It’s been quite a while since our last Guest Post, so we’re heading back to the well, this time from our friend whose Twitter profile reads, “my loyalties lie with Pittsburgh, but my heart lies in Vegas.”
We’ll have to work on the whole loyalties thing, but that’s for another day. As for now, Laura believes many in the media, including here on SinBin.vegas, are underselling the Golden Knights chances on the ice in their inaugural season. So here it is, our latest guest post from Laura Weibe.
Let’s clear a few things up right away, this team, in my opinion, won’t make the playoffs this year, they won’t turn heads and put up some miraculous 50 win season. That is still a few years away, but before you talk about being a first-year expansion franchise that is comparable to Atlanta (39 points) in 1999, I will try and give a glimmer of hope to the Golden Knights first season on the ice.
The team on the ice might not resemble the likes of the past few Cup champs, but there are some good players that are proven NHLers on the roster. Let’s break down how the team might look, come opening night. On forward expect something like this;
Jonathan Marchessault – Vadim Shipachyov – James Neal
David Perron – Cody Eakin – Reilly Smith
Erik Haula – William Karlsson – Oscar Lindberg
Brendan Leipsic – P.E. Bellemare – Teemu Pulkkinen
Marchessault had 51 points last year, including 30 goals. Neal had 41 points, including 23 goals. Shipachyov, in the KHL had 76 points, including 26 goals. That’s a first line that accumulated 168 points. Now, KHL numbers don’t prove much at the NHL level but that is all there is to go on.
In comparison, the Penguins first line combined for 175. Before we get ahead of ourselves, no the Penguins first line and Vegas’s first line are not comparable and KHL points are very hard to transfer, but those are the numbers.
Also in comparison, the Vancouver Canucks had a first line that combined for 118 points, and Colorado had a first line that combined for 118 points as well. What I am trying to get at is that in terms of a first line, they can compete with most teams in the league, again, assuming Shipachyov can play well in the NHL.
I would argue that line number 2 is solid as well.
Perron is a third line player that has put up 2nd line numbers in the past, but he did put up 46 points last season, as well as 18 goals. If you take out his seasons with the Penguins, he has been the portrait of consistency.
Reilly Smith had a very good year as well, with 15 goals and 37 points. I will add that Florida wasn’t a playoff team.
Cody Eakin is a bit of a wildcard. He has had a 40 point season in the past, but last year he only had 12 points. So Vegas probably isn’t too sure of what they are getting, but he has something to prove. Again I would say he is a third line player but you have to work with what you have.
Lines 3 and 4 are quite honestly, players we haven’t heard much about, but players with potential.
Karlsson had a very good season with Columbus, Leipsic is a spitfire who has the potential to thrive, Haula also put together a nice little 15 goal season last year as well.
Overall this offense is about as average as they come. If you are looking for a star it will be James Neal, but Marchessault isn’t far behind. Talent wise, I think they have more depth than Colorado, Vancouver, and are on par with teams such as L.A. and Detroit in forward depth. New Jersey and Carolina have made some great improvements this season, but I would be curious how this team matches up with a team like these.
Here is where Vegas might run into a bit of trouble. They have plenty of defensemen, 13 to be exact, but there aren’t any that stick out as a number 1. Here is how I would think the D pairing will look, barring trades of course, on opening night;
Brayden McNabb – Colin Miller
Nate Schmidt – Jason Garrison
Luca Sbisa – Deryk Engelland
Of note, I think that Shea Theodore will start in the minors, due to the sheer number of D that Vegas has.
Garrison had 9 points this year, Miller 13, McNabb 4, Engelland 16, Sbisa 13, and Reinhart 2. Schmidt rounds out that offensive onslaught of points with 17.
If we compare these numbers to other teams the Penguins highest scoring D had 51 Points, and Letang played just 41 games and had 34 points.
If we want to compare this D to the powerhouse of the NHL, the Nashville Predators top 6 produced 172 points. Vegas’s top 7 had 74 points.
A more realistic comparison to an average team would be Florida. So Florida’s highest scoring D man was Ekblad and he had 21 points. Of note, Ekblad had a very poor offensive year and is capable of closer to 40 points. Vegas doesn’t have any D that are capable of reaching anything more than 25 points right now.
This will be where Vegas loses steam against those mid tier teams, they simply have no bodies that appear to be able to score on defense. I am all for someone having a breakout season, but I can’t pinpoint who it could be or how it could happen. Schmidt would be the most valid candidate. If Vegas trades or acquires any D in the next few months I can assume it will be one that can score a little bit more than the current roster.
Quite honestly, I think Vegas has one of the better goaltending tandems in the league. In case you didn’t know the goalies for Vegas on opening night, barring a shocking trade, will be;
Fleury’s story and situation are intriguing and could be dissected time and time again, but from all accounts, he has accepted it and is getting excited to play for Vegas. He is capable of playing 65 games. He is what the hockey world would call a workhorse goalie. He’s won 375 games, and I can almost guarantee that he would like to hit win # 400 this year.
He shouldn’t have any difficulty playing the starring role and with his contract expiring in 2 years at the age of 34, I am sure he will also be playing with a new contract on his mind. He has the ability to steal games, keep a room together, and he’s the face of the new franchise, no matter how hard he tries to deny it.
