Whenever the league gives the green light to go ahead with the 24 team playoff format that was unveiled earlier this week, the Golden Knights are going to have some tough decisions both in roster and lineup construction.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the league is expected to allow teams to have 28 skaters on their active roster along with an unlimited number of goalies. Normally, the entire AHL squad is available to any team still remaining in the NHL playoffs, but with the pandemic restrictions, the league likely wants to keep the numbers down.
So, let’s start with the 28 skaters that I project will make the cut for the Golden Knights.
Locks (21) (13 F, 8 D)
William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Alex Tuch, Chandler Stephenson, Nick Cousins, Nic Roy, Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, Jon Merrill, Nick Holden, Zach Whitecloud, Deryk Engelland
This is the roster Vegas was expecting to go into the playoffs with had the league continued with the regularly scheduled season. Assuming health when the league is ready to return, there’s no way any of these 21 won’t be listed among the Golden Knights allotted 28.
AHL Locks (3) (2 F, 1 D)
Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, Nic Hague
When I set out to do this I actually expected this group to be a little larger, but the group behind these guys is so large, McPhee and McCrimmon can really go a lot of different ways. Will they load up on defensemen because they have a little bit more of a variety of styles? Will they go with more veteran players to be safe? Or will they put a bunch of kids in the mix so they get a taste of “playoff” hockey? No matter which way they choose, these three will be among the 28 selected.
Maybe the largest question mark this offseason, other than the future of Robin Lehner, is what the Golden Knights are planning on doing with soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Tomas Nosek.
Nosek is 27-years-old and has been a staple of the Vegas lineup since the first game in franchise history. He’s played in 202 of the team’s 235 games, appeared in 24 of the 27 playoff games, and has been one of the most consistent penalty killers along the way.
His numbers in the regular season are underwhelming (23G, 24A, 202 games) as primarily a fourth-liner but his three goals in the Cup Final sets him apart from most of the upcoming free agent class.
Nosek has signed four contracts in his short NHL career. Two with Detroit prior to being selected in the Expansion Draft, and then two as a restricted free agent in Vegas. He’s never made more than he did this season when he was paid $1 million.
Nosek recently appeared in an interview, conducted in Czech and translated via closed captioning, on the Xaver Live YouTube channel. He was asked about his future plans but made it sound like the decision is mostly out of his hands.
First we need to know where I will play. There’s no agreement about next season yet so we need to wait until the situation is clear and that will determine where my family will stay and live. Of course I don’t want to leave the Vegas team. I started here, so it would be great to stay. However, it’s all about business so it’s a management decision. The current chance is 50/50. –Nosek on Xaver Live YouTube
This previous offseason, Nosek technically hit unrestricted free agency for a moment. The Golden Knights did not extend a qualifying offer which made him a UFA before he signed the one-year $1 million deal that set him up to become a free agent again this summer.
Despite making it clear he wants to stay, Nosek says the Golden Knights are not ready to sign an extension while the season is paused.
Now that there’s a format in place (kinda), fans can finally feel good about the NHL getting back on the ice. The timetable hasn’t been set yet, but before the games begin, clubs will hold some sort of training/mini-camp. George McPhee mentioned a couple of weeks back that Golden Knights players shouldn’t need much time to prepare.
I think after a week or 10 days of skating they’d be fine. Are they really going to want four weeks? I don’t think so. After a week of hard skating, they’ll probably be saying ‘You know what, I’d rather be playing than practicing, so let’s get going.’ –George McPhee on Vegas Hockey Hotline
After the training period is over and the players are ready for action, which position will be at their best first? The shooter or the stopper?
Because (goalies) motor skills don’t have to be as refined. Their crease movement is something they can practice on their driveway, they can practice in their basement. Their angle play, their awareness of the game, they can watch tape. There’s a lot of things they can do, they don’t really need ice.-Pierre McGuire, NBC Analyst
If goaltenders find their way back to form quicker, teams with better goaltending and defense have an early edge. The fear of the hot goaltender is so real reports were Montreal Canadiens star goalie Carey Price was one of the factors why the play-in series will be nothing less than a best-of-five finish.
