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Luca Sbisa Could Be The Perfect Stop Gap

Trading a player like Nate Schmidt is never going to be easy. With a guy as happy-go-lucky as him, delivering bad news is not exactly at the top of anyone’s bucket list.  But, that doesn’t mean it can go ignored.

Last night was hard.  I did not hear anything until the deal was done. You knew that with Pietrangelo coming in there had to be something. Something had to give. It’s one of those things that it was a tough pill to swallow at first. Coming to terms with how we signed an extension to the language and what we talked about at the time to what has happened in the last 12 hours is different. -Nate Schmidt on Vancouver press call

Schmidt expanded a bit in another interview on the radio in Vancouver.

It was a tough pill to swallow and a tough time wrapping your head around it because the way the communication was when you sign the contract vs. where we stand present day. At the end of the day it comes down to a business and some things can be thrown to the wind when it comes down to it. -Schmidt to Sportsnet 650

Nate Schmidt signed a six-year contract extension on October 25th, 2018, not even two years ago. At that time, Schmidt was midway through a 20-game suspension for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. The Golden Knights were struggling on the ice with a 4-4-1 record, which would end up being 8-11-1 when he finally returned.

The Golden Knights signing that contract during the suspension showed they were firmly standing behind their guy. He was able to get a 10-team no-trade clause in the deal, because at that time, George McPhee had a strict policy against no-movement clauses. (That policy has since gone by the wayside.) In addition, there was clearly a bill of goods being sold to Schmidt, that he now feels was not upheld.

It’s hard from the moment you sign it to how things can change, that was hard. You think things are going to go one way and then there’s a drastic upheaval in your life. It’s a business, I know, I get it. We know what we sign up for. -Schmidt on Vancouver press call

He may get it, but you can tell he’s still a little miffed by what happened. And to make matters worse, the guy who signed his first NHL contract, who brought him to Vegas, who stood behind him during the suspension, and signed his long-term deal, had not reached out nearly a day after the trade to Vancouver happened.

There hasn’t been any communication recently (with George McPhee) so that one we’ll see. It’s a fresh wound right now, so emotions are obviously running in every direction. It was hard given the previous communications in the past vs. what had happened. -Schmidt on Vancouver press call

Somewhere along the way, he was told something, and then Monday night, the rug was ripped out from under him.

We may never know what assurances were made with Schmidt, but he was clearly caught off guard by the trade.

This is yet another example of the growing trend brought up by former Cup-winning GM Brian Burke. Maybe the toughest one yet.

George McPhee always loves to use the line “organization first, individual a close second.” Unfortunately, the gap between those two continues to grow, and eventually, it will come with consequences.

I want to preface this article by saying the point of it is not to challenge the decision being made by the Golden Knights coaching staff in regards to which goalie will start Game 4. Because, as I’ll show, there really isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it. Instead, the idea is to debunk an idea that seems to have turned into a hard and fast rule for the Golden Knights, and thus VGK fans as well.

In the playoffs, you do not have to switch goalies when playing back-to-back games.

Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, it just means you don’t absolutely have to, especially when playing in a bubble with no travel and against the same team both games.

This postseason 13 series have experienced a back-to-back situation. Of the 26 teams involved in those games, 19 of them chose to use the same goalie in both ends of the back-to-back. Goalie performance, as well as team performance, do not appear to be correlated to this decision.

With such a small sample size and the teams playing each other, wins and losses cancel out as a whole. So, instead, I decided to use total goals against as well as save percentage in an attempt to determine if a goaltender was better or worse in the second game of the back-to-back.

Hellebuyck – Worse
Talbot – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Stalock – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Saros – Worse
Andersen – Better
Bobrovsky – Better
Varlamov – Worse
Talbot – Better
Allen – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Rask – Worse
Hart – Worse
Price – Worse
Crawford – Better
Halak – Worse
Vasilevskiy – Better

10 were worse, nine were better. Compare that to the teams that switched goalies.

Korpisalo to Merlizkins – Better
Lundqvist to Shesterkin – Better
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Bishop to Khudobin – Better
Grubauer to Francouz – Worse
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Fleury to Lehner – Worse

Five better, two worse. Looks good right? But, when we dig a little deeper, the numbers end up identical, just arriving to the same place in different ways.

 Game 1Game 2Total
Same Goalie.913.916.914
Switching Goalies.904.924.914
Playoff Average.912.919.914

Switching goalies makes a team worse in Game 1 but much better in Game 2. While keeping the same goalie makes them slightly better in Game 2 than Game 1. However, the overall total is exactly the same.

