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Golden Knights Defensemen Power Rankings

Brannstrom is on his way to forcing McPhee and Gallant into keeping him around. (Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

We are now over a week into training camp and have seen a pair of preseason games in which 32 different skaters have taken the ice for the Golden Knights. The impending suspension of Nate Schmidt and the possibility of Shea Theodore missing games with the contract negotiations has the blue line wide open heading into October 4th.

I like carrying eight defensemen and we’ve done it because some of the young guys weren’t really ready to be called up, so we wanted to carry eight. We’re carrying eight again next year. The good news is, we’ve got guys that can be called up this year. -George McPhee

Of course, there are still nearly three weeks of practice and six preseason games to sort it all out, but let’s take a look at how we think it shakes out as we speak.

This is a ranking of each defenseman in the Golden Knights system by the current level of play. This does not take into account things like suspension, holdout, waiver exempt status, contract, or likelihood to make the roster. These are my rankings, not necessarily how I believe the team would rank the players. (Nonetheless, admittedly, a lot of my beliefs come from decisions made by the front office and coaching staff on players.)

1) Nate Schmidt

Nate is in a class of his own on the Golden Knights blue line. He’s the only player currently even close to being considered a 1A defenseman, and even that can be debated either way. However, with the suspension, he’s unavailable for 20 games, so he won’t be an option for the Golden Knights come October 4th.

2) Brayden McNabb

Looking back on the contract, McNabb was an absolute steal for George McPhee. With Schmidt’s absence, McNabb will step into the role as the Golden Knights top defenseman. He’ll be relied upon to stop the opposing teams’ best players night in and night out for the first month and a half and will be the key penalty-killing defenseman as well. McNabb is much maligned at times, but the guy is a legit high-end shutdown defenseman and when paired with the right player, he and his partner can shine.

3) Colin Miller

Yes, Miller is rated above Theodore, and not because Theodore is not in camp, but because Miller is the more complete player at this moment. Give it a few years and Theodore will probably soar past him, but right now Miller has become acceptable (and probably even more than that) in his own end and he’s an absolute weapon in the offensive zone. He boasts the hardest shot on the team and he’s bound to have a mega offensive season playing a much more prominent role than a year ago.

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

It’s the obvious question to ask following the stunning news of Nate Schmidt’s 20 game suspension, what now? It gets even worse when you consider the possibility of Shea Theodore missing games, but for the purpose of this article (and because this isn’t the time of year for doom and gloom), we’re going to assume Theodore is on the ice on October 4th.

According to offseason quotes by George McPhee, the Golden Knights are expected to keep eight defensemen on the roster out of training camp. With Schmidt out, the roster has a total of 15 available players to fill those eight spots. Five names can probably be safely cast aside as longshots to make the roster (Zac Leslie, Dylan Coghlan, Jimmy Oligny, Jake Bischoff, and Nic Hague) leaving 10 players to fill the eight places.

Don’t be surprised if Gallant leans heavily on Engelland with Schmidt out. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It really comes down to Brad Hunt, Jon Merrill, Griffin Reinhart, Zach Whitecloud, and Erik Brannstrom fighting for three spots and one starting role. The odds on favorites are Hunt and Merrill with them splitting time as the six starter spot to go along with Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Shea Theodore, and Nick Holden.

Engelland and Miller are the only two right-handed defensemen of the group of five highly likely to crack the starting lineup, but Holden has played most of his career on the right side. Thus, in theory, there are the beginnings of each of the three pairs.

That leaves Theodore, McNabb, and Hunt/Merrill as each’s partner. Last year Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant used both Theodore and McNabb with Engelland quite a bit. Assuming he returns to those familiar pairings, we’re left with four potential sets of pairings.

Option A
McNabb-Engelland
Theodore-Holden
Merrill/Hunt-Miller

Option B
McNabb-Engelland
Theodore-Miller
Merrill/Hunt-Holden

Option C
Theodore-Engelland
McNabb-Miller
Merrill/Hunt-Holden

Option D
Theodore-Engelland
McNabb-Holden
Merrill/Hunt-Miller

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Blueline Needs To Chip In To Replace Departed Offense

Theodore scored the first playoff goal in team history. Might need a lot more of that in Year 2. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When you think of scoring and the Golden Knights, rarely do names like Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, or even Shea Theodore come to mind. Aside from the occasional Colin Miller blast, the Golden Knights weren’t exactly known for offensive from the blueline. Last season, Golden Knights defensemen scored 37 goals. Good enough for 18th most in the NHL.

