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Fleury, Reaves And Schmidt Have Plenty Of Laughs At Their Expense On Spittin’ Chiclets

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It was a good old-fashioned Vegas roast on the latest episode of the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast. Host Rear Admiral and former NHL’ers Ryan Whitney and Paul “BizNasty” Bissonette welcomed Golden Knights star’s Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmidt and Ryan Reaves to an evening at the Friars Club.

Coming right off the faceoff, the trio wasted no time bagging on Vegas’ early struggles, and Nate Schmidt’s suspension.

What happened early in the year? -Bissonette

Couldn’t tell you about the first twenty. -Schmidt

Schmitty let us down, you know. -Fleury

Oh, c’mon! -Schmidt

After Fleury cracked up the room with his playful knock on his teammate, the gang asked Schmidt to get into his little stint in Vienna.

I would practice, I’d get bag skated everyday by this Finnish coach. He would come out with no stick, no gloves and put his hands behind his back and just skate up and down the ice. Fifteen laps was their pregame skate one day. I got back to the bench and looked up in the stands at the GM and go, ‘where am I?’ I’m going to be in the best shape of my life when I go back.” -Schmidt

Bag skating is a term players use when coaches are riding them hard in practice. It might be before or after practice, and it could be a variation of laps, goal line to goal line sprints, or suicide laps. Which are even exhausting to think about.

I was bag skating everyday. Five, six times a week. They take their skating a little more seriously. They skate, and skate, and skate. -Schmidt

Schmidt was asked if he traveled with the Vienna Capitals, his adopted club. The never bashful defenseman, although ashamed, openly admitted to some sweet star treatment in Europe.

I went on the road with them one game. The only problem was, this is terrible, the GM and I flew to this place and the rest of team bussed it. It was a nine hour bus ride from Zurich… I was rested. -Schmidt

The Golden Knights defenseman added that training in Vienna was…

Once, in a lifetime experience -Schmidt

Hopefully. -Bissonette

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Christmas Break Odds And Ends

The Golden Knights have the next three days completely off, meaning no games, practice, and no media availability. They currently sit in 3rd place in the Pacific Division with 44 points in 39 games. That’s one point behind the 2nd place Sharks and one ahead of the 4th place Ducks.

There are a few topics I wanted to discuss but none of them garnered a full article. So, we cram them all into one and call it a day. Here we go.

Brandon Pirri Re-Assigned to AHL

Gone now, but for how long? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Following the overtime loss to the Kings last night the Golden Knights re-assigned Brandon Pirri to the Chicago Wolves. In doing so they also took Max Pacioretty off IR.

Just looking at the moves, this would lead most to believe that Pacioretty will return Thursday and will be slotted back into his normal place in the lineup. That may happen, but it also may not, and Pirri might wind up right back on the 2nd line despite being re-assigned a few days earlier.

Per NHL rules, if a player clears waivers, which Pirri did on October 4th, they must play 10 games or be on the active NHL roster for 30 days before they are eligible for waivers again. Pirri was recalled to the Golden Knights on December 18th and played in games on the 20th, 22nd, and 23rd before being re-assigned on the 23rd. Thus, he’s played three games and spent five days on the roster.

By optioning him back to the Wolves during this three-day break, the Golden Knights still have six available games and 24 days before he must re-clear waivers. The clock is cumulative, so even if this stint with the Golden Knights is over, it restarts if he is called back up again.

What all of this is trying to say is that there’s a practical reason to send Pirri down to the AHL even if VGK intends to play him on Thursday. It may or may not happen, but unlike most situations when a player is returned to the AHL, this one does not necessarily mean his time with the Golden Knights is up.

Struggles Without Main Defensemen

It was well-documented how much the Golden Knights missed Nate Schmidt during his 20 game suspension. They went just 8-11-1 and were much closer to the basement of the Pacific than they were the top.

VGK proving they can’t be without 6 or 88. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over the past two games, they’ve gone 0-0-2 at home while missing Colin Miller due to an upper-body injury.

Deryk Engelland has missed six games this season, the Golden Knights are 3-2-1 in those games.

Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, and Nick Holden have played in all 39 games

When Miller and Schmidt are both in the lineup, Vegas is 12-4-1. When one or the other is missing they are 8-11-3.

Defensive depth is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed, whether that be via trade or by giving some of the young AHL prospects a chance. Either way, something needs to be done because no team makes it through the playoffs with just six defensemen.

Long Shifts

Vegas has 13 players, including nine forwards that average 0:50 or more per shift. There are only 118 NHL skaters that average 0:50 or more

The Golden Knights have 10 players in the top 100 in the NHL in this category.

Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Tuch lead the team with 0:56 average per shift while Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, and William Karlsson all average at least 0:53.

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Schmidt Comes Home, Neal Returns, Carr Debuts

Even aside from being dubbed as “Kids Day” at T-Mobile, the 3 PM start, and the home team wearing white jerseys, Friday’s game had a lot going on. So, when the game ended, we at SinBin.vegas split up to cover all three major stories at the same time. Jason went to the visitor’s locker room to track down James Neal, Steve spent the day focused on Daniel Carr and chatted with him after the game, and I drew the Schmidty straw. Here are all three stories wrapped up into one post.

