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A Look Back On The Golden Knights Path From Contender To Contender In Offseason To Deadline

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights entered this past offseason with a Stanley Cup caliber roster. They were stacked at forward, coming off a season where they finished among the league’s best defensively and had a bevy of prospects coming up, and still had one of the best goaltenders in the world.

However, there was too much money on the books. The CBA allows teams to exceed the salary cap by up to 10% during the offseason, but they must get back down under the cap on the first day of the regular season. So, Vegas needed to shed some money, and thus, a few players.

The conventional wisdom would have been to start by singling out the players with the highest salary coupled with the lowest performance expectations for the 2019-20 season. Send those guys packing, get under the cap, and head into the regular season with as dominant a team as possible.

The Golden Knights opted for a different route, one that may have ended up working out even better, though it came with risks, a bit of a price, and ended up costing a head coach his job.

The trades in many respects brings full circle the strategy that we went into the offseason with last year in a situation where we were over the salary cap. We had to make some decisions that involved veteran players, roster players, and we wanted to acquire draft picks in return to build capital for decisions and moves just like this. -Kelly McCrimmon

That’s the official explanation of the Golden Knights strategy. Let me explain it in more detail.

In moving contracts during the Summer to become cap compliant, the Golden Knights strategy was to harvest as many draft picks as possible. They traded Colin Miller for a 2nd round pick. Nikita Gusev went for a 2nd and a 3rd. And Erik Haula was moved for a young player in Nic Roy and a 5th. Instead of trying to make their roster better before opening night, they wanted to create a bank of “capital” they could cash in 145 days later at the trade deadline.

The thinking is fairly simple, yet when the onion is peeled back, there’s a lot more to it. The simple idea is that having this bank of capital will allow the team to make moves and improve their team at the deadline without having to sacrifice any significant players off the roster in season. 145 days, 62 games, and a heck of a lot of hockey will give them a better understanding of what the team needs in order to win the Cup than they had back in June and July. Tear it down now so we can rebuild it more intelligently later.

And that’s exactly what they did. They turned those “bank of capital” picks into Chandler Stephenson, Alec Martinez, Robin Lehner, and Nick Cousins, while only having to give up Cody Eakin off the roster.

It looks like a significant roster upgrade at the deadline, but in reality, it’s just replacing what they had eight months ago.

Here, take a look at how it all broke down from June 27th to February 24th.

Three forwards in, three forwards out. One defenseman in, one defenseman out. Two goalies in, one goalie out, and a net loss of one draft pick and one prospect.

Are they better? Maybe. That’s up for debate and the answer is probably yes but no matter which side you land on, it’s fair to say, it’s not significant one way or the other. But one thing they are for sure is different. The upgrades came at goalie and on defense while downgrading on offense.

Would that have been the decision in the summer? Probably not, which is where all the other pieces of the puzzle come into play. (Those are what I’ve listed in byproducts in the trade above.)

Time

Every day of the eight months between the Haula trade and the deadline deals to add Lehner and Cousins the Golden Knights were acquiring information. They were able to watch their team play. They could see what was going on around them (mainly the fact that the division is trash and the conference isn’t much better). They got to evaluate the seasons of every veteran player on the roster as well as the rookies. They knew what their injury situation would look like with less than 20 games left in the season.

That has value. Potentially a lot of value. Think of all we know that we didn’t before the season started. It’s a ton of information and it’s great information.

But, it does come with a risk. The Golden Knights purposely got worse between the day they were eliminated by the Sharks and the day they played them again on opening night. They gave up three useable players and replaced them with Nic Roy (who they knew wasn’t going to be much more than a 4th liner this year). They were gambling that the team they left in place was good enough to stay in the race over the first 60 games of the season. If there was a big injury or underachievement, that bank of capital can’t save them. To cash in those futures, they had to still be afloat, and looking back, mission accomplished, but not without a few sweaty palms (and a fired coach, which we’ll get to in a minute) along the way.

Salary Cap Flexibility

(If you want to really dig into how this all went down, read this.)

By waiting until the deadline, the Golden Knights essentially created about $4 million of cap space compared to what they would have been working with during the offseason. They used it to make the deals for both Martinez and Lehner possible. In the offseason, they couldn’t pay $4 million for a defenseman and another $5 million for a goalie. They would have had to choose one or the other or subtract from the roster in another area.

There’s solid value in that… even if it cost Roy, Hague, Glass, and Whitecloud a pretty penny along the way.

Market

Most years, but this year especially, the market for buyers is more competitive at the trade deadline than it is in the offseason. Vegas paid a bit of a price because of this.

