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Pick A Pair: The Best D-Pair Match For Every VGK Defenseman

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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.)

Nate Schmidt

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

Brayden McNabb

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

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Is Fighting In Hockey Almost Extinct?

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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.

So, is it a sign Reaves is bored of whooping every opponent’s ass? Or is it just a continuation of the steady decline of fighting in the NHL? ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski examined it further.

“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

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Will Deryk Engelland’s Role Be Reduced in 2019-2020?

Now that the wait is over and fan favorite Deryk Engelland signed his new contract to stay in Las Vegas, it’s time to discuss his future impact. First off, let’s note that Engelland will receive less money in 2019-2020 but will have a chance to make up for it.

At 37-years-old you’d assume his overall presence would begin to drop off. After all, his time on ice dwindled from 20:17 ATOI in 2017-18, to 19:53 ATOI in 2018-19. I’m being sarcastic, that’s not much of a difference. Same can be said for his penalty kill minutes, it’s virtually equal to VGK’s first season and I could argue he was as good if not better in 2018-19.

Just take a look at Engelland’s 2019 Postseason penalty killing performance.

Game 1: 4:26 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/5 San Jose Power Plays

Game 2: 9:19 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/8 San Jose Power Plays

Game 3: 4:16 PK Minutes (Team Leader), 1 Goal/3 Power Plays

Game 4: 4:31 PK Minutes, 0 Goals/4 San Jose Power Plays

Game 5: 3:15 PK Minutes (Game Leader), 1 Goal/3 San Jose Power Plays

Game 6: 2:45 PK Minutes, 0 Goals/2 San Jose Power Plays

Game 7: 7:56 PK Minutes (Game Leader), *4 Goals/9 San Jose Power Plays

Total: 36:28 PK Minutes, 5 Goals/34 Power Plays, 0.13 San Jose PPG when Engelland was on the ice.

*You all know why there’s an asterisk

So just on defensive special teams alone, Engelland’s return is a positive one. However, the issue could be on even-strength. How will the Golden Knights coaching staff deploy the elder statesmen this season? Is it possible Jon Merrill, Nick Holden(if still on the roster), or Rookie d-men see more time on 5v5 than in 2018-19. That direction would balance Engelland’s minutes under 18-19 minutes a game. Which could be more beneficial for the team.

A big part of my game is killing penalties-Deryk Engelland

Another element to Engelland’s 2019-2020 usage will be who he is paired up with. Over the past two seasons, it’s been a consistent dose of Engelland and Shea Theodore. I’d assume with the uncertainty of the younger defenseman, that pairing would remain the same to start training camp and the season. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, and frankly I don’t think it will. With the possibility of a rookie in the lineup nightly, Vegas may want to break in the young blueliner with an experienced, reliable defenseman like Engelland. It worked for Theodore.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In a perfect world, Engelland would see less even-strength minutes and continue to be a rock on the penalty kill. Keep in mind the Golden Knights paid him less money to stay which could be a sign the organization sees Engelland playing a lesser role this season. Or it’s just another shrewd business move by the front office.

Either way, subtracting 5v5 minutes means fresher legs on the PK. It’s an easy, obvious approach to distribute minutes and get the most out of the 37-year-old in 2019-2020. It’s almost too obvious if a half-wit like me can figure it out. Clearly he’s valued and trusted on the ice by the coaching staff which would lead you to believe they expect the same #5 out there. And how can you fault them after two successful seasons with Vegas?

Golden Knights Re-Sign Deryk Engelland, Trade David Clarkson And 4th Round Pick For Garrett Sparks

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George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon have awoken from their summer slumber to complete to transactions and pave the way for more in the future.

First, the Golden Knights traded David Clarkson’s contract and a 4th Round pick in 2020 for goalie Garret Sparks.

The benefits for the Golden Knights are minimal as Vegas could have simply placed Clarkson on LTIR, but they do gain a bit of flexibility which they would not have had if they had kept Clarkson’s contract on the books.

The other move was re-signing Deryk Engelland to a one-year contract worth $700,000. The contract includes performance bonuses which could allow him to earn up to $1.5 million total.

(To our knowledge) Without moving Clarkson, those performance bonuses would have been counted against the Golden Knights salary cap whether Engelland reached them or not, but without Clarkson, and thus Vegas NOT using LTIR, they can be pushed to 2020-21 in the event he reaches them and the Golden Knights cannot afford them.

Next, how does this affect the elephant in the room?

Finally, Garret Sparks is an AHL level goalie who has been in the Toronto system since 2013. In 2017-18 he was named the best goalie in the AHL as the Toronto Marlies went on to win the Calder Cup. He recorded the best save percentage in the league that season as well at .936.

Last season, Sparks stayed with the NHL club throughout. He played 20 games and posted a 3.15 GAA and a .902 SV%.

Sparks is on a one-way one-year contract worth $750,000.

