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McPhee Bobbles Another Russian, This Time In A Much Different Way

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In exchange for selecting Jason Garrison, and his exorbitant contract, in the Expansion Draft, the Golden Knights received a 2nd round pick (which they traded for Keegan Kolesar), a 4th round pick (which they selected Paul Cotter) and Nikita Gusev.

Three assets in exchange for not only taking a bad contract off the hands of a contending team, but also laying off players like Yanni Gourde, J.T. Brown, Andrej Sustr, Slater Koekkoek, and others.

It was a cross between the expansion situations with Columbus and the New York Islanders and that of Minnesota and Florida, but it most resembled the pickle Anaheim found itself in.

With the Ducks, Vegas received Shea Theodore for laying off Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson and picking up the bad contract of Clayton Stoner. Anaheim’s available options were better, but Garrison’s contract was much worse.

So, from Tampa Vegas got a pair of picks and an asset who was sitting over in Russia waiting for the time to come to make the leap to the NHL. No matter when that happened, he would become a Golden Knights.

If you go through every trade Vegas executed at the Expansion Draft, it’s reasonable to believe that Gusev’s value at the Expansion Draft was somewhere between a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick. The exact value depends on how badly Tampa needed to get rid of Garrison’s contract as well as how much they valued their exposed players.

Since that day, George McPhee and the Golden Knights tried to diminish Gusev’s market price, while the Russian has done nothing but raise it. Finally it came to a head yesterday when the Devils sent a measly package of a 2nd and a 3rd round pick to end the Gusev in Vegas saga.

When Vegas acquired Gusev, he had just finished a breakout season putting up 71 points in the 2016-17 season. It was the first time he scored more than 40 points in the KHL. On the international stage he had dominated the World Junior tournament years prior and put up impressive numbers at the World Cup but his track record as short.

Since, he’s won back-to-back KHL MVP’s, broke the record for assists in a season, won a Gold medal, dominated at the IIHF World Championships and cemented himself as the best player outside of the NHL. (Read more about that here.)

In other words, he went from a player who appeared to be headed in the right direction to one who burst into a full fledged superstar everywhere but the NHL. Whatever his stock was in June of 2017, it has surely risen dramatically since.

Then there are the Golden Knights who did the opposite. At every pass, they diminished his value.

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Exactly What George McPhee Has Said About Nikita Gusev

Over the course of the last week, the Golden Knights signed William Karlsson, traded Erik Haula and Colin Miller, and participated sparingly in the opening of free agency. Following each of those four events, George McPhee took to the podium to meet with the media.

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Nikita Gusev, the one major piece missing to the Golden Knights puzzle, was a focus throughout each of the four meetings. He remains unsigned and rumors have begun swirling about the eventual outcome of his contract negotiations.

Most of the rumors have stemmed from what McPhee had to say about Gusev during those press conferences. So, instead of trying to read between the lines of every word, I’m simply going to present every word McPhee said, in chronological order, about trades, contracts, and Gusev.

Tuesday, June 25th (Karlsson extension)

Well, we are going to have to make a few moves. We’ve planned for that and we’re going through that exercise right now and when we’re done we’ll talk about it and explain it. -McPhee

The plan was to build the team as best we could, every once in a while you get tight on the cap in this business, we’re there now. We’ll manage it and we will hopefully be in a much better place going forward with lots of cap space if we ever need it. -McPhee

Thursday, June 27th (Haula trade)

Well, I mentioned the other day that we have to make a few moves, but the moves that we’re going to make when we make them are hockey moves. It has to be a good hockey trade for us. Lots of names have been discussed, other teams have called on lots of different players. -McPhee

Did having Gusev here allow you a little more flexibility to move a winger like Haula? -Media

Um, yeah, I guess so. And again we’ll see where things go in the next few days, but we made a move yesterday and there’s probably another one coming and we’ll talk about that when it happens. -McPhee

There is a lot of activity right now. It’s a busy time of the year and there are a lot of teams talking about lots of different things. I would expect that next week we will reveal a lot of signings of free agents and other trades.

Saturday, June 29th (Miller trade)

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McPhee Says Miller Move Opens Door For Rookie D-Man To Make Roster

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It’s taken quite some time, but it looks like the rookies are finally fully cooked and ready to play in the NHL.

