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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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Brad Hunt + Colin Miller = Power Play Goals

Here at SinBin.vegas we’ve purposely shied away from freaking out about the disastrous Golden Knights power play over the last month or so. The reason behind our hesitancy was the simple fact that it wasn’t affecting whether or not Vegas would win the game. However, over the past two games, things have changed in the results column, but seemingly not much changed on the ice.

Hunt said he was so excited after his goal that he almost fell celebrating. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights were 0 for 19 with a man advantage from January 4th to the 19th. They were 1 for 32 if you go back to December 23rd. Then over the past two games, Vegas struck four times in seven opportunities. Among those four goals, Brad Hunt has one goal and two assists and Colin Miller has one goal and one assist. That’s five points on the power play between two players.

The eye test told me that Hunt’s return to the ice was sparking Miller’s offense, as well as the rest of the Golden Knights. However, upon a deeper dive into the numbers, the Hunt-effect has really only been seen when Vegas is a man up. But when Hunt is on the ice during the power play, boy does it make a difference. Look.

  • Colin Miller has played 67:07 of power play time without Brad Hunt. In that time, the Golden Knights have scored 3 goals on 53 shots.
    • Goal every 22:21
    • 0.79 shots per minute
  • Colin Miller has played 60:09 of power play time with Brad Hunt. In that time, the Golden Knights have scored 9 goals on 61 shots.
    • Goal every 6:41
    • 1.01 shots per minute
  • The Golden Knights have played 129:41 of power play time with neither Miller nor Hunt on the ice. In that time, they scored 12 times on 104 shots.
    • Goal every 10:49
    • 0.80 shots per minute

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Gerard Gallant: In-Game Line Switcher

I like you, I just don’t like playing with you. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the course of the first 13 games of the season, the Golden Knights set their lines and ran with them during a game. Barring special teams or injury, the four forward lines and three defensive pairings stayed the game all 60 minutes of the game.

That was until Monday night in Toronto.

After a rough 1st period in which Vegas let in three goals and got destroyed in possession, Gallant had seen enough from two of his defensive pairings and decided to switch it up.

The original pairings were Nate Schmidt/Luca Sbisa, Deryk Engelland/Brayden McNabb, and Shea Theodore/Colin Miller. He stuck with Schmidt/Sbisa throughout the entire game, but after an early 2nd period penalty, McNabb and Theodore were switched.

From that moment on, the Golden Knights outscored the Maple Leafs 2-0, outshot them 11-7 at even strength, and seemed to control the action for the remainder of the game. When all was said and done with the game, McNabb played more minutes with Miller than he did Engelland, and from the naked eye, both “new” defensive pairings were better than the original ones.

The Engelland goal was created by a Theodore stretch pass (and a terrible Toronto line change). Miller and McNabb had a 70% Corsi For Percentage and were on the ice together for one of the three Golden Knights goals, and Shea Theodore probably played his best game as a Golden Knight with his new linemate.

When Vegas is at it’s best, they are playing a much more offensive style game. They create turnovers through forechecking and in the neutral zone and then quickly make things happen in the offensive zone (see the gif above). When Engelland’s playing with Theodore, Miller with McNabb, and Schmidt with Sbisa, the Golden Knights always have a defenseman on the ice that has offensive capability. It allows them to play the style of game that’s worked at all times rather than really going for it with one pairing and backing off with another.

The switch may have been made because of the score, but the results were staggering. Right back at it tonight, keep your eyes peeled on how Gallant lines em up to start the game. I have a feeling we’ve seen the end of 3/5 and 6/27… cause 3/6 and 5/27 are much better. It just took a little while longer to figure it out than it should have.

Golden Knights/Bruins Storyline Round Up

Hey Subbs, want to go dominate these bums that let us go? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Miller and Subban Get Even

After the 3–1 victory over Boston, the first guy to congratulate and hug Malcolm Subban was defenseman Colin Miller. Former teammates in Boston and Providence, beating their previous organization must’ve been a great feeling for both.

