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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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Golden Knights Not Shaping Team Around Fleury’s “Window”

The Golden Knights are built to win.

A franchise that was supposed to take years to truly become a contender was able to achieve that status overnight and with the roster heading into 2019-20, they are looking to take that final step.

Vegas has seven key players signed through the next four seasons. They have another five under contract for each of the next three. Sure, they are pushed up against the cap now, but even with the impending moves, this team is ready to be a favorite in the Western Conference.

There is however one specific piece of the puzzle though that is so crucial to the team’s success, but also might be the most volatile of all.

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That’s Marc-Andre Fleury.

He plays the most important position on the ice and he’s played it at an incredibly high level since coming to Vegas. Because of it, the Golden Knights have made back-to-back playoff appearances and raised a pair of banners in the rafters.

But Fleury is 34-years-old and will turn 35 early this season. If there’s one thing we know about sports, it’s that Father Time is undefeated. Some guys maintain their peak level of play longer than others, but every player in the history of sports eventually reaches a point where they just can’t do it anymore.

That day will come for Fleury, and the major question is what happens to the Golden Knights when it does.

Appearing on the Press Box on ESPN Radio Las Vegas, GM Kelly McCrimmon was posed a question about the team’s window in relation to their 34-year-old superstar goalie. His answer was telling.

Certainly, Marc-Andre is tremendously important to our team’s success and we are very fortunate to have a player of his ability and add to that his leadership and his character makes him a big big part of our team. We’ve never ever talked about shaping the rest of our team based on any player’s particular window. We’ll always be a team that’s trying to build around a core of good players and that’s our focus now and we need Marc-Andre to be a big part of that. -McCrimmon

The idea is to have a good enough core to be able to withstand any one piece’s demise. Sounds noble, but is it realistic when talking about Fleury?

We can only hope.

Otherwise, they better find another sucker to give away a Hall of Famer.

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.

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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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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.”

Change In Title, Not In Command

It was August of 2016 in an airport in Vienna, Austria that Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee first met Kelly McCrimmon.

When George called me in July, I had never talked to him, I had never met him before. -McCrimmon

Both on their way to the Ivan Hlinka prospects tournament in Slovakia, the two met for the first time and eventually formed a partnership that would take the NHL by storm.

It’s the best working relationship I’ve had in this business. -George McPhee

On that day McPhee began the process of courting then owner, general manager, and head coach of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelly McCrimmon, to become his “assistant.”

I told Kelly when I was trying to hire him that he was going to be involved in every single thing we do here. -McPhee

McCrimmon took the job, officially titled “Assistant General Manager” and the two immediately got to work.

However, it was never really a situation with a first and second in command. Instead, McPhee quickly turned over half of his responsibilities, making the relationship much more of an equal partnership. It literally happened days after McCrimmon took the job.

I divvied up the teams, I said you take these 15 NHL teams, I’ll take these 15 NHL teams. You deal with them all year, I’ll deal with these and we shared everything, basically co-managed for three years and that will continue. -McPhee

Quite frankly, since the moment he started, Kelly was the general manager of the Golden Knights in relation to those 15 teams, but in reality, it was much more than just half the league.

The thing that’s special about our organization and our relationship is just the collaboration. -McCrimmon

That has continued ever since.

Literally however insignificant a move we’ve made, it has never ever been someone overruling the other. -McCrimmon

We haven’t disagreed on anything. For two guys who didn’t know each other, to get together and see things the way we see them, it’s just been a real treat to work together and I think we’ve been good and we’re going to keep doing it the same way. -McPhee

That’s why, when McCrimmon’s name started popping up as a prime candidate for open GM positions in Edmonton and Seattle, McPhee knew he couldn’t let his “co-manager” leave. So, he had to come up with a solution.

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Kelly McCrimmon Promoted To General Manager, George McPhee To Remain As President Of Hockey Operations

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The Golden Knights announced today that Kelly McCrimmon has been promoted from Assistant General Manager to General Manager. George McPhee, who previously had the title of General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, will now simply become the President of Hockey Operations.

Truthfully, very little will change with the Golden Knights organization. McPhee remains first in command and in complete control of all hockey decisions, while McCrimmon gets a title boost, probably a pay raise, and a few added responsibilities.