They got minimized returns on Haula and Gusev (and maybe even Miller had he played like he did in Vegas instead of Buffalo) while paying an increased price on Martinez, Cousins, and Lehner (he was technically free in the offseason as a UFA).

The net value of how much they lost here is tough to calculate but it’s probably at least a few picks.

Head Coach 

The Golden Knights offseason strategy cost Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly their jobs. As I’ve presented before, the Golden Knights willingly made their roster worse and then fired a pair of coaches because they weren’t winning as many games as they were expected to.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss whether the Golden Knights got better or worse with the switch (which is why I put it on both sides), it’s just to show that the strategy had repercussions.


In the offseason, they had a Cup contender. Now, they have a Cup contender. In between, they didn’t. That was the strategy and it worked, or at least it looks like it worked with 18 games left on the schedule.

Personally, I killed the Golden Knights front office the entire offseason and through much of the first 4 months of the season over their tear down in June and July. Now, I’m here to say I semi-apologize.

I still believe there was mismanagement of assets, misevaluation of talent on the roster and in the system, and a hasty firing of the head coach. All of them combined have damaged the team both short-term and long-term, but my apology is for the mentality surrounding the offseason.

At the time, it appeared like the Golden Knights were not willing to throw their chips into the pot and do everything in their power to supplement their Cup contending team. They seemed to be serving two masters, the present and the future. The main reason I believed this was because George McPhee said it. This is what he said after trading Gusev.

We’re a better team because we had depth in the positions in which we made moves from.-McPhee on 7/29/19

We now own nine picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. These picks will help boost our organizational depth and add to our pool of prospects. Although we were not able to make this work I am really happy with where we are at with our roster. -McPhee on 7/29/19

It looked and sounded like they weren’t willing to do anything and everything to help the 2019-20 Golden Knights win the Cup and to me that was unacceptable. That’s why I’ve been so critical of the front office for the past eight months and why I’ve never shut up about Gusev, Haula, and Miller. But now that we can see the “full circle” it’s only fair to walk back my anger and frustration and chalk it up to ignorance.

Information leads to understanding and we now have it. The Golden Knights are trying to win and win now. And you can’t ask for any more than that.

(Except for better decisions, which is why it’s only a semi-apology, but hey something’s better than nothing, right?)

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36 Comments

  1. Brian

    Good read, Ken. Takes a big boy to (kinda) fall on his sword !!
    #CUPIN3

  2. Mike G

    Ken I LOVE SinBin and am so appreciative of the work you do to help us all follow VGK. From the moment we traded Gusev and then the firing of Gallant your negativity and criticism of the front office has been exhausting. You could argue that starting with the expansion draft until now, NO front office in the league has done a better job than VGK. What if some of these moves, ie Tatar/Gusev were made because they weren’t “Gallant guys”? What line would you rather have right now Neal/Haula/Perron or Stastny/Patches/Stone? I love Haula but he was coming off major knee surgery, and you can see he has already been traded again. Nobody could foresee the crap year Eakin was going to have. You cannot dispute that the entire team, and especially the defense has played significantly better under PDB. You can look around the league and will be hard pressed to find anyone who is happy with both their coach and their GM. I for one could not be more impressed with what this front office has accomplished in 2 1/2 yrs!

    • A Fan

      While I agree with most of what Mike said. It really all comes down to what happens at the end of this season. We win the Cup, everything they did was perfect. If not, are we a strong enough team to make a run next year, especially if we can’t keep Lehner? The Pacific isn’t going to stay like crap much longer. I feel that most of the teams will be better soon, including the Ducks. I feel this year by far the biggest threat to us winning a Cup is of course the East. Winning the West should be very achievable, but beating the top team in the East, that may be a different story. I have to admit though, I think they did a great job at the trade, especially getting rid of 2 big liabilities and adding another very good goalie. The trade drama is over, let’s see where we end up now. I think we’ll do very well. Go Knights Go!

      • While I completely agree with you that everything will be judged based on the outcome of the season, I try my best to judge moves in the moment because that’s when the decision makers have to make them.

        • A Fan

          Yes, you were always on the get rid of Eakin bandwagon, but never on Subban. There was no way he was ever going to become our #1 and he wasn’t a reliable #2. The constant excuses a lot of people made for him (too many to list here) were for the most part just that, excuses. The team as much as said if we had to rely on Subban in the playoffs, it was over. Who couldn’t see that? Eakin’s bad year at almost $4M, he had to go also. I agree with you that it isn’t so much the new coach as the players started playing. I like and miss Gallant but I would say that Turk was being more of a ‘friend’ than a ‘parent’ and I think the players cost him his job because of it. Was it just some issue between him and management, maybe, but I think he was a little to easy on some of the players and it produced less wins than we should have had. And for the record, most of us appreciate all of the info/stats you research. (We know that’s your crack. lol) We’re all going to agree to disagree at times, that’s just part of the process.

