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Patience Is The Right Way Forward For The Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Unpredictability, it’s what makes sports the best soap opera in the world. It’s also what makes the lives of the decision-makers so incredibly difficult. No matter what the data and history say, no one truly knows what is going to happen until the humans who put on the jerseys actually step onto the ice and compete.

From 100 points and competing for the Stanley Cup to barely hitting 80 and starting a rebuild and anywhere in between, opinions on what’s in store for the Golden Knights this season range wildly.

There are questions surrounding scoring, depth, health, goaltending, coaching, continuity, accountability, and more. And not a single person on the planet has even some of the answers, let alone all of them.

This volatility is why the Golden Knights must finish the offseason and enter the regular season with a patient approach.

It’s probably an oversimplified way to look at an extremely complex sport, but say you break the teams into a few different tiers. The tiers include bad, average, good, great, and elite. Teams in the bad and average tier will miss the playoffs, those in the good tier will fight for the final spots, while the great teams will compete with the Stanley Cup favorites, the elite.

As mentioned above, it’s not far-fetched to place Vegas in any of the five tiers. Reasonably though, they are likely to fall somewhere in the middle three, average, good, or great.

With the injury to Robin Lehner, Vegas suddenly have a bit more cap flexibility. Lehner’s $5 million can be stashed on LTIR, giving the Golden Knights room to add to the team. It’s possible with the perfect combination of moves, they could leap up one tier. With where we are in the calendar and the limitations of what $5 million can buy in today’s NHL, a two-tier leap is highly improbable. So, if they are average, they can become good. If they are good, they become great, but if they are average, they aren’t becoming great this season.

Here’s where the need for patience comes in.

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SinBin.vegas Podcast #277: Panda Down

Recording from Wahoo’s Fish Tacos on Rainbow, we break down the biggest news of the VGK offseason, Robin Lehner’s season-ending hip surgery. Plus, we touch on Max Pacioretty’s accountability comments, look at the Roy contract, and try to find Mark Stone a new linemate. Hosted by Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier.

  • Ok, Lehner’s down, what now?
  • How did Lehner’s surgery blindside VGK?
  • Still a playoff team?
  • Pacioretty on accountability
  • Walsh on untrustworthiness
  • Mark without Max

And much more…

We are on iTunesStitcher, Spotify, and Google Play. Subscribe now!

Finding Mark A New Max

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Before Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty became teammates in Las Vegas they were bitter rivals. Stone’s expressive personality and Pacioretty’s endless competitiveness were always going to clash when they opposed each other. But as teammates, it was as harmonious as could be, and from the very first day Stone put on a Golden Knights jersey he and Pacioretty were essentially unbreakable as a pair in the lineup.

Over the course of the next three and a half seasons, the two played together, often centered by either Paul Stastny or Chandler Stephenson, more than 150 times and shared the ice at 5-on-5 for almost 2,000 minutes.

In that time, they were dominant together. In 139 games since 2019, when Pacioretty and Stone were both on the ice, the Golden Knights outscored opponents 122-66 at even-strength, boasted a shot share just short of 60%, and absolutely dominated the expected goals margin despite often playing against the opposition’s top line.

On the power play, with Max and Mark together, Vegas averaged 9.36 goals per 60 minutes while allowing less than one per 60 (0.71 to be exact). Both of these numbers are miles better than what it looked like with neither on the ice. And with the empty net, the Golden Knights tallied 10 times in just under 40 minutes with 61 and 67 together.

Ok, now for the problem. When Pacioretty wasn’t there, Stone’s numbers tumbled, and tumbled hard.

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Nic Roy Told To “Be Ready For Everything” In Terms Of His Role Under Bruce Cassidy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Any time a new coach enters the fold roles are bound to change. It can mean different things for different players as the new coach implements his systems and figures out how each of the pieces fit together.

For the recently rich re-signed Nic Roy his role is likely to change while very much staying the same as a year ago.

It’s a little early to say but it could be really anything as of right now. -Nic Roy

Last year, Roy played all over the Golden Knights’ lineup for Pete DeBoer. From playing as a center for Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to playing on Jack Eichel’s right wing to centering a fourth line of Jonas Rondbjerg and Mattias Janmark, Roy did it all.

Along the way, he potted 15 goals and 24 assists helping earn him a hefty raise and a long-term contract to stay with Bruce Cassidy and the Golden Knights through 2026-27.

Roy’s versatility is one of his best strengths but it also has him heading into Training Camp without a true home in the lineup.

(Cassidy) told me to be ready for everything. If he needs me at winger that could be something that happens. Or he might need me in a more defensive role on the third line or a more offensive role on the second line or something like that. -Roy

It’s not out of the question to suspect Roy could start as high as the first line as a winger. With Cassidy expecting to break up the Misfit Line of Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith, it’s likely one of the two wingers heads up to play with Eichel, leaving the other side potentially open for Roy. Or maybe Roy slots in as a second line center in Karlsson’s place among the Misfits. Or he could find himself on a fourth line in a lineup utilizing Eichel, Karlsson, Stephenson, and Roy all as centers.

