and Girard, but the Golden Knights may be just as skilled. Stone, Pacioretty, Karlsson, Smith, Marchessault, and Theodore match up pretty well with the Avs top players. Plus, the Golden Knights have two goalies better than anything the Avs roll out.

The most surprising part of the answer was how quickly he gave it. Bowness wasted no time in jumping directly to the team second on their schedule.

Are the Golden Knights being overlooked by the best teams in the West?

Maybe, and that’s probably not the worst thing in the world.

#PowerKill Reunited

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Bert and Ernie. Tom and Jerry. Mario and Luigi. William and Reilly.

Some duos just work, and the Golden Knights penalty kill pair of Karlsson and Smith is one of them.

Over the history of the franchise the pair we dubbed the #PowerKill has been on the ice together for 10 of the Golden Knights 22 all-time shorthanded goals. Meanwhile, when playing together they’ve allowed just 21 of the 100 all-time power play goals against. To phrase that differently, Karlsson and Smith have been on the ice together for 45% of the team’s shorthanded goals but only 21% of the power-play goals.

When Pete DeBoer took over the Golden Knights in January, one of his first big moves was to change the penalty kill system. With it, he moved Karlsson away from Smith. During the Pause, DeBoer had some time to rethink that strategy.

I think the Pause allows you to kind of look at your whole group and your team and combinations and the analytics. So when we dove into our group and particularly our penalty killing, that was something we wanted to try when we started up again. -DeBoer

I’ve already shared the best analytic, but here are a few more that point to the partnership of Karlsson and Smith being a no-brainer on the VGK PK.

 Smith/KarlssonEveryone Else
Shots/6016.611.6
Shots Allowed/6040.056.5
Goals For %32.3%13.2%
Scoring Chances/6011.56.9
Scoring Chances Against/6038.151.9
High Danger Chances/606.82.7
High Danger Chances Against/6013.921.2
Corsi For %23.9%13.7%
Expected Goals/601.60.7
Expected Goals Against/604.96.8

Just this season alone, in 89 minutes on the ice together, the pair has had a hand in five shorthanded goals. No other pair of penalty killers has tallied more than three in all three seasons combined!

Like all great duos, they aren’t nearly as good when on their own. Karlsson without Smith has allowed more goals in almost half the time on ice. And Smith without Karlsson has led to just one shorthanded goal in three seasons while allowing 16. They create fewer chances, give up more, and are worse in every measurable analytic.

Time will tell if the more aggressive style of penalty killing implemented by DeBoer slows down the #PowerKill, but if history has taught us anything, those two will be better than any other duo the Golden Knights can roll out… and probably the rest of the league too.

Golden Knights Unveil New Power Play Setup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.

Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.

Unit 1
Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty-Marchessault-Theodore

Unit 2
Karlsson-Smith-Tuch-Martinez-Schmidt

The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?

Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.

There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.

DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.

That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.

 PointsPower Play PointsPower Play Points %
Max Pacioretty661929%
Mark Stone631727%
Shea Theodore461635%
Jonathan Marchessault471226%
Paul Stastny381026%
William Karlsson46817%
Alex Tuch17741%
Nate Schmidt31723%
Reilly Smith5459%
Alec Martinez13430%

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Vegas’ Top Line May Need A Postseason Nickname

In years past, certain forward lines have taken the postseason by storm and helped their teams win the Stanley Cup. Affectionately known as the HBK line, Carl Hagelin (16 points), Nick Bonino (18 points) and Phill Kessel (22 points) surprisingly combined for 56 points en route to the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth championship in franchise history.

Years earlier the LA Kings were also lucky enough to have an acclaimed line of their own. Going by the nickname, That 70’s Line, Jeff Carter (25 points), Tyler Toffoli (14 points), and Tanner Pearson (12 points) caught fire in the regular season which continued into LA’s run to the cup. Each wearing a jersey number in the 70’s, the line totaled 51 points in 26 games.

Keep in mind both of these famed triplets were support lines, that massively overachieved. Without them, however, their clubs wouldn’t have been so dangerous. Good news for Golden Knights fans, Vegas had their own explosive line in last year’s postseason, and expectations are even higher in 2020.

In their seven-game series against the Sharks, Mark Stone (12 points), Max Pacioretty (11 points) and Paul Stastny (8 points) were offensively unstoppable. The trio combined for 31 points in the series loss, averaging a whopping 4.4 points per game. The veteran line made up for 44% of the Golden Knights offense against San Jose. Just silly when you think about it.

Can Vegas expect the same this postseason? And is it possible it can get better? I don’t see why not considering coach Pete DeBoer upgraded at center with William Karlsson in the middle.

All three players have the skill to excel in the postseason. Karlsson added 15 points in 20 games in 2018, and Pacioretty and Stone lived up to their billing in 2019. Combine their playoff averages together and the top line’s production will scare the bejesus out of an opponent.

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Playing Oddsmaker On First Golden Knights Captain

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

He hinted at it months ago, yesterday he made it as clear as can be.

We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer

Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.

Mark Stone 
-450

Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.

Nate Schmidt
+500

Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.

He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.

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Robin Lehner Excited To See What Free Agency Has In Store For Him

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

It’s been Goaltending Month here at SinBin. Earlier this month we examined the offseason decisions the Golden Knights front office will have to make in net. Last week was focused on cap percentage and how much is the right amount to spend on goaltending. So, let’s continue Tendy Month by getting some insight from Vegas’ exceptional backup goaltender as he addressed his future with the Golden Knights.

On Ottawa radio, unrestricted free agent to be Robin Lehner explained his desire to find a permanent address this offseason.

I’m looking for the right set up for me and my family. I got a five year-old and a two-year-old. My five-year-old has been to five different teams. I feel like I deserve to get some stability for me and my family. -Lehner on TSN Ottawa

It’s been a journey for Lehner. At 29 years-old with ten years of NHL service, the goaltender hasn’t found a location to settle down in.

We will see what happens and what makes sense for me and my family. To say I that need X amount of years or dollars, it’s kind of not what it’s been for me. I just try to perform as good as I can and I think I’ve done that throughout my career. I’ve had some other issues obviously but I’ve also taken the steps and been very serious about those steps and I’ve bounced back and I’ve shown that I’m on a really good path which is only getting better and better. -Lehner

The former Senator, Sabre, Islander, and Blackhawk is proud of success on and off the ice and feels he’s earned the opportunity to find a permanent NHL address. Especially, for his wife and kids.

I believe that I’ve proven my statistics for a long time and that I’m a very reliable goaltender… We’ll see what opens up and what makes sense for me and my family. We’re excited to see what happens this offseason. -Lehner

Can the playoffs do anything to help leverage Lehner’s future contract negotiations? Will he need to compete with Marc-Andre Fleury for playing time and excel in the postseason?

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