    • A few points. First, I called for Eakin to be moved all offseason, so yes I think it was fairly easy to see that he was going to be terrible this season. Second, I’ll continue to argue that the coaching change has not spurred the difference, they would have been in the same place with Gallant.

      I’ve never said the overall job McPhee and McCrimmon have done has been anything less than amazing from Expansion Draft to now, but they’ve made a myriad of mistakes they may end up being the difference between a contender and an actual Cup winner.

      I appreciate you consistently reading and commenting and hope you can accept my semi-apology for all the “exhausting negatively” (which I think is a bit rash considering my articles and tweets are 9:1 positive to negative). I just want the team to win. I believe they can, but I also believe they could have been better too.

  3. DOC Williams

    A semi-apology huh? Very big of you Ken. Everything I have been telling you all season, which you disagreed with, you NOW see and understand! So as a non-paid commenter on this site, I semi-apology for making an “expert” look somewhat ignorant during the past months AND me being RIGHT !!!!!!! I’m so semi-sorry!!!!! 🙂

    • Dylan

      What is your Doctorate in?

      • DOC Williams

        “Pundits bullshit! 🙂

        • Gerard Gallant

          We can get paid for commenting….?? Sign me up !! I could use another paycheck.

          • DOC Williams

            Unfortunately WE don’t get anything … but Kenny boy does, every time we click on this SITE or COMMENT! So here’s another few penny’s for ya! ha ha

  4. Mike G

    Disagree with you or anyone else who says team would be doing the same thing under Gallant right now. They had been underachieving since about the halfway point of last year (3rd in the division). I think there was some serious player/philosophy issues between Turk and front office. You’re saying it’s just a coincidence that 27, 88, and 22 have all of sudden been playing their best hockey of the season? That VGK has been the best defensive team in the league (shots on goal allowed) since PDB took over?
    One last thing: If you could trade VGK ownership/front office/coach combo with any team in the league who would you trade with?
    Again just disagreeing with you but SinBin will absolutely continue to be my first choice for all things VGK

    • On the first question: I think it’s just the time of the year. They did the same last year, tread water until they needed to win and then turned it on. (Also, the goalies sucked for 2 months, now they don’t. That’s not coaching.)

      Who would I trade them for? Boston, in a heartbeat. And I’d consider Tampa Bay (probably would end up taking theirs over VGK too)

      • Mike G

        I might add Pittsburgh in there also… but point is I think most every team in the league would love to have what we have.
        I see a lot of posts about if we don’t win the Cup then it’s a failure. I don’t agree with that either. There are (4) teams in the East that are terrifying. At the end of the day I’m happy to have a front office that is willing to roll the dice and take some risks., even when it doesn’t always work out. This is Vegas after all!

      • Ken they turned it on – that sounds like attitude thing to me. Which if my memory serves me right I have preached for months. About memory what’s your name again?

        • DOC Williams

          Look back at my many posts about team playing without passion & effort. With you on that biker!

  5. Frank S.

    Pretty sure that is the worse headline to an article I have ever seen in journalism.

    • (I don’t disagree.)

      Help me out, I’ll change it if you come up with something better.

      • DOC Williams

        I’ve got a couple good ones … but I have leaned on you enough for one day!

      • Jerry

        Praise Be to McPheesus or The Smartest Man in Room: How I learned McPhee is So Much Smarter Than Me or Sorry McPhee: The Start of the Official Sin Bin Apology Your Begins.

  6. Skeeter Thompson

    Three thoughts:

    1) Great, well-reasoned piece that makes me a little more compassionate towards/understanding about some of the things the front office did over the past 7 months.

    2) In hindsight, I’m sure GM & KM would do a few things differently. The 3rd line projected to be one of the best in hockey (Tuch/Haula/Gusev with Eakin & Glass able to fill holes as needed). Of course no one knew that Glass, Eakin & Tuch would be injury-prone this year, and that Eakin would also apparently completely forget how to do the hockey, and the 3rd line would go from an almost unrivaled strength to a total disaster. Over the summer, a lot of pundits (and fans) would’ve preferred giving up Eakin and Reaves and/or Holden and keeping Haula & Gusev. In retrospect, that would’ve clearly been better for the team, and probably netted a similar return in assets at the time. (And I understand Haula’s knee was a big unknown.)