It truly is possible for Roy to land anywhere in the 12 spots among the Opening Night starting lineup.

It’ll be up to Roy to turn his role of Swiss army knife into something more concrete. Depending on where he starts, succeeding in that place will solidify his position in the lineup. Last year, while the numbers were solid, Roy never quite took hold of any of the roles he was placed in, which led to him playing on 23 different line combinations.

Cassidy will take his best shot at creating the perfect lineup on October 11th when the Golden Knights head to Crypto.com Arena. For Roy, wherever he slots into that lineup, he’ll have to prove he’s the best (insert role here) player the Golden Knights have. If he does, he has a chance to fill that role for the next five years.

Ken’s Answers To The Athletic’s Fan Confidence Survey

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Every year The Athletic does a fan survey to learn more about the confidence of the fan base in different areas of the organization. The results of this year’s survey were published today and we highly recommend you read Jesse Granger’s article accompanying the results before you read the rest of this. Trust me, it’ll all make more sense if you do (and you’ll get to see the results, which I’m purposely not sharing here so you click that link).

Now, it’s time for my answers to the questions Jesse posed to the fan base.

With Vegas missing the playoffs for the first time, what is your confidence level in the direction of the organization? (5 being the highest level of confidence)

Ken’s Answer – 2

Despite the fact that it scares the crap out of me to think about, I really think the Golden Knights are headed for a pretty hefty rebuild that will start sometime between December of this year and the end of next season. The reason why I go with a 2 instead of a 1 here is that the roster is still good enough right now to make some noise. It’s going to take A LOT to go right (including health, unexpected players stepping forward, fortunate playoff matchups, etc) but I do see a path for this team to win the Cup this year, and I’m predicting them to make the playoffs. So, I can’t in good faith give them a 1, even though the “direction” is clearly heading in the wrong way from where it was a few years ago.

What do you expect out of the Golden Knights this coming season?

Ken’s Answer – First-round exit

If the Golden Knights stay healthy the entire season, I think they’ll win the division. I don’t see that happening though. In fact, I’d guess they are more likely to be closer to last season than they are 100% healthy, which is terrifying. Thus, my projection is that VGK will finish in 3rd or in a wild card spot. If it’s a WC, they are almost certainly going out in the 1st round. If they do get into 3rd, I could see them squeaking through a round.

What is your overall confidence level in Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee? (5 being the highest level of confidence)

Ken’s Answer – 1

For years every time I’ve begun to criticize the front office I had to remind myself these are the same people that built the team from the Expansion Draft. However, over the course of the past few summers, the front office has made a point of saying (both outright publicly and via their moves) that they found that team to be a fluke. So, I’m having a harder and harder time giving them credit for it as they continue to retool rosters that are getting worse and worse.

It’s important to note that all I care about is winning the Cup. I don’t want playoff berths, I don’t care how many rounds you win, I just want to win the Cup. I’ve completely lost faith that this front office knows how to do it. McPhee is 0 for 21 and McCrimmon is 0 for 5. It’s harsh, I know, but I’d be lying if I put any other number than 1.

Do you agree with the decisions to fire Pete DeBoer and hire Bruce Cassidy?

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NIC ROY SIGNS 5-YEAR EXTENSION AT $3 MILLION AAV

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

College Football Metrics Point Vegas To The Playoffs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Each year NFL and NCAA football experts publicly predict the fate of every franchise or program in the country. Many have made a living off their accuracy. I’m an enormous college football fan and found Phil Steele to be an incredibly knowledgeable analyst. Steele’s must-read annual season preview is jam-packed with valuable information. Historically, he’s been successful in forecasting whether teams will improve or decline from their previous season. Steele and his fellow prognosticators like to use certain formulas to lead them to their conclusions.

Some ways to project a team’s rise or fall is through certain factors, even unlucky factors. These can be costly turnovers, execution breakdowns, and yep, even injuries apply. For fun let’s use Steele’s formula to predict if the Golden Knights will improve next season.

The Turnover Battle

One fumble or interception can critically change a football game. Obviously, we cannot compare the severity of football turnovers to a giveaway in hockey. Sure, a giveaway (GvA) can lead to a scoring opportunity but NHL players aren’t benched for surrendering a puck to make a line change.

Last season Vegas turned the puck over 8.20 times per game. They were 16th in the league with a total of 681 giveaways in 2021-22. A stark difference from the previous season.