Nashville: 56 Goals
Columbus: 51 Goals
Arizona: 50 Goals
Philadelphia: 50 Goals
Tampa Bay: 48 Goals
Florida: 44 Goals
Anaheim: 42 Goals
Minnesota: 42 Goals
St. Louis: 42 Goals
Colorado: 41 Goals
*18. Vegas: 37 Goals

Thankfully, the Golden Knights never needed to rely on blueline scoring. However, more output would help the team return to the playoffs. Colin Miller led all Vegas blueliners with 10 goals and 41 points. He was handsomely rewarded with a new $15M contract extension.

As it stands right now, Vegas defensemen are projected to score around 40 goals in 2018-19. Not far off from last season’s totals.

2017-18 VGK Defensive Scoring
Colin Miller: 10G, 31A
Nate Schmidt: 5G, 31A
Shea Theodore: 6G, 23A
Deryk Engelland: 5G, 18A
Brad Hunt: 3G, 15A
Brayden McNabb: 5G, 10A
Luca Sbisa: 2G, 12A
Jon Merrill: 1G, 2A
Totals: 37 Goals, 142 Assists, 179 Points

When you subtract Luca Sbisa’s contribution and add Nick Holden’s offense, it’s a virtual wash.

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Arbitration For Golden Knights: Good? Bad? Neither?

All three of… (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights made “news” yesterday by confirming William Karlsson, Colin Miller, and Tomas Nosek have all filed for arbitration. In reality, this isn’t really news at all. However, based on the wide range of reactions we received on Twitter, Facebook, and face-to-face, it feels like a good time to explain how this all works and why the three Golden Knights filing for arbitration is not a good or bad thing for either the player or the team.

In the NHL, when a player reaches the end of a contract they are placed into one of three categories.

  1. Unrestricted free agent (UFA)
    • Any player 27 years old or older
    • Any player with 7 seasons in the NHL
  2. Restricted free agent with arbitration rights (RFA)
    • Younger than 27 years old
    • Meets experience requirement based on age when signed first contract. (10 NHL or AHL games = 1 year)
      • 24-27 years old when signed = 1 year of NHL experience
      • 22-23 years old when signed = 2 years of NHL experience
      • 21 years old when signed = 3 years of NHL experience
      • 18-20 years old when signed = 4 years of NHL experience
  3. Restricted free agent (RFA)

James Neal, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, and Ryan Reaves were all older than 27, so they all became UFA’s.

William Karlsson -20 y/o when signed + 5 years experience = RFA w/ arb
Colin Miller -20 y/o when signed + 5 years experience = RFA w/ arb
Tomas Nosek -22 y/o when signed + 4 years experience = RFA w/ arb
Shea Theodore -20 y/o when signed + 3 years experience = RFA
William Carrier – 20 y/o when signed + 3 years experience = RFA

…these guys scored pretty… (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

That brings us to the difference between the three categories. In short, the difference is how much freedom a player has to negotiate.

An unrestricted free agent (UFA), as the name suggests, has no restrictions. He can solicit offers from all teams and can sign with whichever one he pleases.

A restricted free agent (RFA) on the other hand can only negotiate with his current team and is not free to leave for a new team. If the team wants to retain the player, he will be extended a “qualifying offer” and must sign it if he would like to remain in the NHL. If the team does not extend the qualifying offer he then becomes a UFA and is free to sign with any team.

(The Golden Knights offered qualifying offers to all of their RFAs. William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek, William Carrier, Colin Miller, Shea Theodore, Teemu Pulkkinen, Philip Holm, Oscar Dansk)

An RFA with arbitration rights has one more step in leveraging a better contract. Rather than being forced to sign the qualifying offer, he can choose to file for arbitration. In other words, he can ask for a raise.

So, let’s go through the steps of the process for RFA’s without arbitration rights, like Theodore and Carrier.

  • Step 1: Team decides if they want to retain each player
    • If yes: Extend qualifying offer
    • If no: Do not extend qualifying offer (Player is released)
  • Step 2: Player signs qualifying offer

That’s it. The player has no negotiating power and is essentially stuck signing the offer. The dollar value of a qualifying offer is determined by the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The team hands the player a contract and their either sign it or leave the NHL.

The process for RFA’s with arbitration rights, like Karlsson, Miller, and Nosek adds one more step, giving the player that bit of negotiating power. Rather than being forced to sign the qualifying offer, the player can file for arbitration. Arbitration means both sides will present how much they believe the player is worth and then a third party will decide the contract the team and player will sign. Of course, the player must remain with their original team, so the negotiating power is significantly less than that of a UFA who can negotiate with all teams.

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Offseason Outlook: Defensemen

Through the course of the playoffs, the surprise unit for the Golden Knights were the defensemen. They completely shut down the Kings, they stifled the Sharks, and they bent but didn’t break against the Jets. Then, in the Stanley Cup Final, it kind of fell apart for the Vegas blueliners.

So, as we head into the offseason the burning question for George McPhee and the Golden Knights front office is whether or not they need to add to bolster their defense or of the missing piece is already on the roster.

