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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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Golden Knights First Line: “It Was Not Good Enough For Us”

They scored two goals, but described themselves as rusty and “not good enough.” That’s got to be a scary thought for Washington. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights top line has been one of the best in the league all season, both offensively and defensively. Not only have they been terrorizing defenses all season and into the playoffs but they’ve been incredible shutting down the opposition’s top line throughout as well.

Last night in Game 1 it was all going swimmingly for Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith early. At a point in the 2nd period, their line had a 100% Corsi For rating against 12 of the 17 skaters that they had significant time playing against. Karlsson and Smith each had a goal and the line was controlling play pretty much the entire time they were on the ice.

Then, it changed. The Vegas top line was on the ice for the next two Washington goals (Carlson and Wilson) and was no longer taking it to the Capitals. They ended the game with about a 60% Corsi For, a 0 +/- rating, and feeling like they could have been the reason if that game had slipped away.

Little rusty the 1st period. It was not good enough for us. We can’t be on the ice for two goals like we were. One goal was my fault and definitely we need to be tighter defensively and we’ll be ready for Game 2. -Jonathan Marchessault

Part of the reason for the change was the matchups they were facing. Early in the game a majority of their time was spent against the Capitals top offensive line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson, but as the game wore on the matchups became more random.

It may not seem it because of the star power on the Capitals, but the Golden Knights have the advantage between the two top lines. Jack Adams finalist Gerard Gallant has the last change in Game 2, he’d be wise to use it to get Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith on the ice as often as possible against Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Wilson.

Luckily for the Golden Knights, the mismatches created an opening for the “fourth” line who played one of its best games of the season.

Vegas’ top line vows to be better in Game 2, if they are and they play most of their minutes against Washington’s top line, the series will likely head to DC at 2-0.

Vegas’ Stars Save Third Period Literally And Figuratively

The aftermath of two of the best saves Marc-Andre Fleury made all season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unless you are compiling unbelievable saves by Marc-Andre Fleury, the 3rd period of Game 3 will not make any of the Golden Knights highlight reels. Instead, they’ll probably want to find the film and burn it, or at least the first 14 minutes of it.

:18 in the Jets got on the board cutting the lead from 3-2. Then, they spent the next 13:42 harassing Golden Knights defensemen, dominating the neutral zone, and peppering shot after shot after shot on Fleury’s goal.

There was a lot said… It was 3-2 and they kept on pushing us and pushing us and Fleury had to make some great saves. There was a lot of chatter on the bench saying, ‘Let’s get it going here again boys.’ The first two periods we played really good hockey and then it just seemed like we didn’t have any legs in the third period.  -Gerard Gallant

The Golden Knights looked slow and at times timid. They appeared unsure trying to break out of their own zone and were forced to ice the puck six different times in the 3rd period alone. The final stats in the 3rd were staggering. The Jets led 26-15 in shot attempts, 14-7 in shots on goal, and an insane 8-0 in high danger scoring chances according to NaturalStatTrick.com. The score, however, was 1-1, mostly because of Fleury, but also because of a shift that occurred with six minutes to go.

We were flat all period. Around the six minute mark we got a chance, the crowd started getting into it. We started getting our energy back and our legs back. -Brayden McNabb

That chance, which happened at exactly the six minute mark, was a shot off the post from William Karlsson. From that moment on the Golden Knights seemed to get the game back under control. Of course, trailing by a goal the Jets weren’t going to go away, but unlike the first 14 minutes, the Golden Knights had their skating speed back. They were winning to loose pucks, they were breaking out of the zone by passing rather than chipping the puck out, and most of all, they were creating chances in the Winnipeg zone to relieve the pressure.

We calmed down. There were a couple words said on the bench to just relax and breathe. We had that goal lead and there’s no reason to panic. -Shea Theodore

The Golden Knights have always been dubbed a team without a superstar, yet in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, when everything was going wrong, their superstar goalie made 15 saves in the 3rd period to hold a one goal lead, and their superstar center created a chance that turned the tide of the game.

The Golden Knights Have Never Faced Real Adversity, Because They Stop It Before Comes

He’s basically a superhero. Going around saving doubters from doubting. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

All season long there’s been a running narrative that the Golden Knights are strong at overcoming adversity. The storyline dates back to the Fleury injury and has stuck with the team throughout the season, despite the fact it’s never actually been true.

The Vegas Golden Knights had never experienced real hockey adversity. Sure, they lost their goalie, and then his backup, and then his backup, early in the year and battled through a stretch with Max Lagace in the net, but at no time during it was anything expected of them. There wasn’t real adversity there because there wasn’t any expectation. They’ve never had a truly bad stretch of hockey, they’ve never lost more than three games in a row, and once they rose to 1st place in the division they never lost it. Simply put, they’ve had what may look like hardships, but they’ve never really had a true hardship, one that could legitimately destroy their perfect season.