The league initially suggested this play-in round be best two out of three and the players said no way… they felt it was not acceptable enough for the teams that had a better regular season and Pittsburgh looked at its matchup and it said ‘two out of three against Carey Price is not fair for a team that had zero percentage points to play in the playoffs.-Elliotte Friedman, SportsNet
Depending on the Golden Knights offense, either of their goalies have the ability to get hot and grab an early edge in a series. It should be a concern for any team in the Western Conference.
It certainly is for Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrick Laine.
My game is probably gonna look terrible since I haven’t skated for two months… It’s always a struggle to come back after a long period when you haven’t skated.-Patrick Laine, Jets forward
Between the pipes, Vegas should get strong goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner, so it’ll be up to their offense to advance to the later rounds. Scorers like Max Pacioretty and Reilly Smith will need to quickly get into midseason form and continue the offensive success they had in the regular season. Since scoring is projected to be low in the opening games, it’ll be important for the Golden Knights forwards to shake off any early rust.
For the offensive players there’s a tempo element to the game that really can’t be duplicated unless you’re on the ice. With hand skills, with shooting skills, with foot movements. Until you’re on the ice doing them, it doesn’t work.-McGuire, NBC Sports
If the Golden Knights score 3.5 goals per game like they did last postseason, the backend duo of Fleury and Lehner should save enough to clinch multiple playoff rounds. The question is which goalie will take on the heavier load?
The intimidation factor of a goalie. I think a goalie can get up to speed a little bit quicker than they offense can. Carey (Price) is a guy that can definitely steal a series. Vasilevskiy can steal a series.-McGuire, NBC Sports
Vegas has the goaltending and the offensive talent to go on a run, however, it will all have to come together at the right time. If the offense struggles, it could come down to which Golden Knight goalie has the longer leash, and if Pete DeBoer pushes the right buttons going back and forth.
Pete DeBoer is no stranger to standing behind incredibly talented players. Over the course of his coaching career in the NHL, he’s had Martin Broder, Patrick Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Scott Gomez, Stephen Weiss, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Logan Couture, and so many more high-end players in the league.
DeBoer has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice, he’s been in the playoffs five times, and his teams have won nine playoff series. He’s coached four different franchises in almost 900 total games as he’s working into his 12th season this year. Yet for DeBoer, the 2019-20 Golden Knights are unique.
It’s hard to argue with him too. The Golden Knights are pretty stacked, especially following the trade deadline. The line of Mark Stone, William Karlsson, and Max Pacioretty is one of the best in the NHL and the group of forwards behind them is balanced and strong. Shea Theodore is quietly turning himself into an elite defenseman while Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez round out a top-four group on defense that is reliable in any situation. And the goalie tandem is without question #1 in the league.
As tough as it was for me to leave San Jose 33 games after going to the conference finals the year before, for me the Vegas situation is the opportunity of a lifetime. It seems like a great combination of talent and character and leadership. Great community, great ownership, great management. I think you coach in this league for opportunities like this with teams like this and I’m really thankful for how everything played out even as tough as some of the moments were. –DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast
He’s coached numerous Cup winners, present and future Hall of Famers, countless All Stars, Norris winners, Vezina winners, Richard winners, Calder winners, Hart winners, Ross winners, Lindsay winners, you name it, DeBoer has coached it.
It hasn’t been rare for DeBoer to praise pretty much everything about Vegas since he took the job back in January, but we haven’t quite heard it with this type of historical context in his career. Yet he believes this Golden Knights team is the most talented he’s ever had and offers the opportunity of a lifetime. An even better opportunity than the one he had which have served as the Golden Knights primary rivals for the better part of three seasons.