Here’s a look at who the Golden Knights currently have under their control.

Nate looks like he’s become a star in the NHL. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Established and Signed
Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt

While this list contains 310 games played and three players who played all 20 playoff games, there are really only two fully reliable options as full-time starters moving into 2018-19. McNabb and Schmidt are expected to be stalwarts on the Golden Knights blue line this season and moving forward. They may not be paired together again next season, but they’ll certainly be in the top four.

Engelland is a bit of a mystery as he probably had the best season of his career at the age of 35. The question is can he continue playing at that consistent level as he heads into the final few seasons of his career.

Then there are Merrill and Hunt. Hunt is a player that’s bounced around the NHL and AHL and has never really gotten a full-time shot to prove himself. The reason for that is because he’s a bit of a liability defensively due to his size. He’ll have to play well in camp once again to make the roster, but even if he doesn’t, Hunt will be a good option in the event that a puck-moving defenseman becomes unavailable during the season. Merrill is a bit of a different story as he’s more of a defensive-minded player but has the ability to pinch in and help out offensively. The Golden Knights signed Merrill to an extension last season which indicates they believe in him, but it’s still not probable that he’s a 60+ game defenseman next season.

Established and under VGK control
Colin Miller, Shea Theodore

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Revisiting Erik Karlsson To Vegas Rumors

Erik Karlsson needs out of Ottawa, this is clear.

No matter what comes out of this really sad situation, the damage is done. Karlsson can’t trust the Senators front office after covering up harassment allegations.

It’s time for the Swede, his wife, and the Senators to move on. Possibly, starting with one of the teams that wanted the Superstar defenseman at the deadline.

Various reasons were reported why the Karlsson flip didn’t happen. In Ottawa, the belief was the Golden Knights wouldn’t take on Sens forward Bobby Ryan’s contract. The once 35 goal scorer has four years left at a whopping $7.25M per season. Ryan scored 30+ in four straight seasons, he’s greatly underachieved since combining for 64 goals in the past four seasons. I understand George McPhee’s hesitations. -Elliotte Friedman

On Karlsson, my sense is the Vegas trade fell apart because of how the purchase price would be adjusted by Bobby Ryan’s inclusion. I’m not 100 per cent sure if it was Ottawa’s ask or Vegas’s offer, but one of the rumblings is that the teams were talking two first-rounders, a high-level prospect and a conditional pick for Karlsson — the condition being whether or not the Golden Knights re-signed him. Whatever the case, it didn’t happen and I can’t imagine Vegas would have been willing to do all that if they were taking Ryan’s contract, too. -Friedman

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“Not Everyone Will Be Back”; A Look Into VGK’s Free Agency Situation (Plus 9 Predictions)

Reading between the lines, either Neal or Perron likely won’t be back. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights were close to the ultimate goal, but in the end, they fell three wins short. So, they now head to the offseason with a plan in mind, make the team three wins better than they were a year ago.

There are plenty of decisions to be made with the roster as currently constructed and oodles of cap space available to bring in outside help.

The reality is in a salary cap world you have to make some tough decisions, and with this team, not everyone will be back. We’ve all learned lessons over the years, if you examine what happens in the salary cap world you have to be smart about what you do and the contracts you hand out or it hurts your team. We’ll do our best to keep this group together but there are always three or four changes. -George McPhee

The Golden Knights have four major unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) which are set to hit the open market on July 1st. They are James Neal, David Perron, Ryan Reaves, and Luca Sbisa. Also, Maxime Lagace, Jason Garrison, Brandon Pirri, Mikhail Grabovski, Clayton Stoner, Chris Casto, and Paul Thompson will become UFA’s in 20 days.

It doesn’t matter where in the lineup, you have to be smart about what you do. -McPhee

Then there are the restricted free agents (RFA’s) of which the Golden Knights have plenty. The most notable is William Karlsson. In short, Karlsson is not going anywhere. Unless something unprecedented happens, he’ll absolutely remain the first line center for Vegas next season. However, the projections on his contract are all over the map.

Technically, the Golden Knights only have to extend a “qualifying offer” to Karlsson of $1 million. This will happen soon and then Karlsson and his agent will request arbitration. An arbitration date will be set sometime in late July to early August. That will basically be the deadline for the Golden Knights and Karlsson to reach a long-term extension.

Tomas Nosek, Colin Miller, Oscar Dansk, Teemu Pulkkinen, Stefan Matteau, and Philip Holm are also all arbitration eligible and would follow the same process.

Finally, there are the two younger players who are RFA’s in Shea Theodore and William Carrier. Due to their age, neither are arbitration eligible. Thus, the Golden Knights can simply extend them a qualifying offer (Theodore -$874,125, Carrier – $787,500) and the player will have to sign it and remain with the team through next season. However, especially with a player like Theodore, this offseason may be a good time to lock him up long-term before he gets arbitration rights and has more negotiating power. The two sides can come to an agreement on a long-term deal at any time.

