Following the disaster that was the officiating in the 2019 playoffs, the NHL has expanded their challenge system to include a third category beyond goalie interference and offside.
Coach’s Challenge of goal calls on the ice that follow plays in the Offensive Zone that should have resulted in a play stoppage, but did not. This change will allow Challenges of plays that may involve pucks that hit the spectator netting, pucks that are high-sticked to a teammate in the offensive zone, pucks that have gone out of play but are subsequently touched in the offensive zone and hand passes that precede without a play stoppage and ultimately conclude in the scoring of a goal. -NHL Public Relations
The addition of the new challenge also changed the rules on the penalty for incorrect challenges. Previously, a failed goalie interference challenge would result in the loss of a timeout and a failed offside challenge would result in a 2-minute delay of game penalty.
Now, all three challenges are subject to the minor penalty if they are unsuccessful. Thus, timeouts now return to being just timeouts, and teams are never ineligible to challenge a play. However, the penalty gets stiffer with multiple failed challenges.
Teams will be permitted to exercise a Coach’s Challenge at any time, but with escalating “consequences” for unsuccessful Challenges. The consequences of unsuccessful Coach’s Challenges will be made consistent across all three Categories of Coach’s Challenges: (1) minor penalty for Delaying the Game on a Club’s first unsuccessful Coach’s Challenge; and (2) double minor penalty for Delaying the Game for each additional Coach’s Challenge that is unsuccessful. -NHL Public Relations
That brings us to the Golden Knights, who do not exactly have a sterling record challenging goals.
Gerard Gallant has initiated 24 goalie interference challenges as head coach of the Golden Knights. He’s been successful in just three. He went 2 for 13 last year and 1 for 11 in 2017-18.
When the Golden Knights take the ice on October 2nd there will likely only be one change along the blue line. Out went Colin Miller and in comes the winner of the rookie defenseman battle between Jimmy Schuldt, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan.
However, the way they line up may have to change with the new makeup of the defense. With Miller in Buffalo, the Golden Knights are left with just one right-handed defenseman among the guaranteed mix. That leaves plenty of options in how Gerard Gallant and Ryan McGill will set the pairs.
Here’s an attempt to breakdown what each defenseman does best and who they might match up best with.
(Each player is listed with their best match as a partner, other options they could succeed with, and players to avoid. The match is to maximize that player’s skills, it is not necessarily to create the best pair. Other options are ranked in order from best option to worst. Players to avoid are listed in no particular order.)
Schmidt is the swiss-army knife of the Golden Knights defense. He really does it all and it allows for him to be partnered with pretty much anyone. As a mobile puck-mover, he can be paired with a stay-at-home player or he can be put with another puck-mover to create a dynamic pair. Schmidt is able to contribute offense, but he’s also one of the most reliable players the Golden Knights have in their own end. Schmidt has played on both sides, and played with Engelland and McNabb for the majority of last season. However, they have paired him with Theodore on multiple occasions, including in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s never really gone well, but there’s been a willingness to try it. Best Match: McNabb Other Options: Schuldt, Engelland, Merrill, Theodore, Hague, Whitecloud, Coghlan, Bischoff, Holden Avoid: None
The defensive stallwart, McNabb almost has to play with a skater. That being said, McNabb has really been at his best with Schmidt as his partner. Late in the year last season, they put him with Theodore, and while Shea thrived it often led to McNabb being caught in vulnerable defensive positions which was highlighted by the OT goal that ended Vegas’ season. Throughout the two year history, the Golden Knights have really only used McNabb with Theodore, Schmidt, and Engelland and one of those pairs was a nightmare. McNabb has spent the entirety of his Golden Knights career playing on the left side. Best Match: Schmidt Other Options: Theodore, Schuldt, Coghlan, Whitecloud, Hague, Avoid: Engelland, Bischoff, Merrill, Holden
Last season, Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves fought four times and was voted the victor in each by the fans. Three regular season scraps and one postseason go-around with Evander Kane was a light schedule for Reaves, who normally averages seven fights per year.
Evander Kane vs Ryan Reaves from the San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights game on Apr 14, 2019 https://t.co/u4kdnF1ev0
“I don’t think we’re ever going to boomerang back. I think we’re going to see decline, after decline, after decline, to the point now that we have new historic lows across the board in hockey fighting.”- Greg Wyshynski, ESPN NHL Reporter
Player safety has been a big reason for the drop off but it’s also becoming difficult to carry fists in a salary cap world. Love him or hate him, Reaves is unique. He has stood the test of time and is preparing for his tenth NHL season.
He’s arguably the toughest guy in the league, but the fact he can play the game and contribute that’s what makes him valuable. That’s where the game is nowadays. There were a lot of players that were pushed out, he was not one of them. Rightfully so. He can contribute to the game and not just for what we’re known for doing. -Shawn Thornton, Former NHL Player
Thornton spoke with me in late February, after the Golden Knights hosted the Florida Panthers. Overall, the retired NHL heavyweight was glad to see the decline in fighting.
In my opinion, intimidation is a part of life. When you’re in an arena that’s two hundred by eighty-five with no out of bounds, it’s amplified. I think there will always be a space in hockey. Sometimes it’s a pressure cooker and a fight will be the thing that pops the top off… but there’s no more room in the league for a one-dimensional guy, and I’m actually very okay with that. -Thornton
Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee announced the club has renewed its affiliation agreement with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets. The Komets became the official ECHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018 and are based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The organization was established as a hockey club in 1952 and open their 68th season on Saturday, Oct. 12. Under the terms of the affiliation arrangements, the Golden Knights will be able to transfer players to and from Fort Wayne during the 2019-20 season.