I’m a big believer that everything in hockey happens for a reason. The way my career has gone, one door closing there’s always been another door opening with a better opportunity. –DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast
Now all he needs is a chance to see this opportunity out. This talented bunch was firing on all cylinders when the league was halted due to the pandemic. They’d just ripped off an eight-game win streak, had won 11 of 13, and hadn’t lost back to back games in almost a month. The league just needs to restart so the Golden Knights can go from the most talented group to play for DeBoer to the most accomplished.
**The quotes for this story were pulled from a recent podcast episode of The Chirp, hosted by VGK TV host Daren Millard. It is a tremendous conversation with DeBoer and his long-time friend Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice. Anyone who likes VGK should listen to this episode, it’s that good. Here’s the link to the episode.**
Whether it means making great selections and developing those players into NHL stars or trading picks/prospects for NHL-ready players, the Draft is the most important tool for a GM to consistently improve his team.
Through three seasons, the Golden Knights have made 28 selections in the Entry Draft. Four have played in NHL games but just two have appeared for the Golden Knights. That being said, Vegas used the selections of the two that didn’t, Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki, to acquire Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
So, it’s a bit too early to judge how well they’ve drafted as a team, but there’s no questioning they’ve already been able to utilize the Entry Draft to improve to what ended up being the best roster ever constructed from an Expansion Draft. The future of the franchise will continue to hinge on the successes and failures in the Entry Draft.
During the NHL Pause, NHL.com has been conducting “NHL Redrafts” in which they go back over a previous year’s Entry Draft and reselect them using what we know now. They’ve completed eight years, from 2005 to 2012, which consists of a majority of the players playing in the league right now.
When those eight drafts occurred, George McPhee was the GM of the Washington Capitals. He had 10 1st round picks yet managed to select 13 players that wound up being 1st rounders in NHL.com’s Redrafts. Here’s the full rundown of how McPhee did…
If you had a chance to watch SinBin’s Virtual Game Show, you would’ve seen me guess incorrectly which player leads the Golden Knights organization in power play assists. I answered Jonathon Marchessault with 27 PP assists, but was off by one.
Defenseman Shea Theodore leads the franchise with 28 power play assists. Based on games played it was a bit surprising, but when you check his man-advantage time on ice, it clearly makes sense. With over 567 PP minutes served for the Golden Knights, Theodore has become Vegas’ ace in the hole on the power play.
TSN’s Travis Yost argues over the past few years defensemen have been marginalized on the PP. Mostly because a majority of teams use a four forward unit. The Golden Knights have been one of those clubs. Sure, we’ve seen variations of 5-on-4 lines but Theodore is usually the lone defenseman. Which is why he’s gradually become more effective on Vegas’ power play. His PP statistics prove while he’s a valuable asset, blueliners overall are underutilized on offensive special teams.
It’s not a trivial data point. A few years ago, teams started to shift towards a four-forward power play because it yielded more scoring opportunities and, consequently, goals. –Travis Yost, TSN
This season, Theodore had the 17th most power play points in the NHL for a defenseman.
Without a doubt the 24-year-old has become the Golden Knights #1 blueline option on the PP. Theodore’s PP TOI% is 70.6% (5th in the NHL), showing he’s deployed like John Carlson, Torey Krug, Rasmus Dahlin, and Kris Letang.
When the Jack Dugan news broke via press release from the Golden Knights it was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Instead of an announcement of a contract or trade, this press release indicated that Dugan had “agreed to join the Golden Knights organization.”
The announcement expressed that Dugan was done with college and he was set to sign a contract with the Golden Knights. However, the wording made it clear that the pen had not officially hit the paper on that contract.
As we’ve done before, we immediately started to “read into” the why behind this peculiar announcement. Why not just sign the contract? Other teams have done it with prospects leaving college, what’s different with Dugan?
The answer lies in the desired start date of the contract.