With the move of Colin Miller the Golden Knights roster currently stands with just five NHL players under contract and likely a sixth when Deryk Engelland re-ups in Vegas.

While the trade was made to help with cap compliance it was also made to provide some hope for the young defensemen we have in the organization. We really believe we have some terrific young defensemen, different flavors, bring different things to our lineup.  -McPhee

There are five players with a legitimate claim to that open spot. They are Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, Zach Whitecloud, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan.

So this is going to be a year where we’re going to add a rookie on the blue line and we have different flavors and I’m not sure which one at this point will do it, but it brings some enthusiasm and some freshness to your lineup and we believe will make us better because these kids are good, they are good players. -McPhee

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Analyzing George McPhee’s Comments On Karlsson, Trades, Salary Cap And More

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George McPhee took to the podium yesterday following the announcement of William Karlsson’s 8-year $5.9M AAV contract extension. He hit on a range of topics surrounding the current state of the team.

We’ve transcribed all of the best parts, and I’ve added a little analysis to each comment.

Well, we are going to have to make a few moves. We’ve planned for that and we’re going through that exercise right now and when we’re done we’ll talk about it and explain it. -McPhee

Further confirmation of what we’ve all pretty much been expecting since that fateful night in San Jose. Moves are coming, they are going to hurt, but in the long run, it should make this roster better. I did some digging as to when it seems like it all might get done, and my feel is by July 4th at the very latest. I think the goal is for it to all be complete by the end of the week, but sometimes trades linger because there are two parties, so it may take a bit longer to wrap it all up.

The Clarkson contract really isn’t the issue that people think it is because you can just replace that salary at the right time. It can get cumbersome for some teams in the middle of the summer but typically it doesn’t matter once you get to the season. -McPhee

LTIR is a powerful tool if you know how to use it and it appears the Golden Knights do. Vegas isn’t paying someone to take that contract off their hands.

(Karlsson’s) contract is consistent with our other core players in terms of value so it worked out. -McPhee

The core is William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, and Marc-Andre Fleury. All are signed through the 2021-22 season (the next three seasons) with many signed well beyond. Karlsson’s contract comes in below Stone, Pacioretty, and Fleury, but above everyone else in the core. Still seems quite undervalued to me, but hey, money ain’t everything.

The great news with (Karlsson) is that if he ever tailed off at the end of that contract he’s still a really useful player because he’s great defensively and you can play him all over the lineup. -McPhee

Nothing new on Karlsson since he really burst onto the scene midway through 2017-18. He’s a stud on both ends of the ice and even if his offensive game fizzles, he’s still going to slow down the other team’s best players and he’s going to kill penalties. Of all the long-term deals Vegas has signed, he’s the one I’m least concerned about working out at the end of it.

One of the reasons we’ve done this is because we’ve tried to utilize what we call the perishable cap space and get a lot of core guys locked up now for a while because we’ll be tight this year on the cap but going forward we’ll be in a really good position. And those guys are really our core players, they are at the right age, and they fit what we are trying to build here and we expect to be a good team for a while as a result. The cap certainty helps, you can plan a lot better and we wanted to use up that inventory, cap space, now to really benefit us in the future and we believe we’re making the right decisions on these players. It’s not easy to put a good team together and keep it together but this is a major step in doing that. -McPhee

Building a winning roster is tough, keeping it is even harder. The strategy the Golden Knights have tried to deploy is to lock up everyone before they reach the ultimate goal so they aren’t stuck with impossible decisions afterward. Look at Chicago, Los Angeles, and now Pittsburgh, it doesn’t look so good anymore, but Washington doesn’t look that way. It’s risky because it may never pay off with the Cup, but if it does, this isn’t a roster that will have to be torn apart after they win.

Realistically our situation in Vegas is really attractive, (players) really like playing here, and the tax implications and cost of living here matters. The players are really savvy, they understand what they’d have to make somewhere else to net what they take home here. I think Karlsson’s contract in most markets would have to be about $7.5 to net what you have here, and that’s in the average NHL market, and in California I think it’s $9.5, but the bottom line is the fit is right and he’s happy and you can’t put a price on that. -McPhee

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Exactly When The Golden Knights Have To Clear Salary Cap Space

Disclaimer: There are a few gaps of missing information in this article that could change the overall numbers. We are working to fill as many of those gaps as possible and will update this article with them if/when we learn more. Nonetheless, we stand by the overall premise of the article and do not believe it will change radically with any of the additional information we are seeking.