Schmidt Comes Home
(written by Ken Boehlke)

Ever been in one of those circus mirror rooms where everywhere you turn you see a slightly different version of yourself? Creepy, right? Now, imagine you do the same thing, but the room doesn’t have mirrors and instead, they are real people, over 10,000 of them.

It felt like another dimension out there. -Nate Schmidt

But as much as Schmidt’s return was celebrated by those in the stands, it was his teammates and his coach who have the deepest appreciation for what he brings back to the Golden Knights.

You guys talked about Nate Schmidt and that’s important to our team and he is really important to our group and I think it makes us a lot better team, when we can come out and throw the defense at you like that and play the game that we play all the time. -Gerard Gallant

Nate seemed to really enjoy his time on the ice as well.

It’s fun to be back, fun to be back here (at T-Mobile Arena). It was such a fun game to be a part of. I love when we play our game. It’s fun, it’s fun hockey. It’s the reason why you play the game is when your team is playing that way. -Schmidt

You might say, he had fun. So did the rest of the Golden Knights when they saw the 10,000+ Schmidt faces in the crowd.

I got back in there in the locker room and the guys just stared at me and gave the open eyes like ‘woah.’ Never seen something like that. -Schmidt

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Get The Puck Out Of The Zone… Now!

Get to it and get it out. That’s how VGK wants to play in their own end, and they know they haven’t done enough of it. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Hockey is a funny game. One night a team can come out completely flat, give up seven unanswered goals, and get embarrassed and then a few nights later that very same team can play an excellent defensive game and grind out an overtime win. The difference between the Golden Knights Monday night performance and their Wednesday night performance were stark.

So what changed?

Following Monday night’s loss the Golden Knights wanted to put the game in the rearview mirror, a commitment to simplicity helped the Golden Knights turn it around in just two nights time.

Nevermind what we can do to get up ice, nevermind the plays that we can make, be simple and just give the (opposing) forwards a steady diet of right ups, and quick ins and tip ins and let them go to work. -Nate Schmidt

Schmidt got a little inside baseball hockey on us there, but what he’s talking about is moving the puck quickly out of the zone. Rather than sitting back and trying to make the perfect play to spring an offensive chance, the defensemen wanted to simply get the puck out of their own zone as quickly as physically possible. Either move it directly out or move it once to the D-partner and let him move it out.

It forces them to go to work. It forces them to go to the go on the forecheck. You kind of take it out of their hands and take it out of our hands. That was what we talked about as a group on the day off. A healthy diet of right-ups. A healthy diet of quick-up D to D. -Schmidt

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Illustrating Nate Schmidt’s Impact On The Golden Knights

This guy is good at hockey. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The story of the night for the Golden Knights in Edmonton was the return of their best defenseman, Nate Schmidt, from his 20 game suspension. Any time a team gets one of their best players back into the lineup they are surely going to be better. The score certainly indicated that, but simply pointing to the score and saying, “well, they are better with Nate in there” really does no good.

So, instead of being that guy, I decided to go back and watch every shift Schmidt took in his first game back to help show exactly what he brings and how he’s affecting the other players on the ice.

Let’s get the obvious points out of the way. Nate Schmidt is good, like, really good, like top 20 NHL defenseman good. Anyone who wants to debate that simply hasn’t watched enough of Schmidt in a Golden Knights uniform to know what they are talking about. Schmidt’s defensive awareness, his skating speed and skill, an incredibly strong defensive stick, and his strong offensive instincts make him an excellent all-around defenseman. Where most VGK defensemen fall into one category or the other (Offensive-minded: Theodore, Miller, Hunt) (Defensive-minded: McNabb, Engelland, Holden, Merrill), Schmidt does both well above average.

But enough telling you Nate is good at hockey, let’s show it. Starting with how his skating paired with quick decision making makes the game easy on his teammates.

The play starts with a display of his strong stick and skating. As the puck moves along the boards, he’s always within a stick length of it, moving his feet and constantly taking away the time and space the forwards have to make a play. Then, a huge burst of speed is displayed when the puck pops out towards the Golden Knights goal. But as impressive as the play to get the puck is, what he does with it after is even better. Schmidt quickly gets the puck off his stick to Bellemare. Then, he presents himself as a return option for Bellemare. He’s given the puck back, and quickly moves it over to Theodore who has plenty of ice to safely exit the zone.

As I watched all of Schmidt’s shifts, quickness in decision making was the number one asset that shined through. Jonathan Marchessault and Cody Eakin also excelled in this area last night, but Schmidt’s return brought that back to the defense. To show what it looks like when quick, correct, decisions are not made, check out this clip from later in the game.

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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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McPhee On Injuries: “We Aren’t Deep Enough Yet To Not Have Everybody In”

Gerard Gallant confirmed this morning Haula is considered “month-to-month.” (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Injuries are a major part of hockey. Every team goes through them at various times and for various stretches of the season. For the Golden Knights, it’s come early and it’s come in the form of high-end forwards.