That brings us to the magical world of unrestricted free agency which opens on July 1st. Names like John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, and John Carlson will be thrown around with basically every team that has cap space. The Golden Knights have plenty of cap space so get used to seeing the big names linked to Vegas, but the Golden Knights also have a GM that’s historically not a big spender in free agency.

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Golden Knights Weren’t Just Off In The First Eight Minutes

Wonder if Gallant makes any changes to the lineup. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

NBC announcers Joe Micheletti and Pierre McGuire used words like panic, upset and frustrated to describe the Golden Knights in Game 1. In the first period, Micheletti even said “Winnipeg is the quicker team” and he wasn’t wrong, at that time. The Jets deserve a ton of credit jumping on Vegas early and winning the series opener.

However, outside of the first twenty minutes of play, the final numbers tell a different story. The Golden Knights average game stats were all out of whack but can take away some positives.

Shots on goal
VGK – 21
WPG – 26

  • Vegas tied their lowest SOG total over the entire regular season and postseason
  • First game this season without a shot from Erik Haula, Colin Miller, James Neal and David Perron
  • First game since 2/21 (loss at Wild) that James Neal failed to register a shot on net
  • Colin Miller now has four postseason games without a shot on net
  • David Perron has three postseason games without a shot on net

Giveaways
VGK – 11
WPG – 14

  • Third highest total of giveaways in a playoff
  • Vegas is 1-3 when they turn the puck over 10+ times in a game

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Rest And Relaxation; What To Do With These Final Three Games

“You’ve got to trust your players.” -Gallant on resting guys down the stretch (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have clinched a playoff berth and they’ve won the Pacific Division. With that comes a guarantee of home-ice in the first two series with just the Western Conference and Stanley Cup Finals seeding up for grabs.

Vegas currently sits second in the Western Conference and fourth in the NHL. They likely aren’t catching Nashville, Boston, or Tampa, and only have to fend off Winnipeg to hang on to the fourth position. However, even if Winnipeg passes the Golden Knights, the only impact it could have is if those two teams face in the Western Conference Finals. So, the Golden Knight essentially have three games that mean little to nothing in the scope of the season.

You’ve got stay fresh, you’ve got to make sure you are ready to go. It’s been a long season for some guys and we’ve had some maintenance days and that’s all part of the business going through. You trust your players to do the right things. Some guys need some practice and need some jump and some guys need some days off. -Gerard Gallant

The Golden Knights have multiple injured players, Reilly Smith, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, and David Perron that could use the games to get back into game form. They have a college free agent in Zach Whitecloud who has never hit the NHL ice, and they have 11 players who have played in 70 or more games this season.

 GPTOIATOI
Colin Miller79153019:22
William Karlsson79147818:42
Cody Eakin78112614:26
Deryk Engelland76154020:16
Jonathan Marchessault76133317:33
Nate Schmidt75166722:14
Alex Tuch75113615:09
Erik Haula74128917:25
Brayden McNabb73146720:06
David Perron70124717:49
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare7085712:15

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Depth Scoring Major Factor In VGK Offensive Success

There are many reasons for the Golden Knights offensive success. Let’s start with the number of Vegas players having career years (it’s basically all of them). Secondly, younger players are quickly blossoming with more ice time and room to grow (see Karlsson, Tuch, Haula, Theodore, Schmidt, Miller, etc). Lastly, the Golden Knights are one of few teams getting help from their bottom six forwards, something we call “depth scoring.”

The goals aren’t all coming from Wild Bill, and that’s one of the big reasons why this team is good. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In 48 games, Vegas has scored the third most goals (162) this season. Even more impressive is VGK’s (3.38) goals per game, which is also ranked third behind Tampa Bay (3.53) and the NY Islanders (3.39).

All Star coach Gerard Gallant is blessed to have the depth scoring his team has. Nine Golden Knights have more than 20 points. Only nine other NHL teams can claim that.

NY Rangers (11) Players
Nashville: (10) Players
Tampa: (10) Players
Toronto: (10) Players
Winnipeg: (10) Players
Vegas: (9) Players
Boston: (9) Players
Dallas: (9) Players
San Jose: (9) Players

To go even deeper, the Golden Knights have 16 players with 10+ Points. Only Chicago, Colorado, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Toronto, Washington, and Winnipeg can claim that.

Of course, we’re all aware of the offensive success from their top two lines. Erik Haula, James Neal and David Perron have done their job scoring 50 this season. VGK’s second top trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith have totaled a remarkable 56 goals. The other 56 tallies were scored by defensemen and bottom line forwards.

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