It’s no secret, the Golden Knights are tight against the salary cap. In order to solve this issue, they are going to have to find a way to shed some salary. Of course, there are multiple ways to do this including trading players, waivers, buyouts, injuries, suspension, and likely more that we aren’t even aware of.

But, no matter which way you break it down, it’s a fact that something is going to have to happen to make sure the Golden Knights are cap compliant when all is said and done heading into the 2019-20 season.

Trying to guess exactly will happen will probably yield results about as accurate as when dogs pick winners by going for the treat on the left or the right. So let’s leave that for another day (plus, if you’ve listened to our podcasts or any of the many radio spots Jason and I have done over the last two months, you’ve probably got an idea of what we think is going to happen.).

Instead, in this article, I’m going to try to fill in another one of the 5 W’s. Instead of “who,” “what,” “where,” or “why,” we shall try to solve the “when” in the salary cap equation.

The league calendar resets on July 1st. Thus, until then, every player on the Golden Knights is still considered to be paid under their 2018-19 salary as it pertains to the salary cap. So, between now and June 30th, the Golden Knights will not be forced to do anything as they are well below the salary cap limit.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

However, on July 1st, the 2019-20 calendar begins, and Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmidt, and Alex Tuch’s new contracts will all kick in. That’s when the cap number starts to get tight. But exactly how tight is important in relation to when the Golden Knights must make something happen.

By rule, the CBA states that no team may cross the “Upper Limit” (a fancy word for the salary cap) at any time using their “Average Club Salary” (fancy way to say the total amount of money committed to players for the league year).

That “upper limit” number for the Golden Knights during the offseason is approximately $95.6 million. (For a complete breakdown of how I came to that number, see the end of the article.)

The CBA also states that there are eight categories of salary that are all added together to calculate a team’s “Average Club Salary”. Of the eight, the Golden Knights have a sum greater than $0 in four categories.

On July 1st, 2019, the sum of those four categories for Vegas is $90,878,214. (To see the exact breakdown of this sum, including the eight categories, see the end of the article.)

Thus, by rule, the Golden Knights are NOT required to move any player on July 1st in order to become cap compliant. ($95,600,000 – $90,878,214 = $4,721,786)

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What The Golden Knights Look For In A Draft Pick (Part II)

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In Part I, we identified what the Golden Knights looks for in a player, now it’s time to try and figure out which draft-eligible players in 2019 fit the mold.

In trying to identify players I had to rank what I thought was most valued by the team. Here’s the order of criteria I came up with.

  1. Most used style traits (Two-way, skilled, long-stride, strong, good vision, quickness, etc)
  2. Less frequently used style traits (All-Situations, Transition, Possession, Work-Ethic, Hands, Forecheck, etc)
  3. Skating ability
  4. Height/Weight
  5. League
  6. Age

Note: I don’t go too in-depth in describing the players because you really should buy the NHL Black Book and Draft Recrutes prospect guides, they are terrific.)

1st Round

Philip Tomasino
Forward, Niagara (OHL), 6’0″, 183 lbs

Tomasino checks almost every single box. You can’t find a preview on this kid that doesn’t include it saying that he’s a two-way player that can do it all on the ice. He’s a good skater who is terrific on the forecheck as well. He’s the right size, he plays the right position, he uses the right hand, he comes from the right league, and he’s the right age. He looks like the perfect fit for Vegas.

Alex Newhook
Forward, Victoria (BCHL), 5’10”, 195 lbs

Another player that scouts can’t make it a full paragraph without calling a two-way player. He’s often described as explosive and deceptive and his ability to put pressure on defensemen makes him a great fit in the Golden Knights system.

Likely unavailable but fit: Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs

2nd Round 

Layton Ahac
Defenseman, Prince George (BCHL), 6’2″, 188 lbs

I nearly put him in the 1st round group because he fits what the Golden Knights are looking for incredibly well. He’s an all-around defensive player who takes care of his own end and jumps into the rush whenever possible. He’s an excellent puck-handler and skates well for his size. If this guy is there three times for the Golden Knights, I’d be shocked if they pass on him.