The Komets finished the 2018-19 season with a 36-26-4-6 overall record, the sixth straight season with at least 36 wins. The team finished third in the ECHL’s Central Division standings with 82 points and qualified for the Kelly Cup playoffs. In the playoffs, the Komets fell to the Toledo Walleye in the semifinals, 4-2.
I’m sure you remember seeing this beautiful save by former Komet and Golden Knights prospect Zach Fucale on your social media timeline.
Since the franchise joined the ECHL in 2012 the Komets are the only team to advance to the second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs each of the last six seasons and look to qualify for the seventh time in the 2019-20 season.
The NHL rink is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. An international rink is nearly identical at 197 feet long but it’s significantly wider at 98.4 feet. Those 13 feet make a major difference in how the game is played and it makes transitioning from one ice size to the other a challenge.
Over the summer I had a chance to speak to two different wingers who were used to one size and then had to suddenly swap to the other. The first was Lucas Elvenes, a Golden Knights draft pick who has played in Sweden throughout his entire career before finishing up this season with the Chicago Wolves. The second was Mark Stone, who went with Team Canada to play in the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.
Both agreed that the difference is significant and it absolutely takes some time to get used to.
It took some time to get used to for sure. I think the first game was difficult especially for us playing a good team. Being good hockey players the 20 of us figured it out pretty quick. -Mark Stone
Oh yeah, it’s a huge difference. Every time you come into the offensive zone you are close to the goal. Back home you have to work more to get a shot. -Lucas Elvenes
Where both noticed it the most was when their team had the man-advantage. Both Elvenes and Stone, while at massively different levels, play the same position on the power play. Each are set up to the goalie’s left on the half wall playing as both a shooting option as well as a pivot to move the puck out to the point or through the seem.
Power play is a lot different. You feel like you have all this time and space. If you are at the top of the circle, taking a shot from there it’s not going in. It’s just such a far shot and a bad angle. From the circles to the boards it just adds in a lot more room. -Stone
The D-Zone is always close to you, so you can’t make mistakes. The gap is tough for me because the forwards are always close to me. Plus the guys are big and like to hit.
Nikita Gusev plays the same role, but on the other side. But that’s New Jersey’s problem now.
The question is how will other Europeans in the Vegas pipeline translate on the smaller ice? Both Stone and Elvenes agreed that eventually the size difference fades and it just becomes hockey.
Newly signed Canadien Ben Chiarot was forced to defend himself this offseason, as some analysts in Montreal weren’t impressed by the acquisition. Enhanced analytics have exposed some of the limitations to Chiarot’s game. Some expressed their opinions and it didn’t sit well with the former Winnipeg Jet.
“A lot of those analytics guys sometimes I wonder if they played a game of hockey. There’s more to it than what the analytics show with a lot of players. It doesn’t always give you the full picture. That’s something new that’s kind of come up over the last couple of years is the whole analytics. And then you get all of these new hockey experts that come up when they get all of these numbers. That’s just one part of the game and one to evaluate a player.”-Ben Chiarot, Canadiens Defenseman, TSN Montreal
Colleague and friend of the site, Sheng Peng from Fear of the Fin, views the game differently than most. He’s heavily influenced by deep statistics that predict or highlight a player’s ability to create, or limit time and space. Peng never played the game but understands it well, sometimes that isn’t enough. He’s had a few confrontations with coaches and players when asking analytically focused questions. Defensive pushback can make it difficult to get the responses Peng would like.
“The challenge is figuring out which players are open to the subject. There are players who are completely resistant, players that need it framed the right way, and players who are open.”-Sheng Peng, Fear of the Fin
Former three-time Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward is involved with the next generation of NHL analysis, advanced player tracking. Ward genuinely believes player tracking will accurately evaluate strengths and weaknesses.
“Active players get lost in what the analytics say about them. You’re trying to dissect certain circumstances and understand how they react in that situation. It’s based on tendencies. As the science evolves… you’ll find new ways to break down players that maybe a benefit or a relevance for players in that role.”-Aaron Ward, TSN 690 Montreal
As much as Ward sees future improvement with chip tracking, he understands why players are sensitive to negative statistics of any kind. It’s tough for a professional athlete to recognize their inabilities.
“I think what happens is a player will come out and get an idea of how they played. When the numbers don’t fit it, and they don’t match the way you play, they immediately dismiss it.”-Aaron Ward
Ken was joined by Jesse Granger of The Athletic to chat all things Golden Knights prospects. We went through the prospect list using a few different qualifiers including NHL readiness, ceiling, and likelihood to play 100 NHL games.
2019 marked the first time in the history of the NHL that a playoff game was played following the elimination of the Vegas Golden Knights.
(It almost makes it sound cool that the Golden Knights were eliminated. No? Oh well, I tried.)
Conventional wisdom would say that once Vegas’ team was gone from the playoffs, especially with the way it happened, that the market would shut their TV’s off from the rest of the postseason. However, the proved to be far from the case.
Las Vegas ranked 9th in the country for the top markets across the entire Stanley Cup Final drawing a 4.4 rating (meaning 4.4% of Vegas households were watched the games).
Top 10 Markets across the Stanley Cup Final on NBC/NBCSN
St. Louis 28.7
Kansas City 5.6
Ft. Myers 4.5
Las Vegas 4.4
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final came in as the most watched non-Golden Knights game in city history, pulling in a 7.6 rating, also ranked 9th in the United States.
As for Golden Knights games, the ratings were incredibly impressive once again, blowing all other competing shows out of the water.