Heading into the offseason the Golden Knights had the plan of being aggressive. They wanted to use their cap space to improve the team in any way possible. That started by going out on July 1st and signing one of the biggest names available on the market, Paul Stastny. The Golden Knights also brought back Ryan Reaves and added defenseman Nick Holden. They entered the offseason with somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million of cap space available, they now sit with just under $19. Plenty to make one more highly aggressive move.
We used (the cap space) really effectively on a lot of players and a lot of picks. Right now, we’re sitting here with a pretty good team and we haven’t used any of our draft picks this summer. We have them all. We’ve been talking trade with some teams, but that requires young players and picks but we haven’t moved any of them. -George McPhee
Reading between the lines, the name Erik Karlsson is in there somewhere, but until that deal gets done, the offseason still feels incomplete.
We’re sitting there trying to decide. Again, we kept our young assets, all of our draft picks, and we’re trying to decide: do we make another move now or not? Is the right move there or not? I’ll have to decide that in the next few weeks. -McPhee
McPhee’s words sure sound like he’s in the market for something else, but his actions speak even louder than his words.The Golden Knights stand with 43 active player contracts and according to CapFriendly.com, $18,750,000 in projected cap space left.
If Erik Karlsson ($6.5M AAV) and Bobby Ryan ($7.25M AAV) are added for nothing but picks, that would eat up a total of $13.75 million in cap space, leaving the Golden Knights with $5 million to hand out. That’s $5 million to distribute among William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, Shea Theodore, and Colin Miller. Quite simply, it’s not enough.
However, the Golden Knights still have a player in David Clarkson who is eligible for long-term injured reserve (LTIR) which could potentially free up another $5 million or so. That’s now $10 million for the remaining five RFA’s.
The deal for Erik Karlsson likely would include at least one NHL piece though, which frees up even more cap space. In other words, the numbers add up perfectly for this deal to get done.
But what if it doesn’t? What does the plan look like then?
For starters, still with a really good hockey team. Last year was special, no one is debating that, but Vegas still has a great top line, an elite goaltender, a ton of center depth, a really good fourth line, multiple scoring options, and a defense that was good until the final five games of the playoffs. Of course they’d be better with Erik Karlsson, but the cupboard isn’t barren without him.
The Golden Knights would likely enter the season somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million under the salary cap. If Erik Karlsson stays in Ottawa, the Golden Knights would likely want to keep that space open so they can make the deal happen at any point. But, if Karlsson ends up in Tampa Bay, New York, or anywhere else, the cap space becomes wasteful in 2018-19. So, the focus would likely shift elsewhere.
Could it go towards pending UFAs in a deadline rental deal? Max Pacioretty, Tyler Seguin, Wayne Simmonds, and Blake Wheeler would all fit the bill there, but the price would likely be steep if any are even available at all.
Or, would McPhee look to poach off some of the more cap-strapped teams. Chicago is pushing up against the number and if they have a season like 2017-18, maybe they’d be willing to do business. Pittsburgh, Boston, and Tampa Bay were all great teams last season, but if things head south they could be open to making moves as well.
The answer to “what if it’s not Erik Karlsson?” is an unanswerable one at this moment, even for the reigning GM of the Year.
That’s why the Karlsson deal is so crucial to the offseason plans. This is not to say if the deal doesn’t happen the offseason was a failure, but it would be left somewhat incomplete, and Plan B isn’t a quick solution. The New York Islanders missed out on John Tavares, so they turned their attention to Erik Karlsson. Vegas doesn’t have that type of fallback plan.
However, cap space is a major asset in the current state of the NHL, and having it, plus a good team, keeps the Golden Knights in a powerful position heading into 2018-19.
Based on everything we’ve heard plus the actions in free agency, my sense is still that Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan will become Golden Knights before training camp gets underway, but even if they don’t, George McPhee remains in a great spot. All the eggs may seem like they’re in the Karlsson/Ryan basket, and that might be Plan A, but if it doesn’t happen, it won’t be a time to panic, it’ll be a time to figure out what’s next.