The reason for this move is because of how coveted McCrimmon is by other teams. He was a lead candidate for the General Manager position in both Edmonton and Seattle. The title boost means the Golden Knights will not lose McCrimmon to either job.

Functionally, there will be a few minor differences.

In this new role, McCrimmon will represent the Golden Knights at the league’s General Managers Meetings and be the point of contact for other NHL GMs. -Golden Knights press release

As far as from the fan perspective, this move has nearly no impact on the chemical makeup of the front office. The same people are making the decisions, with the same power structure in place.

The main takeaway that should come from this move is The Creator’s continued commitment to the Golden Knights success. Rather than let a trusted person leave for a better position, the team gave him a new title to keep him with the organization. Further proving, The Creator will spare no expense to reach the ultimate goal.

McCrimmon, McPhee, and Foley are expected to meet with the media at noon today at City National Arena.

Expansion Draft 2020: Vegas’ Exemption Creating Anxiety And Drama For Other Clubs

In late June of 2020, Seattle, the 32nd franchise, will have the opportunity to pluck other teams talent at the Expansion Draft like the Golden Knights did on June 21st, 2017. George McPhee and his group masterfully duped 30 other NHL general managers, and whoever is at the helm in Seattle (maybe Kelly McCrimmon) will try to do the same. Okay maybe not all 30, but a good percentage of the league felt slighted, enough that those same general managers may just reach out to McPhee this time so it won’t happen again.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun was on Montreal radio this week and brought up how teams are very concerned with next year’s expansion draft. Teams aren’t in the business of giving away good players… again.

It’s also created I think a bit of a unique situation… because Vegas doesn’t have to worry about a protection list and all of that jazz. I think they’re going to be a team that some clubs are going to look to as a safety valve in trying to navigate the waters around the Seattle expansion process. -Pierre LeBrun, TSN Radio Montreal

LeBrun explained that the way McPhee and his staff maneuvered the expansion rules has teams running to protect themselves this time around. LeBrun used Nashville as a team that could find themselves in a protection problem and may be forced to expose one really talented defenseman. In the scenario, this is where McPhee gets a call.

It would behoove them to try and send them to Vegas for a first round pick or a top prospect. As opposed to losing them for nothing to Seattle. I don’t know at this juncture how the league feels about that kind of trade. -LeBrun

Another twist to the expansion process is the side drama from other clubs. LeBrun noted several general managers are upset Vegas is protected from the expansion draft and won’t be losing a player.

There are GM’s I think who felt that once Seattle’s start was delayed by a year, that Vegas should be subject to lose a player like everyone else. There are definitely GM’s grumbling behind the scenes. But as Bill Daly said because Vegas is not getting a piece of the pie from Seattle, they’re the only one not getting a check, then they’re not losing a player… so that’s created some tension for obvious reasons. -LeBrun

What makes GM’s mostly worried, with good reason, is that McPhee could take advantage of franchises with protection issues, or get a jump on adding players.

Because Vegas doesn’t have to worry about a protection list they’re more willing too add players during that particular time then any other team. -LeBrun

Bill Daly told league officials not too fret about Vegas abusing their exemption. Other teams want to be reassured that the Golden Knights wont be making unfair trades during that small window before the 2020 Expansion Draft. The league will be keeping an eye on Quick Draw McPhee.

Daly hears that Vegas can’t interfere with the Seattle expansion process. The league will pay close attention to the type of trades the involve Vegas around that… Bill Daly says he’ll know when he sees it as far as something that doesn’t pass the smell test. -LeBrun

One scenario that clearly makes sense for Seattle is hiring Vegas Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon. Obviously, as McPhee’s right-hand man he’s fully capable of handling the pressure and creativity of an expansion draft. However, if McPhee is whispering to 30 other compadres it’ll make McCrimmon’s job much tougher the second time around. Any other Seattle general manager would be at even more of a disadvantage.

All along we’re always under the assumption that Seattle will have a bit of a tougher time this time around. Teams are more familiar with the rules and the process, saw what happened with a couple of teams overreacting and overpaying on side deals with Vegas. -LeBrun

Teams like Anaheim, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Minnesota, and Washington gifted Vegas a core to win with immediately. I’m sure most teams would like a redo. Well, they’ll have their chance in the summer of 2020. With McPhee watching on with a bowl full of Crunch ‘n Munch.

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