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Pothier: The Golden Knights Are Not Better Today Than They Were On June 7th

As much as we love Paul Stastny, and we do love Paul Stastny, creating a dynasty involves more than Paul Stastny. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s a simple question, are the Golden Knights a better team today than they were the day they came up three wins short of winning the Stanley Cup? The answer is also as simple, at least in my opinion, and it’s no.

We want to be stronger next year than we were this year. I can’t say we’re going to win more games, or go further in the playoffs, but we want to be a better team next year…That’s the goal. George is working on it right now. –The Creator on Vegas Hockey Hotline on 6/22/18

The Creator said he has daily discussions with George McPhee on how to improve the team. Since that conversation, some can make the argument the Golden Knights got worse.

Let’s start with what they lost.

David Perron: 67 Points (16G, 50A), 0.94 Points Per Game, 0.71 Assists Per Game, 22 Goals Created, 17:49 ATOI, +1

James Neal: 44 Points (25G, 19A), 0.62 Points Per Game, 2.85 SOG Per Game, 17:11 ATOI, -11

Luca Sbisa: 14 Points (2G, 12A), 54 Blocks, 30 Total Goals For, 30 Total Goals Against, 19:32 ATOI, +8

Now let’s look at the Golden Knights additions.

Paul Stastny: 53 Points (16G, 37A), 0.68 Points Per Game, 0.47 Assists Per Game, 54.9 Faceoff Win %, 18:18 ATOI, +1

Daniel Carr: 16 Points (6G, 10A), 0.42 Points Per Game, 1.37 SOG Per Game, 12:08 ATOI, +2

Nick Holden: 17 Points (4G, 13A), 83 Blocks, 64 Total Goals For, 73 Total Goals Against, 19:00 ATOI, -5

It’s not fair to compare the loss of Neal and Perron, to Vegas’ new offensive additions. Stastny’s a fine player, but he’s not an elite center that can make up the production of two lost wingers. There’s only a few of those, and one of them passed for Toronto.

We have a lot of money to bring in some quality players. If we can get the players we’re going to spend the money. -The Creator

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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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NHL GM’s May Try To Copy Golden Knights’ Balanced D Unit

Since coming in for Jon Merrill, Sbisa has been excellent with Colin Miller. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Throughout the postseason, analysts have talked about the Golden Knights as a future model for teams living under a tight salary cap. The players’ average age, salary, skill, desire, leadership, and unity is what makes Vegas so ideally well-balanced.

We don’t have that superstar D-man that has to play thirty minutes. As a group, we’re pretty balanced. Everyone can do each other’s job… we’re a real tight unit. It’s been fun. -Luca Sbisa

Signing a defenseman, or any player, to a massive contract can sometimes hurt a club’s progression. Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty averaging up to 30 minutes a night doesn’t guarantee great team defense. Instead, the plan of balancing minutes among three defensive pairings has been wildly effective for Vegas.

Ice time is pretty spread. In certain situations guys play more but I think everyone is pretty fresh because every guy plays around 20 minutes. You don’t have to play 28-30 minutes over 82 games because eventually it’ll catch up to you. -Sbisa

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said he expects the Golden Knights “passive aggressive forecheck” a problem for Washington’s defense. The same unit he said looked “done” against Tampa. Through 15 games in the postseason, no one has said the Golden Knights defensemen looked tired.

A D-pair that only plays 12 minutes a night, I don’t think they’d play at their best. If everyone is getting regular shifts it gets you into a rhythm playing more at their abilities. -Sbisa

Like other leagues, the NHL is a copycat league. Other GM’s have to be taking notes, drooling over the Golden Knights success. A team with four solid lines, six reliable d-men, and a lights-out goaltender is a blueprint every franchise dreams of designing.

I think we’ve done a good job blocking shots, giving them shots from the outside. They may create some chances, that’s the way hockey is. -Sbisa

Sbisa and the other Golden Knights defensemen will have to continue playing brilliantly against the Capitals. If Vegas can keep fresh on the ice by sticking to their gameplan, Washington’s offense will have a hard time getting close to “Superman” Fleury.

And if that happens and Vegas wins the Cup, every NHL GM may look to add ‘Golden’ to their team name too.

“Big” Problem Against Sharks Even Bigger Problem Against Jets

San Jose had its best lucky when they were right in Fleury’s face. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

By now you’ve heard about Winnipeg’s size and skill. It was on full display last night as the Jets outworked Nashville defensively and offensively. All postseason, Winnipeg has effectively used their size in front of the net creating messy traffic and high-scoring chances. Something San Jose did well against Vegas in the second round.

They are always kind of in my kitchen, right? -Marc-Andre Fleury

Overall, San Jose had plenty of chances in front of the net, but was mostly unsuccessful.

We had some defensive breakdowns that we kind of got lucky. They hit a number of posts. They were buzzing in front of our net pretty good. -Shea Theodore

Tomas Hertl (6’2″/220) used a mix of size and talent, tallying three goals in six games. Two were almost identical in that Vegas defenders couldn’t clear the puck, or San Jose attackers. Notice the swarm of teal surrounding Fleury.