Regardless of who it is against, we’re just trying to get the win. It’s our former team but we’re not out to get anyone. We’re just trying to focus and play our game. I think he (Miller) was more happy that I got my first win. – Malcolm Subban

Watch the end of the game, it’s clear Subban and Miller were pumped to win. You could tell from the start, the defenseman was amped, and up for the challenge. Miller unloaded 8 shot attempts, and 3 shots on net. He played 18:25 of TOI, on 26 shifts.

“Fourth” Line Effort

They may not get the same attention, but the Golden Knights fourth line deserves just as much as the first line. I should stop calling Pierre-Eduard Bellemare, William Carrier, and Tomas Nosek the fourth line. Gerard Gallant told us at his postgame press conference that he doesn’t count his lines. He would say he’s continuously been impressed by the line that plays the least.

They worked their asses off and competed hard and played hard. That’s what they do every night. I really like them. They’re a solid line. They aren’t going to score a lot of goals, but they do the right thing most times. -Gerard Gallant

Doing the right thing includes, winning face offs, blocking shots, penalty killing, breaking up plays, and getting pucks on net. That’s exactly what this line is doing. Bellemare won a total of 7 draws (64%) and in the defensive zone, Belly went 3 for 5 (60%) on faceoffs. Carrier played physical and added body checks, blocked shots and takeaways. Plus, he got pucks on net creating pressure on Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Tossed out centers

On Sunday, five different Golden Knights (Eakin, Perron, Lindberg, Karlsson, Bellemare) were thrown out of the faceoff circle by an official. In one sequence, the refs tossed Cody Eakin and David Perron on the same draw leading to a two-minute delay of game penalty. Eakin and Perron’s linemate James Neal was obviously frustrated and pleaded to the ref. Ultimately, Perron went on to serve the two-minute minor. Center William Karlsson also had faceoff frustrations after being thrown out and having another official overrule the other.

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Colin Out To Prove Boston Exposed The Wrong Miller

We like this Miller better anyways. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Cody Eakin and Tomas Nosek have been through it, and now it’s Colin Miller’s turn to play against his old teammates.

Yeah it should be fun. I’m looking forward to playing that game for sure. I think every guy that came from whatever organization looks forward to playing their old team. -Colin Miller

In June, Vegas happily plucked Miller from the Bruin’s unprotected list. The 24-year-old played 103 games for Boston averaging 15:48 of TOI per game, and totaling 29 points. He was mostly paired with Boston defenseman Kevan Miller, who most fans thought should’ve been exposed by Bruins management.

Fellow restricted free agent Colin Miller has top-four potential, and thus efforts to retain his services should have taken precedence over the efforts to keep the less talented (Kevan) Miller. -Stanley Cup of Chowder

Boston’s front office decided against making a pre-expansion deal with George McPhee and ended up exposing Colin Miller. As for the Golden Knights, they were ecstatic to attain a young, right-handed defenseman with a world of talent. The type of player no general manager wants to lose.

You knew they had targeted three players on our team that we felt they would target, and unfortunately we’re losing a good, young player… We thought highly of Colin. He was part of a big trade for us and we wish him well moving forward. We thank for him doing his part with the organization. We lost a good player. -Don Sweeney, Bruins GM

Both sides will agree, Miller is a very skilled defenseman and hasn’t hit his NHL potential yet. The Bruins were incredibly happy to receive Miller in a trade that sent Milan Lucic to Los Angeles. However, under former Bruins coach Claude Julien, Miller’s shifts and minutes fluctuated and was even a healthy scratch on a few occasions. Once Bruce Cassidy took over, Miller’s opportunities increased.

I don’t think it’s anything personal, but you know, I think everyone plays with a chip on their shoulder. They want to prove their worth. -Miller

The bottom line is Miller and the Golden Knights are happy with the end result. Now, five games into the season, Corsi Colin will get a chance to remind Boston of their bad decision. Expect a strong game from the former B’s defenseman. Miller is aware Boston made a mistake, he’s just too nice of a guy to say so. Maybe VGK fans can remind the Bruins for him. Heck, I’ll even join in on the chant. “Thanks for Colin. Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.”

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