2019 VGK Free Agency Tracker

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  • Brandon Pirri has re-signed with the Golden Knights. Two-year deal at $775,000 AAV. (Source: SinBin.vegas)
  • Deryk Engelland is set to sign a one-year deal to remain with the Golden Knights. (Source: @TheFourthPeriod)
  • Golden Knights sign Patrick Brown to a two-year deal. The first year is a two-way deal at $700,000 NHL value. The second year is a one-way deal also at $700,000.(Source: @DarrenDreger)
    • Brown was the captain of the Calder Cup winning Charlotte Checkers.
  • Vegas has signed Tyrell Goulbourne to a two-way contract with an NHL minimum value. (Source: @PuckPediaPuckPedia)
  • Ryan Carpenter has signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for three years at $1 million AAV. (Source: @ChrisKuc)
  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare signs with the Colorado Avalanche for two-years at $1.8M AAV. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • Max Lagace will sign with the Boston Bruins on a two-way deal with an NHL value of $700,000. (Source: @renlavoietva)
  • Nikita Gusev and Jimmy Schuldt are NOT eligible for offer sheets per the NHL’s official free agency list. (Source: SinBin.vegas)
  • The Golden Knights did not extend a qualifying offer to Tomas Nosek. He becomes an unrestricted free agent. However, George McPhee confirmed they are close to reaching a deal. (Source: SinBin.vegas)
    • Nosek has been signed for one-year at $1 million.
  • Daniel Carr is signing with the Nashville Predators. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • Zach Fucale signed an AHL deal with the Syracuse Crunch. (Source: @SyracuseCrunch)
  • Tyler Wong is headed to the KHL. (Source: @KRSchina)
  • T.J. Tynan signed with the Colorado Avalanche (Source: @renlavoietva)
  • Brad Hunt has re-signed with the Minnesota Wild for two-years at $700,000 AAV. (Source: @RussoHockey)
  • Brendan Leipsic has signed with the Washington Capitals. (Source: @@ikhurshudyan)
  • Golden Knights Expansion Draft pick Calvin Pickard is expected to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. (Source: @frank_seravalli)

The Free Agency Tracker is brought to you by Adam S. Kutner and Associates, the best Las Vegas personal injury attorney.

Vegas Golden Knights Top NHL In Jersey Sales

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The Golden Knights weren’t able to repeat as Western Conference Champions (#NotAMajor), but they were able to successfully defend another title in year 2018-19.

For the second straight year, the Golden Knights sold the most jerseys in the NHL according to CMO Brian Killingsworth.

In Year 1, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the expansion team would top the list as literally every fan had to buy a new jersey. But to keep it up in Year 2 is quite the achievement.

The Golden Knights also topped the NHL in sales per cap (measured by fans/attendance) at in-arena team stores. And, Killingsworth confirmed during the 2018 playoff run people from over 110 countries bought Golden Knights apparel.

Marc-Andre Fleury finished atop the list of Golden Knights players for most jerseys sold and ranked 3rd behind Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

The top five Golden Knights jerseys sold were:

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury
  2. William Karlsson
  3. Alex Tuch
  4. Max Pacioretty
  5. Deryk Engelland

Killingsworth noted that Mark Stone made a strong push towards the top five in the few months following the trade deadline but didn’t quite crack the top five.

All in all, another year of dominance in the apparel market for the Golden Knights. It will be challenging to repeat as champs again in Years 3 and 4, and even tougher in Year 5 with the Seattle expansion franchise coming in, but if any city can do it, it’s Vegas.

(Stick tap to Alan Snel from LVSportsBiz. Check out his hour-long interview with VGK CMO Brian Killingsworth.)

Engelland: “My Goal Is To Play At Least Another Couple Of Years”

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Deryk Engelland isn’t ready to call it a career in the NHL. After playing 79 and 74 games (plus 27 playoff games) the last two years, the 37-year-old thinks he has at least one more year left in him.

My goal is to play at least another couple of years. As far as how many years we’ll just take it one at a time right now. -Deryk Engelland on The Press Box with Ed and Clay

Engelland spoke to Ed Graney and Clay Baker on The Press Box on ESPN Radio 1100 (listen to the whole interview here) this morning and made it abundantly clear that he not only doesn’t want to be done in the NHL, but he doesn’t want to be done in Vegas either.

Waking up at an older age isn’t always the best feeling, but you still love the game, loving playing it, love being around the guys and there’s no better place to play it than here Vegas so hopefully that all works out.

I did what I can do this season, and now it’s just up to them. I’ll just sit back, see what we hear from them and go from there. -Engelland on The Press Box with Ed and Clay

It’s up to the Golden Knights to decide if they want to keep Engelland moving forward. However, every indication they’ve ever given points to the two parties reuniting for at least 2019-20 season.

Engelland remains one of the best penalty killers on the team, one of the two right-handed defensemen on the roster (Colin Miller being the other), and a clear leader both on and off the ice. Plus, the head coach has used him every time he’s been healthy both years.

If it were to be listed on the William Hill Mobile Sports App, Deryk Engelland to be a Golden Knight in 2019-20 would be a massive favorite.