Most back-to-backs are splits. Four teams won both games so far though. Three used the same goalie while one switched. The same goes for the losers of both games, three used the same while one switched.

In the end, thus far in these playoffs, switching has worked for some teams, sticking with the same goalie has worked for others. It really doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, instead, the play of the team in front of the goalie is much more important.

So, where does that leave us with the Golden Knights?

It appears they are set to go with Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4 after Robin Lehner posted his second shutout of the series in Game 3.

The first time around, the Golden Knights got a great performance, and a win, out of Fleury in the front end of the back-to-back and a less than stellar performance, and a loss, in the back end from Lehner.

This time, Lehner was awesome in the front end. We’ll find out tonight how Fleury is in the back.

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 the most talented team I’ve had in my coaching career. -Pete DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast

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. -Pete DeBoer on The Chirp Podcast

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.


(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since the calendar flipped to 2020 the Golden Knights penalty kill has been… how do I put this politely?… a steaming pile of horse… let’s just say it’s been bad, very very bad.

Vegas had allowed a power play goal in seven straight games, they had killed off just nine of 18 over a seven-game stretch, and thanks to some research from AT&T Sportsnet, we know they ranked dead last in killing penalties over Gerard Gallant’s final seven games. It’s probably not the only reason, but there’s no question the Golden Knights poor penalty kill lent a hand in his firing.

In comes Pete DeBoer, who just two years ago was the coach of the NHL’s 2nd best penalty kill. In DeBoer’s four full seasons in San Jose, the Sharks killed penalties at a rate of 81.7% and his teams never finished the year below 80%. Vegas currently sits in 22nd place at 78.9% and their 52.6% over the last eight games is downright appalling.

One of the first things DeBoer worked on with the Golden Knights was making a change to their style of penalty killing. In fact, using just a few practices and likely some video work, there are two already significant changes that have been implemented in the way the Golden Knights kill penalties. Both were used against Montreal and both involve puck pressure.

Well, for the first change, it’s actually a lack of pressure.

Under Gallant, the Golden Knights would always send at least one forechecker, sometimes two, into the attacking zone in to rush the opposing team’s breakout. It was an aggressive style of penalty killing hoping to force a mistake up the ice and lead to an easy shorthanded chance. The drawback to this style is that if the breakout beats the forecheckers, the Golden Knights are heavily outnumbered at the blue line leading to easy, sometimes even unchallenged, zone entries.

Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights will not send any forecheckers up when killing penalties. Instead, they’ll deploy three players across the blue line and one slightly further up to force challenged entries (which looks like this or this). This was a staple in the Sharks penalty killing system under DeBoer, and in the game against Montreal, the Golden Knights used it to successfully kill the one penalty they took.

Here’s how that looks in action.

Eakin does not chase into the offensive zone. Instead, he circles back to set up in the neutral zone.

The moment Smith loses the puck, he backs out and resets to the neutral zone.

The idea under DeBoer’s system is to make the entry across the blue line as difficult as possible while foregoing any chance to steal the puck in the offensive zone and score a cheap shorthanded goal.

But, of course, eventually the team on the man advantage will gain the zone. That’s where the second change in system comes in.

This one is opposite to the first. Once the opposing team gains the zone, the Golden Knights will now apply as much pressure as possible on the puck as opposed to concentrating on staying in perfect penalty killing position as they did before.

Under Gallant, unless the puck was below the goal line or pinned up against the boards, the Golden Knights always wanted their four penalty killers to be in the shape of a square (or box, usually hockey people refer to it as a box). The reason for this is because it, in theory, takes away the center of the ice. There won’t be a shot that doesn’t have at least one penalty killer in front of it to block it, and any pass across the ice has to travel past at least one, and up to four, killers’ sticks. Plus, once the puck is loose, there will always be a penalty killer in the area to pick it up and send it the length of the ice. As the puck heads away from the goal towards the point, the box spreads out to cover more ground, and when the puck gets closer to the goal the box squeeze taking away all dangerous passing or shooting options.

DeBoer’s system is quite a bit different. He wants puck pressure, and heavy puck pressure, all over the offensive zone. The idea is to outnumber the opposing team to the puck despite being short a player. The way to do that is to have one forward constantly chasing the puck while the other forward and the defenseman (or even sometimes all four players) support when possible. The Golden Knights are always going to be outnumbered by at least one (because they are killing a penalty), but they can use the offensive team’s shape against them by neutralizing players standing still away from the puck. Let’s go to the grease board to demonstrate.