Alex Tuch missed the first eight games of the year and Max Pacioretty missed four games at the end of October. Both Pacioretty and Tuch have returned to the lineup, but the two guys they’ve played with on the Vegas second line haven’t been as fortunate. Paul Stastny went out in Game 3 and isn’t expected to return until late December at the earliest, and Erik Haula appears to be out for at least the balance of the calendar year.

Then there’s the suspension which has kept Nate Schmidt out for the first 20 games of the season. All in all, the Golden Knights have yet to play a game with anything resembling a full lineup, and the GM is frustrated.

I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in. -George McPhee on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto

All in all, they’ve missed 39 games due to injury and 18 going on 20 due to suspension.

Nate Schmidt – 18 missed (100%)
Paul Stastny – 15 missed (83%)
Alex Tuch – 8 missed (44.%)
Deryk Engelland – 5 missed (28%)
Max Pacioretty – 4 missed (22%)
Erik Haula – 3 missed (17%)
Cody Eakin – 4 missed (22%)
Ryan Carpenter – 1 missed (6%)

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Nate Schmidt Speaks About Suspension After Returning To Practice In Ottawa

On September 2nd the NHL informed the world that Nate Schmidt had been suspended for 20 games for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Substance Program. On that day, Schmidt, his agent, and the Golden Knights organization released strongly worded statements claiming his innocence.

Since then, he skated with the Golden Knights throughout all of training camp, then went to Viena, Austria to practice with a team there while being suspended, and now he’s back with the Golden Knights awaiting the final five games of his suspension to elapse.

“When you can look in the mirror and know you didn’t do something, that’s all that matters.” (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the first time since the suspension, Schmidt was made available to the media. This occurred in the visitor’s locker room at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa yesterday. (Stick tap to David Schoen of the Review-Journal for posting the video which is embedded below.)

Schmidt’s same jovial personality came through, as it always does, but two things were clear in hearing and watching him speak. First, he still firmly believes he did not do anything wrong. Second, it pains him deeply that his career will forever be linked to this suspension.

Right after it happened I called George and said, it’s not the games or the money, it’s my reputation. I couldn’t care less about the money I’m giving up and it sucks to miss the games but really it’s about your character being attacked. But the outpouring of support from guys on this team, and guys in the league, and friends and family, and even guys from other sports, it was incredible. It made you know at the end of the day that when you look in the mirror and you know you didn’t do something that that’s the only thing that mattered to me. I know I can say that I didn’t do anything intentionally or ever tried to do anything, that’s not me. When you can look in the mirror and know you didn’t do something, that’s all that matters. -Nate Schmidt

Schmidt does understand however that most people may not believe him. He says he’s can’t let that effect him though.

The internal support and my own personal belief in knowing (I didn’t do anything wrong) is enough for me. -Schmidt

Maybe the most interesting piece of information that came from Schmidt’s first interview since the suspension was his answer to the question, “do you know where the substance came from?”

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NATE SCHMIDT (D) SIGNS 6 YEAR EXTENSION AT $5.95M AAV

Golden Knights Defensemen Power Rankings

Brannstrom is on his way to forcing McPhee and Gallant into keeping him around. (Photo by Brandon Andreasen)

We are now over a week into training camp and have seen a pair of preseason games in which 32 different skaters have taken the ice for the Golden Knights. The impending suspension of Nate Schmidt and the possibility of Shea Theodore missing games with the contract negotiations has the blue line wide open heading into October 4th.

I like carrying eight defensemen and we’ve done it because some of the young guys weren’t really ready to be called up, so we wanted to carry eight. We’re carrying eight again next year. The good news is, we’ve got guys that can be called up this year. -George McPhee

Of course, there are still nearly three weeks of practice and six preseason games to sort it all out, but let’s take a look at how we think it shakes out as we speak.

This is a ranking of each defenseman in the Golden Knights system by the current level of play. This does not take into account things like suspension, holdout, waiver exempt status, contract, or likelihood to make the roster. These are my rankings, not necessarily how I believe the team would rank the players. (Nonetheless, admittedly, a lot of my beliefs come from decisions made by the front office and coaching staff on players.)

1) Nate Schmidt

Nate is in a class of his own on the Golden Knights blue line. He’s the only player currently even close to being considered a 1A defenseman, and even that can be debated either way. However, with the suspension, he’s unavailable for 20 games, so he won’t be an option for the Golden Knights come October 4th.

2) Brayden McNabb

Looking back on the contract, McNabb was an absolute steal for George McPhee. With Schmidt’s absence, McNabb will step into the role as the Golden Knights top defenseman. He’ll be relied upon to stop the opposing teams’ best players night in and night out for the first month and a half and will be the key penalty-killing defenseman as well. McNabb is much maligned at times, but the guy is a legit high-end shutdown defenseman and when paired with the right player, he and his partner can shine.

3) Colin Miller

Yes, Miller is rated above Theodore, and not because Theodore is not in camp, but because Miller is the more complete player at this moment. Give it a few years and Theodore will probably soar past him, but right now Miller has become acceptable (and probably even more than that) in his own end and he’s an absolute weapon in the offensive zone. He boasts the hardest shot on the team and he’s bound to have a mega offensive season playing a much more prominent role than a year ago.

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