How’s -1500 sound?

The Stone Age Impacts Golden Knights Defense

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When the Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone at the NHL trade deadline back on Feb. 25, it was assumed the offense would perk up as Stone had 28 goals in the bank from his time in Ottawa.

But who knew the defense would be the unit that has come alive?

Collectively, the Vegas blue line corps is playing some of its best hockey of the year. And while it may be a coincidence that it has come since Stone’s arrival, the changes Gerard Gallant made a few weeks ago, moving Deryk Engelland with Nate Schmidt, playing Shea Theodore with Brayden McNabb and giving Jon Merrill a regular spot in the lineup, seemed to have worked.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The defense accounted for both goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Calgary at T-Mobile Arena. More important, the Knights have allowed just nine goals in the six games Stone has worn the steel grey No. 61.

Obviously, Marc-Andre Fleury’s play in the crease has been a big part of that. But don’t discount the job his D-men are doing in front of him.

The Knights are winning more battles in their own end. They’re more active in using their sticks to take away the cross-ice pass. They are making smarter decisions in breaking out of their own end. They are pinching in the other team’s end more judiciously and not getting caught in as many odd-man rushes the other way. They continue to block shots at a high rate. They seem to be communicating better.

All of that was again on display Saturday here in Vancouver at Rogers Arena against a Canucks team which Vegas handled a week ago, 3-0, and 6-2 Saturday for their sixth straight win. The Knights scored a franchise-record five first-period goals and there was no looking ahead to tonight’s big game at the Scotiabank Saddledome and the rematch with the Flames.

And as many predicted, Stone finally scored as a Golden Knight as he opened the scoring 1:32 into Saturday’s contest.

Gallant said you never know what’s going to happen when you change your lineup. But these moves appear to have worked so far.

It was just shaking things up. When you’re losing, you’re not happy. So we made a few changes with the D and so far it’s worked. I like the way they’ve been playing. -Gallant

You ask the defensemen what’s turned things around, you get different answers.

I think change can be good sometimes. You get a little stagnant with the way you play. I just think that it’s about trending. If you continue to play well, you want to make sure you keep doing those things that help you win. Colin Miller and Jon Merrill have been playing fantastic for us. When you have that kind of depth on your team, that’s important. -Schmidt

Theodore said the defensemen are reacting better to the puck and making the right play more consistently.

I think we’re just quick to pucks and we’re not giving them as much time and space in the corners. Usually when you give teams with good skill players time down low they’re going to make plays. I think our centers have been coming in and killing those plays and that’s been big for us. -Theodore

Engelland said it has been a collective mindset that has seen the team’s defensive uptick.

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Added Offense Comes From Mixed Up Defense

Having lost three straight, five in a row at home, and eight of 11, the reigning Jack Adams award winner, Gerard Gallant decided to get a bit radical and change up two forward lines and two defensive pairs.

When you are losing you have got to try new things, right? -Gallant

It didn’t take long to see the change he was looking for. Directly off the opening faceoff, playing with Deryk Engelland, Nate Schmidt took the puck, jumped up into the rush and created a scoring chance for the Golden Knights.

(Nate’s) legs move as quick as his mouth does and he’s at his best when he’s skating. -Deryk Engelland

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Schmidt and Shea Theodore were both put in new positions on Saturday night. Not only playing with new linemates, but they were also each playing on the opposite side of the ice. It was the first time Schmidt has played on the left side while a member of the Golden Knights, and the first time Theodore had ever played the right side while in the NHL.

(In the) offensive zone I think it’s easier to get the puck to the net, but getting the puck D-to-D behind your net (in your own zone), you can’t really look up ice and you don’t really know what’s coming. It’s kind of a pros and cons thing. -Theodore

Re-watching the game, Schmidt and Theodore started a total of eight rushes into the offensive zone by skating the puck either out of their own zone and/or through the neutral zone. It’s not abnormal for either to do it, but five times for Schmidt and three for Theodore is certainly more than the norm.

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Nate’s Back, But Who Should He Play With?

Welcome back Nate! Now, save the season. No pressure bud. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Nate’s back! But now he needs a partner, and finding the right option not only for Schmidt, but also for the rest of the blueline is easier said than done for the Golden Knights.

Last year eventual Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant paired Schmidt with either Luca Sbisa or Brayden McNabb for a majority of the season. As the season went on Schmidt played most of his time on the top pair with McNabb. Now, as Schmidt is set to return the question is, should he go back with McNabb or is there a better option?

If the Schmidt/McNabb pair is indeed once again reunited, not much else will change in the lineup. Colin Miller will slide down to play with Nick Holden and Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland will remain together.

McNabb-Schmidt
Theodore-Engelland
Holden-Miller

However, an argument can be made that Miller and McNabb have been the best and most consistent pair, and maybe they shouldn’t be split up. Thus Schmidt would have to find a new home. Since Nate plays on the right side, there are really only two options for who he can play with, Theodore or Holden.

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