Simon Holmstrom
Forward, HV 71 Jr. (Sweden), 6’1″, 183 lbs

Holmstrom is a player that slipped in the rankings due to injuries. The Golden Knights have shown a willingness to pick a player that drops due to injury and hope they can grab a steal. He’s the exact type of player Vegas likes though, described as a two-way player with dynamic offensive upside.

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What The Golden Knights Look For In A Draft Pick (Part I)

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The Golden Knights have only participated in two NHL Entry Drafts to this point. They’ve selected 20 players including 10 forwards, seven defensemen, and three goalies. Vegas has signed eight of those draft picks, still hold the rights to 11, and forfeited the rights to one (Maxim Zhukov).

It’s a fairly small sample size, but a sample of 20 at least gives us some sort of idea of what types of players the Golden Knights prefer.

4 – Offensive D (Brannstrom, Campoli, Demin, Diliberatore)
4 – Skilled F (Suzuki, Elvenes, Dugan, Kruse)
3 – All-Around Center (Glass, Morozov, Cotter)
3 – Two-Way D (Hague, Corcoran, Bouchard)
3 – Defensive F (Leschyshyn, Rondbjerg, Jones)

To dig a little deeper on that, I went through what I believe to be the two best draft guides (NHL Black Book and Draft Recrutes) to come up with a list of descriptors used on Golden Knights draft picks in 2017 and 2018. I only used terms that were used to positively describe the player. I then formatted them into a “word cloud” to show exactly what Vegas likes in a draft selection.

As you can see, the most commonly used terms are Skill (14), Quickness (9), Two-Way (9), Strong (8), Shot (7), Long-Stride (7), Skating (7), and Vision (6).

These terms are for skaters only, which represent 17 of the Golden Knights 20 draft picks. Brandon Kruse was not listed in either guide, so he was skipped meaning there were 16 players counted. Thus, 14 of the 16 (88%) players were considered to have above average skill. More than half (56%) were also listed as two-way players.

Another term that was commonly seen was “All Situations.” Clearly, McPhee, McCrimmon and the Golden Knights front office like players who show out at even-strength, on the power play and who penalty kill.

Other terms that were used at least four times were Transition, Possession, Work-Ethic, Release (in terms of shot), Hands, Forecheck and Active.

One of the main points of emphasis for scouts is skating. Of the 16 players we have profiles on, seven were described as plus skaters while just two had skating considered a weakness. That also jives with what Scott Luce said before the Golden Knights inaugural Entry Draft in 2017.

You have to be able to skate, first and foremost, because you have to play at a pace that seems to get higher and higher every season. These young players are making plays at such great speed, so you have to be able to skate. You need to have the sense and feel for the game. It’s that combination of speed, skill and sense, in addition to having a willingness to compete on a nightly basis, that are important. –Scott Luce, Director of Amateur Scouting

Vegas has selected more players from the OHL than any other league, however, they’ve never selected two players from the same team.

5 – OHL
3 – Sweden
3 – USHL
2 – WHL
2 – US High School
1 – QMJHL
1 – NCAA
1 – BCHL
1 – OJHL
1 – Russia

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McPhee Not Expecting To Be Active In Free Agency

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There are plenty of unanswered questions remaining for the Golden Knights, but after a recent comment by George McPhee we have the answer to at least one.

Well we’re in pretty good shape with our core group. We have basically everyone signed up and we are close on some other things. So I don’t imagine we’re going to be out looking at free agents this summer. We like the team the way it is and we like the young guys that we have coming along. –George McPhee to TSN

Not that most expected the Golden Knights to be major players in free agency, but this confirms the plan is to keep things in place and roll with what Vegas already has moving forward.

Of course, the main missing piece at the moment is the contract of William Karlsson. That’s probably who McPhee was talking about when he said “close on some things,” but he could have also been referencing Nikita Gusev, Jimmy Schuldt, Tomas Nosek, or Deryk Engelland.

As for the core group, the Golden Knights have 10 players locked up through 2021-22. Following the 2019-20 season, there are five players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They are Cody Eakin, Ryan Reaves, Erik Haula, Jon Merrill, and Nick Holden. Slightly more significant than this year, slightly less than the year before.