Since the league went on hiatus, 81 players have joined NHL teams. Most of them were announced with the same language we are used to hearing, “signed to an entry-level contract.” The ones that had more information all indicated that the contract would begin in 2020-21. In other words, they are signing contracts for next season, not for the one that is paused.
This is common in the NHL. When a player’s season wraps up, whether from Candian Junior, the NCAA, or overseas, a team can sign the player immediately for the following season even if that team is still playing this year. This makes the player ineligible to play in the NHL for the remainder of the ongoing season and their contract begins for the next year.
Or, a team can do what Vegas has done each of its first two seasons. They’ve signed players for the current season, brought them directly onto the NHL roster, and in the case of two (Zach Whitecloud and Jimmy Schuldt) of the three (Nikita Gusev is the other) actually played them in an NHL game right away. By doing this, it “burns” the year off the entry-level contract.
Let me show you the difference using an example.
Method 1 – Sign player for the following season
Player signs 2-year entry-level contract Ongoing season (2019-20) – Ineligible to play 2020-21 – Year 1 2021-22 – Year 2 Contract expires on July 1, 2022
Method 2 – Sign player for the ongoing season
Player signs 2-year entry-level contract Ongoing season (2019-20) – Year 1 2020-21 – Year 2 Contract expires on July 1, 2021
As you see, using Method 2, a player becomes a free agent (restricted in most cases) 365 days sooner even though they are signed to the exact same contract on the exact same day. The only difference is the start date.
So, let me go back to Jack Dugan. Based on the multitude of contracts that have been signed since March 12th when the league was paused, we know NHL Central Registry (the office in charge of approving contracts) is allowing contracts to be signed. However, not a single contract has been announced as signed for 2019-20.
When the NHL suspended this season March 12, the league instructed teams that no contracts for draft picks or college, junior and European free agents could be signed with a start date of this current season. All contracts had to begin in 2020-21. –Michael Russo, The Athletic
According to Jesse Granger of The Athletic, Dugan is hoping his contract will begin in 2019-20 instead of 2020-21.
Dugan’s preference is to begin his professional career immediately when hockey resumes, a source told The Athletic. -Jesse Granger, The Athletic
The Golden Knights should want that as well. (I’ll explain in a moment.)
So, if the league won’t allow a contract to be signed for 2019-20, then… don’t sign a contract. That’s exactly what Dugan did. Instead, he “agreed to join the Golden Knights organization.”
The city of Las Vegas currently only has three sheets of ice that meet NHL standards; one at T-Mobile and two at City National Arena. A year from now there will be two more at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, then in a few years another one at the AHL rink in Henderson, but as for now, you can’t reasonably make NHL teams vying for a playoff spot, practice at the Ice Center or Sobe Arena. Not to mention, with everyone housed on the Strip, transporting players and equipment for SEVEN teams back and forth the 17 miles to Summerlin, only to be crammed into City National Arena simply isn’t logical. -SinBin.vegas, 4/24/20
With word that the NHL is pushing a 24-team postseason format, a pod city would hold not eight, but 12 teams. Yesterday, NHL analyst Pierre McGuire jumped on TSN Montreal to pitch Las Vegas as the perfect location. The league is considering two pod cities that would hold three, possibly four NHL games per day. Southern Nevada continues to be high on the list for obvious reasons. Hotel rooms, first-class amenities, and easy access to the T-Mobile Arena and other venues. However, the lack of practice ice is greatly overlooked.
Because they got significant ice availability starting with obviously the MGM arena. They got their arena where they practice. They’ve got the Thomas & Mack Center. They’re building an arena for an American Hockey League team that might already be completed in Henderson.-Pierre McGuire, NBC Sports Analyst
The Henderson facility (Lifeguard Arena) is projected to be finished this fall. Could the league help expedite the project? Sure, but there have been no indications that’s the case. Which leaves the Thomas & Mack Center, MGM Grand Garden Arena, T-Mobile Arena, and the City National Arena to cram in practice and morning skates for 12 teams.