Gallant’s system with the box.

DeBoer system of puck pressure.

With heavy pressure being applied from both #3 and #61, #92 is able to come in and outnumber the offensive players. Three in gold, two in red. When this happens though, the gold players MUST win the puck, otherwise, there are three red players to just one gold player on the rest of the ice.

Heavy puck pressure all over the zone forces teams to make quick, accurate, and clean plays with the puck. Any tiny mistake and the penalty killers will jump on them and take the puck away. However, the defense is dictating the play (at least a little bit) as opposed to the offense doing it as the Golden Knights allowed under Gallant.

Here’s how it looks in action.

Watch Stone and McNabb hound the puck, while Engelland and Stastny keep creeping that way to create the outnumbered situations in favor of the Golden Knights. In just that 20 second clip, the Golden Knights create a 4-on-3, a 3-on-2, and a 2-on-1 all while they are playing 4-on-5.

In every instance, in this case, the puck stays on that side of the ice. If any of those times the puck was able to be sent over to #17 standing down there at the bottom of the screen, the Golden Knights are in big trouble. However, because they are pressuring the puck so heavily, there’s never a chance for the puck carrier to get it over to the open player. This is the penalty killers dictating play, and this is how DeBoer likes his teams to kill.

Gallant’s system was passive and thus safe. Very rarely did a team end up with a wide-open chance against the Golden Knights penalty kill. Under DeBoer, they likely will from time to time, but the hope is that the risky puck pressure style will cause more clearances and thus less power play time in the zone.

I liked the one penalty kill we had. We implemented some of the stuff we talked about. I thought we were more aggressive and did a good job there. -DeBoer

These are the types of minor tweaks DeBoer was talking about when he came in and took over as the second head coach in Golden Knights history. The success of things just like this will ultimately determine his impact on the final outcome of Vegas’ third season.

Luckily, it’s only a quarter of the regular season that top defenseman Nate Schmidt will miss action. But, while that story continues to unfold, Vegas’ other top defender Shea Theodore also remains unsigned and the possibility of a holdout is real.

With one defenseman guaranteed to miss a large chunk of time and another sitting in contract purgatory, what are George McPhee’s options? He can ride it out with organizational depth like the team did last season when Marc-Andre Fleury was injured. The GM could make a move for a defenseman, and not necessarily Erik Karlsson. Maybe, McPhee will wait it out and hope a desirable defenseman will pop up through waivers. Or, he can reach out to an available old chum.

It’s hard for the other team to match lines. A lot of teams only have one superstar line and then it kinda goes down a bit, but for us, on any given day we have lines that can step up and chip in any which way. -Luca Sbisa

In 30 regular season games, Luca Sbisa averaged 19:31 TOI, and averaged 2:22 shorthanded minutes per game. Many of those games he was paired with Schmidt and drawing the opposing teams best players. Although Sbisa was injured for much of the 2017-18 regular season, he added defensive impact when he hit the ice. Some credit the Swiss defenseman for helping Schmidt convert to Vegas’ top d-man. Also, the veteran Sbisa was a strong, protective teammate that held a presence on the ice.

With Schmidt’s guaranteed 20 game absence, signing Sbisa could be a move Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant would appreciate. The 28-year-old UFA was heavily used early on in 2017-18, and after returning from injury, the coach used him in the lineup, including the Stanley Cup Final. At this time, Gallant could use a familiar veteran like Sbisa to help right the defensive ship. The former Golden Knight knows the organization, system, players, and city. Most importantly the coaching staff is comfortable playing Sbisa.

Depending on Sbisa’s demands, the Golden Knights should be able to re-sign the left-handed defenseman to a deal comparable to what Jon Merrill and Deryk Engelland make per season. This late in the game they might even be able to get him on a one-year deal.

It could be well worth the low money risk for a recognizable insurance policy like Sbisa. Not only will he fill the burden of Schmidt’s suspension, Sbisa would also secure a roster spot in preparation for Theodore’s possible holdout. He’s not a replacement for either but Sbisa could effectively fill important minutes for twenty or more games.


Where Does The Blue Line Stand Now With Schmidt Out Of The Picture?


Young Defensemen Presented With Rare Opportunity


  1. Blake

    I think a more likely move is to play Collin Miller with McNabb. Sbisa is a good third pair guy.

  2. Jason

    Gotta have a goals against under 3.0. We dont and we will not make the playoffs. Unless your Pittsburg.

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