Pickard is an interesting one. Is he the future or is he trade bait? Maybe Fleury is the trade bait? If Pickard doesn’t play well this season, there is a chance Fleury gets a new deal. We really don’t know, but a lot of that will hinge on how Pickard plays this year. He was a bright light on a dismal season in Colorado, playing 50 games and recording 15 wins, considering the team had 22 wins in total, he actually played fairly well.
Fleury has something to prove, no doubt about it, and if he plays at the level he played in the playoffs it would be very hard to deny him a contract if they have even the slightest doubts about Pickard. I will say that I do believe there were some promises put in place with Fleury going to Vegas. Nothing concrete I am sure, but I would assume Fleury was promised the starting job and a voice in any decisions regarding where he goes next. For right now, Fleury does not plan on going anywhere, he has bought a house in the Vegas area and is coming to the area in August to settle in. For now, this is Fleury’s home.
All in all, Vegas has zero issues in net.
The Golden Knights schedule is set up for success. Dallas, Arizona, Arizona, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo. 1 playoff team in the first 6 games. Things get tougher as they play Chicago, New York Rangers, and Ottawa not long after, but they have the opportunity to get off to a great start. Not to mention they have a 3-week homestand at the beginning of the year. It’s the little things in a schedule that make a huge difference. They have 11 back to backs. To compare, the Penguins have 19. None of their back to backs require them to travel more than 1 or 2 states/provinces either. Their bye week is at a prime time for fatigue, early January. They don’t play the 2017 Eastern or Western conference champions until December, when they should have their footing under them a bit better. Finally, when a team is supposed to peak, in February and March, Vegas plays 30 games in those 2 months. Not to mention they have another nearly 3-week long homestand only being broken up by one game in LA.
This all doesn’t mean much to the average person, but to a player who is playing 82 grueling games of hockey, these small little advantages matter and Vegas has been given all the opportunity in the world to not only steal a few games but be true competitors in year one.
Pressure to perform
Let’s be honest, there is pressure, a lot of it, for Vegas to perform well. Owner Bill Foley paid 500 Million dollars to create a team, a 375 million dollar arena was built, a 146,000-square-foot, 30 million dollar practice facility, and not to mention it is the first pro team in the city. This team needs to do well. To me, well doesn’t mean make the playoffs but I think they need to compete, and on top of that, I think the players understand this. GMGM wouldn’t have put together a team that can’t put a few wins together because, in a market that is new and starved for pro sports, it would be nice to watch a team that isn’t getting beaten by 5 goals every night. With this in mind, the team was chosen, and with this in mind, I think this team can perform at a rate that will keep fans coming back.
Gary Bettman did everything in his power to make this team good right away. What his definition of good and right away are, we don’t know, but I can say that winning 20 games this year will look awful on the league, the players and personnel know it. There has to be a pull factor for fans, and there needs to be a reason for fans to watch, and knowing your team has a chance, that matters. I think this team can do that, and if you have a chance every night, then you never really know what’s going to happen.
Pretty much everything is unknown at this point. Vegas has a name and an arena, and really sweet jerseys, but the rest is up in the air. The two most influential factors that could sway everything said above are trades and chemistry.
Trades are a tricky one because it all depends on what the front office is thinking. The biggest names regarding trades will be Fleury and Neal. Both have limited NTC which may cause issues but that’s a story for another time.
Fleury is interesting because if a team such as Edmonton, Washington, Nashville, Pittsburgh (now wouldn’t that be crazy), Minnesota, or any other contender loses a goalie to injury, Fleury’s value skyrockets. If someone is offering a first round pick, for example, in exchange for Fleury, it would be very hard for either side to turn it down. However, I will say there is a chance that Fleury denies a trade, that NMC is gold to Fleury, it did wonders for him in Pittsburgh.
Neal would be in the same boat, although slightly different because he doesn’t have the pedigree that Fleury does and the goalie position is very unique.
Chemistry is the ultimate wildcard for this team. We, as fans, and them as players, have no idea if they have any chemistry. If they do, maybe a 40 point player turns into a 50 point player. Or the opposite, and maybe none of these players like each other or can play together. I highly doubt that, but I guess you never know.
Success for Vegas will come on and off the ice, but there is magic that occurs when the two connect, and I think that will be important to this team. The excitement and opportunity that these players have are unparalleled. They can create a new image for themselves, they are all new to this city. This city has no fan favorites yet, there isn’t any number that they associate greatness with yet. These players have an opportunity of a lifetime and that alone can propel players to play a little bit better.
Call me a wishful thinker, or call me an optimist but I think this team can compete with about 25 teams in the league. I think Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Columbus, Nashville, and Washington are out of their league, but they have a chance against the rest. The key word is a chance. This doesn’t mean they will win, but it doesn’t mean they would lose either.
Also, just because I am a wishful thinker, don’t be surprised if Fleury and Vegas somehow pull off a win against Pittsburgh this year. Circle your calendar folks, those games will be fun.
The prospect pool is amazing, and it will be whether this team finishes 22nd or 31st or anywhere in between. So cheers to Vegas, and if I am wrong and the team is just awful, then sure, I am wrong. But if they aren’t as bad as you think and they don’t finish last, then I think everyone wins.