VGK Giveaways Per Game (NHL Rank)
2021-22: 8.20 GvA (16th)
2020-21: 5.51 GvA (2nd)
2019-20: 8.19 GvA (8th)
2018-17: 8.60 GvA (10th)
2017-18: 8.93 GvA (15th)

Although Vegas turned the puck over at a higher rate than half the league, it wasn’t a drastic change from franchise averages. In fact, the organization’s best team had more giveaways than last season’s non-playoff lineup. Overall, the Golden Knights are 10th in the league for the least amount of giveaways since 2017. That alone suggests improvement to Vegas’ puck protection problems.

Tight Game Outcomes

Another metric to project improvement is a club’s record in one-score games. The college football galaxy usually balances itself out and teams that lose close games go on to win more of them the following season. The same can happen in hockey, or at least with the Golden Knights. Last season Vegas lost the seventh most one-goal games and won the 12th most one-goal games. Roughly 30% of VGK’s season was decided by one score. Since 2017, the Golden Knights are fifth in the NHL with 89 one-goal victories. Historically, Vegas has won the majority of tight games. That should reappear.

Lost Players

It doesn’t matter which sport, unexpected injuries will topple any team. The Golden Knights had never been as depleted as they were last year. Injuries to Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, Alec Martinez, and others gutted the roster and were a huge reason for the team missing the playoffs. We should anticipate injuries but it’s safe to say it won’t be like last season. Based on their five-year history, Vegas fans can expect a healthier lineup in 2022-23.

 

No matter what formula you use or how ridiculous the exercise was to get the conclusion, all signs point towards the postseason for the Golden Knights. Fans should expect exciting and successful hockey. Vegas should have better outcomes in tight games and fewer injured players. If all comes to fruition, the Golden Knights will most certainly compete for a top seed in the Pacific Division. They may struggle to score but Vegas is talented enough to make a run. With a healthy Martinez, Smith, and Stone the Golden Knights are a much more intimidating team. It’s just too bad they can’t sign some of the blue-chip prospects from Alabama or Georgia.

Kolesar Contract Works For Everyone Involved

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With a few days to spare before the scheduled arbitration hearing, Keegan Kolesar agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $1.4 million per year. It’s a length and a price that fits perfectly for everyone involved, including the cap-strapped Golden Knights.

To understand why, it starts with setting aside any preconceived notions one may have of Kolesar’s game, the chief among them being his inability to score. There’s no denying the fact that Kolesar could have doubled his goal output last season had he been more clinical around the goal. But the fact remains, even still, he scored seven goals and posted 17 assists in 77 games, and did it while shooting well under the league average at 7.4%.

If he can improve his shooting even a bit, just to around 10%, we’re counting his goals using both hands and a few toes. But even if he can’t, five to seven goals for a player in Kolesar’s role is perfectly acceptable.

That’s because there’s more to Kolesar’s game than putting the puck in the back of the net. He led the team in hits last season, dishing out 246, nearly 100 more than every other Golden Knight. He’s one of the better forecheckers on the team while also being defensively responsible. He logged the 6th most penalty kill minutes among forwards, and with Mattias Janmark leaving that number could go up. And he even filled in on the power play, scoring a goal in just 35:42 of man-advantage time.

Plus, despite my personal feelings for the role of enforcer, Kolesar fought nine times last season, accounting for literally half of the team’s total number. If you have to have a guy like that on the roster, which it seems the Golden Knights remain committed to, he might as well be able to score a few goals, chip in 20+ assists, and play in all situations.

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VGK’s Untrustworthy Nature Will Catch Up Eventually Says Allan Walsh

(Photo tweeted by Allan Walsh, Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent)

One of the common themes swirling around the Golden Knights for the past few seasons is the concept of loyalty. Actually, in VGK’s case, it’s a lack of loyalty, but you get the point.

In an unabashed quest to improve the team at all costs, the Golden Knights have had to make some difficult decisions along the way. It’s easy to applaud them for the gusto missing from many front offices around the league, but the bubbling undertone of crossing the unwritten line between hockey business and the mistreatment of people is becoming unmistakable.

Vegas treats you great until they don’t. They’ve gone from the team of opportunity, the ‘golden misfits’ or whatever, to the ‘evil empire.’ I think as long as they win they’ll avoid problems, but if they have a losing season, watch out. –Anonymous NHL agent to The Athletic

Unfortunately, the Golden Knights stopped winning last year and a not-so-anonymous agent thinks it could start to bite them moving forward.

In Vegas, no player is safe. Several players have made the comment now that no player is safe. At any time the rug can be pulled out from under you and if it’ll happen to Marc-Andre Fleury, trust me it can happen to anybody. Some players are going to ultimately decide to play in that environment and don’t care but other players are going to value being in a place where there is a sense of loyalty and stability and appreciation that goes both ways. –Allan Walsh on Agent Provocateur Podcast

Now that the Golden Knights have officially rid themselves of all Walsh clients, he’s not holding back on sharing his feelings publicly about the way Vegas operates.

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@SinBinVegas Twitter Q&A – August 3rd, 2022

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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