Two sheets of ice at the CNA could comfortably serve four NHL clubs, one being the Golden Knights. After that, it’s up in the air. T-Mobile Arena would be available for teams when actual games weren’t being played, but is that viable? Will the Thomas & Mack and Grand Garden Arena have enough time to refreeze their surfaces and make them NHL quality?
More than enough hotel space. They’ve got more than enough ice availability. They’ve got more than enough convention area for dressing rooms if they need them. They’ve got perfect infrastructure to host this.-McGuire
In the NHL’s constant struggle to stay relevant since the season was put on hold on March 12th, one of the ideas that’s drawn the most ire from GMs is the thought of conducting the Draft during the pandemic rather than waiting until the season is completed.
Speaking to Brian Blessing on the Vegas Hockey Hotline, Golden Knights President of Hockey Operations, George McPhee, took about as positive a position as any NHL exec regarding the Draft being held in June.
We’re ready to go, if the league wants to do it, let’s go do it. If the league wants to move it up we’re fine with it. This is complicated enough for the league and everybody else. –George McPhee on Vegas Hockey Hotline
As the days pass it appears to be less and less likely that the league will indeed head that way, but the possibility still exists.
I don’t particularly find it very challenging. I don’t know that anything changes if you wait another three months to have a draft. We can work out all of the conditional picks. I just don’t find it that difficult. –McPhee on Vegas Hockey Hotline
Contrast that to the quote Elliotte Friedman published from an unnamed GM on the idea.
This is terrible, and I don’t support it.
Every team is in a different spot in regards to the impact holding the Draft in June would have, with some having much larger hurdles to cross than that in which the Golden Knights would face.
Any team in the lottery could have their fates changed, any team with an important conditional pick yet to be settled, and any team on the playoff bubble could get burned by the irregular draft. Those are likely the teams making the most noise in opposition of the idea. As for Vegas, it really wouldn’t matter, and thus…
In 2010, the Ottawa Senators took a flier in the 6th round on an 18-year-old awkward skater from Winnipeg. The Golden Knights took a similar chance in the 5th round in 2017 on Jack Dugan, a player with close to the same build.
As a young player, I had to do a lot of things to even make it here… I wasn’t a very good skater. That was documented when I was 12 years old. Everyone told me I couldn’t skate. -Mark Stone
Going back to the 2012 NHL draft, only 106 of the 729 players selected in the 5th round or later have suited up to play in an NHL game. Only 28 have played more than 100 games.
A few have been successful in the NHL, but none have become elite like Stone. The former Wheat King, Senator, and current Golden Knight is an outlier when it comes to late draft picks. Stone has enjoyed eight seasons in the NHL, scoring 385 points, 601 takeaways, and is valued at $9.5M per year. Finding a player with that resume after the first three rounds takes incredible scouting, trust, and let’s face it, luck.
We’re still probably a year or two away from Jack Dugan even breaking into the NHL, but he’s trending in the direction of a late-round steal just like Stone.
At the time of the draft, Dugan’s scouting reports were lukewarm. Some thought he had the skill and eventual size to play a bottom-six role in the NHL.
Jack Dugan Scouting Reports:
The Hockey News Every draft has sleepers, dark horses and late bloomers and Dugan may be a hidden gem that encompasses all three. A big, aggressive and raw talent who was passed over.
Dobber Prospects Dugan is a late bloomer who is big, aggressive and is loaded with raw talent.
HockeyProspect.com Black Book Isn’t a smooth skater but moves well and handles the puck at his top speed. We like his potential, has size, skill and a good hockey IQ.
Mark Stones Scouting Reports:
Hockey’s Future Probability of success: C The size and hands are there as is the willingness to work the boards and get to the dirty areas. The one noticeable weakness is his choppy stride which he’s working on and has spent time with the Ottawa skating coach improving his foot-speed. Smart on the ice and well-spoken off of it, Stone has the talent, intensity and work ethic to get himself to the NHL in time.