No matter what happens with those five though, the Golden Knights are set up about as nicely as a team can be to make a run at the Stanley Cup each of the next three years.

McCrimmon, McPhee, Creator Weigh In On Expanded Video Review

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Time has passed since the #NotAMajor incident that helped lead to the Golden Knights season coming to a close far earlier than most had hoped. However, the topic of changing the rules to ensure something like that never happens again remains very much on the forefront.

The Golden Knights have three powerful voices that will be involved in the process of amending the rules this offseason and they each have a slightly different idea of what should take place in regards to video review.

First, here’s GM Kelly McCrimmon’s belief, speaking on the Sports and More podcast with Dean Millard.

My feelings are that we don’t need more video review in the regular season, in fact, I think a case can be made for less video review in the regular season. I do however, at playoff time, think the rules should be different with respect to video review. If it was as simple as reviewing any overtime goal for a puck that maybe hit the netting behind the glass or was hand passed or high sticked or whatever the different situations that might occur, I think with what’s at stake at that time of year it’s most important to get it right. That’s out of respect to the players and the game, ownership, fan bases, and everyone that’s fully vested at that time of year. I just think with what’s a stake at that time of year I do believe video could be used probably more to everyone’s advantage to make sure the right calls are made whenever possible. -Kelly McCrimmon

President of Hockey Operations George McPhee took a slightly softer approach speaking to TSN at the NHL Scouting Combine.

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“We Are Not A Budget Team”

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As the league calendar gets set to turn to 2019-20 all eyes seem focused on the color red.

Through the first two seasons, the Golden Knights have not had to worry much about in terms of the salary cap. In Year 1, the floor was as much in view as was the cap. In Year 2, money was being thrown around left and right for Marc-Andre Fleury, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves, Nate Schmidt, Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Mark Stone, but there still was no concern for reaching the cap. Now, as decisions need to be made on William Karlsson, Deryk Engelland, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nikita Gusev, Jimmy Schuldt, and others and suddenly the salary cap is the main point of focus in Vegas.

George McPhee, Kelly McCrimmon, and the Golden Knights front office have plenty of ways to manage the cap. The most obvious way would be to make a trade or two to move some salary out. This may very well happen. But, despite what you may hear/read, it also may not.

The salary cap in the NHL is incredibly complicated. There are pages and pages of legalese that govern the league’s cap. It’s so complicated that almost every team in the league has a specific person on staff whose job is to do nothing but focus on the cap. For the Golden Knights, that’s Andrew Lugerner.

From the outside looking in, we don’t get to see the whole picture. We don’t have the entire rule book. Instead, we tend to rely on a birds-eye view of simply adding all of the contracts together to come up with a total number. In the Golden Knights case, that number is too high already, and they’ve still got work to do. But that’s not how the salary cap works. There’s daily accumulation, long-term IR, performance bonuses, two-way contracts, assignment clauses, buried contracts, buyouts, discounted cap hits, and probably numerous other loopholes we aren’t aware of.

Luckily, we don’t need to be, we just need to know that whatever is necessary, the Golden Knights have the ability to make it happen.

We are fortunate that we are not a budget team. We aren’t one of those teams that is always on the edge in terms of its financial performance. In fact, our financial performance has been very good and as a result, we can make some things happen that maybe some other teams couldn’t have made happen. -The Creator

That comment was made in regards to promoting Kelly McCrimmon to GM, but it can easily be applied to just about everything else with the organization. If there’s a way to gain an advantage, the Golden Knights owner is going to be willing to pay for it.

He did it in the Expansion Draft by allowing McPhee to add bad contracts for draft picks, he’s allowed the organization to go from an expansion team to one pushing up against the cap in Year 3, and there have been numerous stories of what he’s done in and around the facilities to make Vegas one of, if not the, best place to play in the NHL.

So, if there’s a way to use some of The Creator‘s money to help the Golden Knights get under the cap, McPhee will have the green light to do it.

Just never forget that when we see the red number next to Vegas’ name that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Things do need to happen for the Golden Knights this offseason, but they may not always be things we see. The reason that’s possible is ownership’s willingness to do whatever it takes to create, in his words, “a dynasty.”

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