Five Golden Knights allowed four Sharks countless opportunities to convert. Inches away from Fleury.

I think San Jose was one of the best teams in front of the net. That last game, they threw everything at net. Flower made some big saves and the post helped us a couple of times. -Luca Sbisa

In the end, VGK’s defensive lapses didn’t hurt them from advancing, but it could in the conference final. Winnipeg’s net presence is similar, if not better than San Jose’s attack.

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Gallant Pulls Perfect Strings To Once Again Unleash The Big Game Golden Knights

A few moves by Gallant and all of a sudden the Golden Knights looked themselves again for the biggest game of the year. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Individual awards in hockey are earned in the regular season. That’s why Gerard Gallant already has the Jack Adams Award sealed up. However, heading into Game 5, the soon-to-be Coach of the Year made some big boy decisions, and boy did they pay off for his Golden Knights.

Gallant inserted three players into his lineup, two of which hadn’t seen the ice in the playoffs, and made a line swap in an attempt to jump-start the 2nd and 3rd lines. 60 minutes of hockey later, and if there was a Coach of the Playoffs award, Gallant’s name could begin to be engraved on that one too.

Just some hungry guys ready to play and I wanted competitive guys in there playing tonight. When you lose a game sometimes you go through with your coaching staff and look around and say Lindberg has been working really good in practice, Carpenter has been a solid player for us all year long and he missed a couple of games, and Sbisa was due to get back in our lineup sooner or later. I thought all of them performed really well tonight and it was a good night for them. -Gerard Gallant

The additions to the lineup and the move to switch David Perron and Alex Tuch were some of the biggest reasons the Golden Knights took the 3-2 lead in the series.

Tuch was unbelievable. Lindy first game of the playoffs, wow, he was great too. Carpy on the 4th line was a big boost. He was all over the ice. -David Perron

Tuch scored twice. Lindberg and Carpenter each got assists, and Perron looked like himself for the first time during the playoffs netting two assists and creating a ton more chances.

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Major Lineup Shuffling Furthers 1st Period Importance

Game 4 was the first time in the eight-game playoff history of the Golden Knights where they were severely outplayed. It ended as a 4-0 beatdown and the Sharks had evened the series.

In response, Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant appears to be making a host of lineup changes. Based on morning skate, it seems Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, and Luca Sbisa will be placed into the lineup, while Tomas Tatar, Tomas Nosek, and Jon Merrill will all come out.

Last year, Lindberg was tremendous in the playoffs. If he does it tonight, Gallant is going to look like a genius. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This will be the first game the Golden Knights will be without Nosek since February 11th, and just the 3rd game all year in which Nosek will be a healthy scratch. Oddly enough, the last time Gallant chose to scratch Nosek it was a 5-4 overtime win against the Sharks on November 24th.

If Sbisa returns, it will be his first game action since February 27th. Lindberg would also be making his Vegas playoff debut having been out since the final game of the regular season on April 7th

You do what you have to do. You put your best lineup in that you think gives you the best chance to win that evening. We’ve done it all year, guys come in and play different spots and play different roles, it’s all you can do. You go with your decision, you talk to your coaches, and you do the best you can. -Gerard Gallant

The changes magnify the 1st period, however. With multiple players who have been out for over a month returning to the lineup and potential changes to three of the four forward lines (see below), the Golden Knights are vulnerable early. It often takes players a bit of time to get back into the flow after missing games, but Vegas can’t afford to fall into a hole.

Throughout this entire season, when the Golden Knights have really needed a game, they’ve usually gotten it. But beyond that, they’ve almost always started out those games well. That was the case the last time they had to “flip the switch” back on going from a disastrous loss in Calgary to the playoff opener, but the time before, against the Flames at home, it took a period or so to really get going.

This team has it in them to play a good game tonight, no one is debating that. They just have to do it right away. They can’t play anything but their best from the moment the puck is dropped, and that’s what makes the lineup changes concerning. The Golden Knights have home-ice advantage in a best of three series, now they have to take advantage of it, and they can’t let cold legs and unfamiliarity get in the way.

Projected Game 5 Lineup

Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault
Perron-Haula-Neal
Lindberg-Eakin-Tuch
Carpenter-Bellemare-Carrier

Schmidt-McNabb
Theodore-Engelland
Sbisa-Miller

Next Man Up, Just Not Yet

It won’t come in Game 1, but there will come a time where Luca Sbisa is needed, and he’s a nice weapon to have in waiting. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the Golden Knights head into their Second Round series with the Sharks they do so as healthy as they’ve been all season. There’s only one active player listed on the injury report and he’s considered ready to play when the team needs him.

It’s incredible, but the Golden Knights might just be the deepest team of any left in the playoffs. When they drop the puck against San Jose, Vegas will have a perennial 20 goal scorer and their highest paid forward on the bench sitting alongside a defenseman that one was considered “shut down” for the Golden Knights and only lost that title due to injury, not a decline in play.