That was until Game 3. Coming off a crushing loss in Game 2 due to a disallowed goal, the Golden Knights went into the 3rd period in control, leading 3-1. They gave up one, but it looked like the clock was going to run out on the Sharks.

It didn’t.

San Jose scored, tied the game, came back from a two-goal deficit, again, and the Golden Knights season was hanging in the balance. Then it got worse. They were gifted a pair of power plays to begin overtime, and couldn’t score. They had a great chance from James Neal that clanked off the bar. Then they gave up the best chance of the game, and Marc-Andre Fleury (without even really seeing the puck) saved it with his glove.

The potential to lose this game, and control in the series, that was real adversity. But they are the Golden Knights, and how they deal with it is to turn to William Karlsson and let him do his thing, and once again, save them from serious adversity.

I mean, sure, it’s tough, but it’s still a tie game, there’s still a chance to step up in overtime. -William Karlsson

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William Karlsson Named Finalist For Lady Byng Trophy; Snubbed For Selke (Fleury Not A Vezina Finalist Either)

Lady Byng, of course, but not even a Selke finalist? C’mon people, open your eyes. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Award season is nearly upon us and over the course of the next week, we’ll learn the finalists for each of the individual awards. Today, the finalists were released for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson was among the three named.

The Lady Byng is awarded to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” It’s voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Usually the trophy is given to the best offensive player who took the least penalty minutes. That’s no different this year as Aleksander Barkov (14 PIM) and Ryan O’Reilly (2 PIM) were named as finalists with Karlsson (12 PIM).

Karlsson should win the award when it’s handed out at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas at the NHL Awards Show on June 20th.

But with the positive news comes some negative news on the awards front. Despite posting some of the best numbers of any goalie in the NHL, Marc-Andre Fleury has not been named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender). The main knock on Fleury was that he missed a large portion of the season and only logged 47 games. However, Fleury had a better goals against average (2.24) and a better save percentage (.927) than any of the three finalists. Connor Hellebuyck, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Pekka Rinne are the finalists.

The bigger snub, however, is William Karlsson in the Selke Award for best defensive forward. Karlsson was not listed among the three finalists and when the ballots are made public we will see that Karlsson is not even among the top five on many ballots, including voters from Las Vegas. We’ve already talked about Karlsson’s 12 PIM, but when you throw in his +49 rating, the fact that he and his linemates played against the opposition’s top line every game, and Karlsson’s ability on the penalty kill, and it’s hard to believe anyone would leave him off their list.

The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor wrote an extended story making the case for Sean Couturier to win the Selke. In doing so, he proved the incredible year Karlsson had as well. It’s an incredibly in-depth article, but it does a tremendous job of going beyond the standard stats to show the candidacies of each of the top Selke finalists.

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Rest And Relaxation; What To Do With These Final Three Games

“You’ve got to trust your players.” -Gallant on resting guys down the stretch (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have clinched a playoff berth and they’ve won the Pacific Division. With that comes a guarantee of home-ice in the first two series with just the Western Conference and Stanley Cup Finals seeding up for grabs.

Vegas currently sits second in the Western Conference and fourth in the NHL. They likely aren’t catching Nashville, Boston, or Tampa, and only have to fend off Winnipeg to hang on to the fourth position. However, even if Winnipeg passes the Golden Knights, the only impact it could have is if those two teams face in the Western Conference Finals. So, the Golden Knight essentially have three games that mean little to nothing in the scope of the season.

You’ve got stay fresh, you’ve got to make sure you are ready to go. It’s been a long season for some guys and we’ve had some maintenance days and that’s all part of the business going through. You trust your players to do the right things. Some guys need some practice and need some jump and some guys need some days off. -Gerard Gallant

The Golden Knights have multiple injured players, Reilly Smith, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, and David Perron that could use the games to get back into game form. They have a college free agent in Zach Whitecloud who has never hit the NHL ice, and they have 11 players who have played in 70 or more games this season.

 GPTOIATOI
Colin Miller79153019:22
William Karlsson79147818:42
Cody Eakin78112614:26
Deryk Engelland76154020:16
Jonathan Marchessault76133317:33
Nate Schmidt75166722:14
Alex Tuch75113615:09
Erik Haula74128917:25
Brayden McNabb73146720:06
David Perron70124717:49
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare7085712:15

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Vegas Golden Knights: Pacific Division Champions

Sweet graphic made by our guy Lance Maxwell.

Prior to the game, the Golden Knights retired #58 in honor of the victims of 1 October. Here’s the entire ceremony.