    3) The whole reason the team is in the salary cap predicament it’s in — and the front office had to play this “get worse, cross our fingers, then reload” game that Ken wrote about — is because the front office overpaid several players compared to their value to the team and their value in the marketplace (especially considering the take-home pay advantages for players playing 41 home games in a state that doesn’t have a state income tax, and the team-friendly deals players agree to in places like NSH, TBL & DAL for that very reason).

    In the case of Reaves & Fleury, GM admitted overpaying them at the time. The front office certainly overpaid Holden, Pacioretty & Stastny based on their ages and demand. Between those 5 players, it’s reasonable to assume they’re making a combined $4-5M this year more than was required to keep them with the team. That’s $4M+ that could’ve been used to keep Haula and/or Gusev, or used to trade for a defenseman like Barrie, Brodin, Dumba or Vatanen (any whom would’ve been great additions to this team).

    The front office should not be absolved for those really detrimental and easily avoidable financial decisions that put them in the pickle they’ve been in.

    • DOC Williams

      You could also have mentioned they my have, ruined a kids career by playing him mostly out-of-position. Talking about Glass! He will never be a winger. He’s to soft, gets completely bullied on the boards, etc…. What he CAN do is pass & set up others. Hence, WHAT a center does!!!!

      • Skeeter Thompson

        Well, that could be one of those Turk vs the front office things. The front office clearly wanted Glass to play and Turk would never sit Eakin or any veteran, no matter how bad they played (see Engelland, D.), so that was Turk’s compromise — playing Glass at the wing and getting him destroyed. Hell, I’m pretty sure Bouwmeester’s heart issue came as a result of the violent motion created by slamming Glass into the pipe a few games earlier. I worry that with Stephenson playing pretty well at C, DeBoer will want Glass to be a winger, too.

        • JaBow

          “…pretty sure Bouwmeesters’s heart issue came as a result of the violent motion created by slamming Glass into the pipe”………

          Skeeter,,,,,, you need to calm down just a tad here and get you wits together. This is quite embarrassing for you.

        • DOC Williams

          I believe you are correct on Gallant & Glass!

    • Jerry

      Players were overpaid to get shorter term and future cap flexibility. Why do people continue to refuse to acknowledge this???

  7. Mike Brown

    That’s why I laugh at the hockey “pundits” I follow when they second guess Foley and McPhee. Two people who have succeeded in their fields of endeavor by NOT listening to pundits and fans who have no concept of “asset management” and ROI.

    They have forgotten more than the pundits and fans will learn in their lifetime about how to run a business.

    If VGK ever goes public and sells stock, I WILL at the front of the line.

    • Skeeter Thompson

      As a Nashville native and longtime Preds STM, I can assure you that you aren’t considering/aware of the full body of McPhee’s work when you god him up like that. McPhee’s incompetence might be the greatest thing that ever happened to the Preds.

    • DOC Williams

      Amen Mike B !!!!!!

  8. Tim

    Ken I’ll have to disagree first off Martinez is better then Miller who’s was a scratch many times last year. Second haul had a serious injury and Stephenson is younger and better. Cousins looks good and if I were the Knights I’d put Cody Glass down for the year and let his knee heal or get operated on what ever. Roy is a horse so I can’t see how you can compare what left and what casein. Lehner over Subban what do you think? The fact is 80% of hockey players would give there left nut to play for the Knights. We have a good room and always will because Foley being a West Point guy values honor and camaraderie. So no wack jobs like Evander Kane will ever play for us. George and Kelly have build not only a team but a brand in less then 3 years and there’s not a better owner then Foley. Whats not to like Ken.

    • DOC Williams

      WOW Tim ….. That may be the best comment I’ve ever heard regarding what the team is all about. Love the “wacko” Kane thing!!!!!!

  9. I think we may generally be undevalueing the impact of DeBoer “five man” strategies. Clearly under Gallant the forwards were not playing the defense they are now, so at least for the time being the DeBoer systems are working and are designed to provide procedure guidelines for the five man game, procedure all the players can adopt. I don’t really understand the procedures, but defense is improved as is the breakout.

    • DOC Williams

      I can’t argue the point on who’s the “better” coach. (They both been successful). But I will say: A)- I think our team needed this change. Things were getting too comfortable & “familiar” in the room. B)- I like this guy. Like the way he talks & his personality. And I think his calm demeaner on the bench (especially concerning his interaction with the refs) helps. Gallant was notorious for yelling & cussing out the refs almost every game. (That kind of thing can come back and bite a coach & his team)!

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