They get even deeper when you throw in Oscar Lindberg, a penalty killing forward with excellent hands and solid speed, Brad Hunt, a power play specialist defenseman, and Ryan Reaves, a physical specimen waiting to unleash some fury into a series.

Coming off a first round sweep and allowing just three goals in 14 periods, no lineup changes are expected for the opening game of the series to begin later this week. However, that depth is going to be needed eventually, and we’re here to illustrate not just how many players the Golden Knights have to fill-in in case of injury, but how wide-ranging they can be allowing All Star head coach to feel comfortable no matter what happens.

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6th Defenseman

Expect Sbisa to get back in the lineup, but who he’ll be paired with remains a question. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Just as is the case with the 12th forward, with the return to health along the Golden Knights blueline, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has some tough decisions to make heading into Wednesday’s playoff opener.

Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, and Shea Theodore are certainties to be in the lineup. Deryk Engelland is likely to be crack the lineup but there’s at least a bit of decision making needed with him as his play has seemed to slip as the season has worn on.

That leaves four defensemen with just once spot available in the Vegas D-core. As we did with the forwards, here’s a pros and cons list of each player and then both Ken and I made selections as to who we believe will get the call.

Luca Sbisa
20 Playoff games
1 goal, 4 points, -10 rating, 17:15 ATOI

Pros: Sbisa was one of the most reliable Golden Knights defenseman to start the season, was once considered VGK’s superstar shadown, and he has played several playoff games. Before being injured in mid-November Vegas was 10-5-1 with him in the lineup. Usually, Sbisa was paired up with Nate Schmidt and split duties covering the best forwards in the NHL. Like Englland, Sbisa is best staying home and protecting the net. Although he has done his share offensively. When Sbisa records a point the Golden Knights are 10-1-1 this season.

Cons: Sbisa has been hampered with injuries most of his career, and this year has been no different. Vegas was expecting a healthy defenseman after playing a full 82 games in Vancouver last season. It’s uncertain how injured he is, or if he’s even healthy enough to play against the Kings. Sbisa has suited up for 20 postseason games, going 8-12 with three different franchises. Sbisa could be the better overall option but Gallant may decide to go with Engelland because of similar style and trust.

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Golden Knights Injury Updates; James Neal, Reilly Smith, Malcolm Subban, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, Oscar Lindberg

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

James Neal
Injury: Hand/Wrist
Injured on February 26th vs. Kings

Neal has missed 10 of the last 11 games. He played in the Kings game on the road where he left after falling behind the goal, seemingly on the same hand that was injured last year in the playoffs.

He did not travel with the team on the recent five-game road trip, but was seen skating many of the days while the team was away. Neal participated in the most recent morning skate wearing a red no-contact jersey.

James is doing real good. He’s skating today. He’s not playing tonight but we’ll see him in the near future. -Gerard Gallant

Reilly Smith
Injury: Wrist/Shoulder
Injured on March 6th vs. Blue Jackets

Smith left the game after a hit in the 2nd period in Columbus. He remained on the road trip for a short time following the injury before returning to Vegas.

He has not participated in a practice since the injury but was seen putting on skates and pads to take the ice for an individual practice today.

A source indicated to SinBin.vegas that the team initially feared Smith had broken a bone in his hand that could have ended his season, but an MRI confirmed otherwise. The same source put the timeline at about two weeks from the injury following the news of no broken bones.

He is not playing tonight. Day to day. Getting better. -Gallant

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Erik Karlsson And Bobby Ryan React To Possibility Of Being Traded To Vegas

“Our owner bought us a ping pong table. Yours wouldn’t even pay for an Uber ride.” -Probably Luca Sbisa

There were nothing but smiles in the visiting locker room last night at T-Mobile Arena. The Ottawa Senators battled for 60 minutes to beat the Golden Knights 5-4. The victory pushed the Senators to 22 wins and 52 points with just 19 games to play. That is, in a single word, bad. Which is probably why the Sens front office listened to any and all offers at the trade deadline. Including one from Vegas GM George McPhee, who inquired about their Norris winning defenseman.

That’s part of the business. I really didn’t know what really transpired or happened behind the scene. (The Golden Knights) were obviously one of the teams that was thrown out there a lot. They’re a good team and they were pushing for it, so nothing unexpected. -Erik Karlsson, OTT Captain

Karlsson was responding to a question I asked about his reaction when he heard about the Vegas chatter. The superstar Swede went on to discuss why free agents would seriously consider playing in Las Vegas.

It’s a great city and they have a great team. Their general manager McPhee, is a really good general manager and he’s been around for a long time. I think he’s going to build a good team, not only for now but the future as well. It’s definitely an attractive city. -Karlsson

Also rumored to be part of the Karlsson swap was Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan. Senators GM Pierre Dorion was attempting to unload Ryan’s $7.5M per season contract to whomever desired Karlsson. Possibly the reason why a deal with the Golden Knights fell through. I asked Ryan about his trade deadline anxiety.

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