During the game, William Karlsson scored one of the prettiest goals in the NHL this year.

After the game, the Golden Knights awarded their “Inaugural Season Awards.” The winners were:

7th Man Award (Player whose on-ice performance exceeded your expectations this season) – William Karlsson
Vegas Strong Award (Player who was most involved in serving and giving back to the Las Vegas community) – Deryk Engelland
1st Star Award (Player who played best on home-ice) – William Karlsson

Here’s the entire post game ceremony.

Cody Eakin Should Take PK Minutes From Reilly Smith In The Playoffs

Look around, you won’t find a harsher critic of Cody Eakin’s play since he’s joined the Golden Knights than me, but since Reilly Smith has been out with the wrist injury, Eakin has proven his value to a playoff team in a huge way on the penalty kill.

We always knew #21 was good on the PK, but he’s been on another level for a little while now. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights are fully healthy, they use six penalty killers, but like the forward lines and defensive pairings, they are not used equally. Since early in the year, All Star head coach Gerard Gallant has relied upon a pair Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek and another pair of Reilly Smith and William Karlsson to handle most of the load. Cody Eakin has consistently been the next man up to fill in for any of those four who are missing or to play with someone like Ryan Carpenter, Oscar Lindberg, or Erik Haula to round out the six.

In the absence of Smith, Eakin has been tremendous killing penalties with William Karlsson. Last night alone he sprung Karlsson for a shorthanded goal and earlier in the game he took on two defensemen and nearly scored shorthanded himself. There are countless other examples over the past three weeks as well. Simply put, Cody Eakin has looked like the best player on the ice when Vegas is down a man for nearly a month now.

As we head towards the playoffs, I’m suggesting Gallant utilizes Eakin as his top penalty killer with Karlsson or Smith, instead of moving him down the ranks and putting even more responsibility on two of the Golden Knights’ most important offensive weapons, 19 and 71. 

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Guest Post: Paying William Karlsson

There’s not a Golden Knight fan in the world who hasn’t wondered what the future holds for William Karlsson. The 25-year-old is a restricted free agent at year’s end which means George McPhee has plenty of options. Kevin Horton dives into the numbers in our newest Guest Post.

Best part of a hockey game? Easy… the goals. Unfortunately, like most great things in life, they don’t come cheap. Per CapFriendly, at this point of the 2017-2018 season the going rate for an NHL goal is $318,437. That prorates the number of goals over an 82 game season. Basically, every time someone buries one in the back of the net it’s more valuable than the house you live in.

The shot he’s taking in this picture is probably worth $25,641. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The good news for us is that the Golden Knights employ William Karlsson who is about as cheap as an elite goal scorer comes. Karlsson entered the season on the final year of a 2-year $1,000,000 per year deal. That means Karlsson’s 39 goals so far have come at a rate of $25,641 per goal, good for the 3rd cheapest scoring price in the league behind only young stars like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine ($21,512) best player in the world-Connor McDavid ($23,718) and Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning ($25,432.) If you standardize the individual numbers Karlsson projects to finish with a $23,345 cost per goal trailing only Laine, Point, McDavid and Auston Matthews ($21,352).

For comparison goals from higher paid perineal snipers like Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, and Nikita Kucherov cost $198,277, $152,439, and $114,689 respectively. Karlsson’s goals are basically coming at over a 90% discount compared to league average and a 75% discount compared to the league’s other top goal scorers. That’s quite a bargain.

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Three Star Tally

Wild Bill will always be our first star. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Wednesday night was the first time all season the Golden Knights failed to register a single player in the “three stars of the night” rankings in a home game. They’ve done it eight times in road games over the first 70 games of the season.

Now, of course, we know that the three stars really do not mean much as it’s usually a heavily biased vote for the home team, but it does give us at least somewhat of an indication of which players are making the big plays that jump off the page in games. So, here goes…

 3rd2nd1stTotalStar Points
William Karlsson40101432
Marc-Andre Fleury7291838
Reilly Smith4361328
Jonathan Marchessault315920
Erik Haula233817
David Perron7411218
Alex Tuch432916
James Neal6311015
Shea Theodore21147
Ryan Carpenter02137
Nate Schmidt22046
Oscar Dansk00226
Malcolm Subban12035
Colin Miller01125
Deryk Engelland21034
Luca Sbisa21034
Cody Eakin02024
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare11023
Brayden McNabb11023
Tomas Tatar00113
William Carrier00113
City of Las Vegas00113
Tomas Hyka20022
Maxime Lagace20022
Brad Hunt01012
Oscar Lindberg01012
Vadim Shipachyov10011

**Star Points are awarded: 3 for 1st star, 2 for 2nd star, 1 for 3rd star**

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