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Carp: The Case For Stone’s Selke

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

In their brief existence, the Golden Knights have won four individual NHL awards — all in 2018: William Karlsson took the Lady Byng, Deryk Engelland the Mark Messier Leadership Award, Gerard Gallant the Jack Adams, and George McPhee the General Manager of Year.

Will Mark Stone’s name be added to the list this summer?

The Captain is worthy of the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which goes to the top defensive forward, and he should be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy which goes to the league’s MVP.

The latter might be more problematic, given Edmonton’s Connor McDavid likely has a lock on that. The Hart is supposed to be for “most valuable to his team” and it’s hard to argue against McDavid. But Stone has certainly been Vegas’ MVP this season. Yes, Max Pacioretty has more goals. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been sensational in net. But when you look at the totality of it, who has done more for this team than Stone?

He leads the team in scoring and is tied for ninth in the league with 57 points. He is an excellent penalty killer. He uses that long stick to break up opposing scoring opportunities before they ever manifest themselves. He blocks shots and plays the body in his own end . He’s a +26, third in the NHL among forwards. In other words, Stone checks all the Selke boxes.

Yet, for all the good things he has done for the Golden Knights, it might not get recognized around the league when it comes to the Selke. The good folks in Canada who vote for this may not be paying close enough attention to what’s going on here, though I have faith in my Professional Hockey Writers Association brethren that they are in tune with what’s happening beyond the North Division.

That said, McDavid’s Edmonton sidekick, Leon Draisaitl, is going to get a lot of consideration, as will Florida’s Aleksander Barsov and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (a four-time Selke winner), and Brad Marchand. Some might try and make a case for Ryan O’Reilly in St. Louis, Joel Erikkson-Ek in Minnesota, and Martin Necas in Carolina.

But here’s why Stone should be strongly considered, if not the outright favorite, for the Selke. He’s been making great plays all season. But in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Avalanche, a game everyone can agree was huge for both teams, Stone delivered.

Watch him here as he sets up Pacioretty for the fourth goal early in the third period:

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Carp: An Appreciation Of Greatness

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

It has been an interesting week to say the least for the Golden Knights — both on and off the ice.

There was the celebration of a rival’s personal accomplishment. There was the clinching of a fourth consecutive playoff spot. There was an underwhelming response by the NHL and none from the team in the wake of the conviction of the police officer who murdered an unarmed African-American. And at the top of the list, a lengthy impromptu vent by a player to the league’s protocols as it pertains to COVID-19 that wound up going national.

Oh, and the team won a franchise-record ninth straight game Saturday.

But lost in all of that is the franchise’s most popular player inched closer to another milestone. And unless something crazy happens, we will see the spotlight once again shine upon Marc-Andre Fleury as he looks to continue his climb up the NHL’s all-time goaltender wins ladder.

Fleury currently has 487 wins and sits in fourth place on the career victories list. Roberto Luongo, who has 489 Ws and is No. 3, is in his sights. Fleury is scheduled to play Wednesday against Colorado, in what is a huge game for obvious reasons, and again Saturday at Arizona. He can tie Luongo with a pair of wins. That would leave only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur ahead of Fleury — the two goalies he idolized as a kid growing up in Sorel, Quebec. Brodeur has 691 wins. It’s unlikely Fleury, or anyone else for that matter, catches him.

Roy? He has 551 victories. That number is within reach for Fleury if he can continue to play for a couple more years and have success.

The Knights have nine games left in this truncated 56-game season. Fleury will likely start in four of them, perhaps more if Peter DeBoer decides to use him in additional games. If he wins three of the four, he’ll have 490 going into next season, the final year of his VGK contract. He’ll be 37 on Nov. 28. But with Fleury, age is truly just a number. He is having one of the best seasons of his career this year and barring an unforeseen drop-off in performance, he can work his way to closing the gap between himself and Roy in half.

What would make the chase problematic for Fleury would be if the Knights chose not to resign him after 2022 and he went to a team which didn’t perform as well. He’d be 38 by then and who knows where his skill set will be at that point.

Right now, he’s in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. The joy has returned and when Fleury is having fun, he is tough to beat.

So we’re going to have to see what develops in the coming months. But this much we know: He’s had a remarkable career to date. He’s a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He owns three Stanley Cup rings and maybe he gets a fourth this year. He has been the face of the Golden Knights franchise from the day the team took him in the NHL expansion draft in June 2017. I will always remember the roar inside the Fortress when it was announced the team selected him and that love for Fleury has never abated.

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Carp: A Playoff Insurance Policy

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

As the games in the regular season schedule dwindle to a precious few, we need to look ahead to the playoffs and how the Golden Knights stack up.

As of this morning, the Knights are still chasing Colorado for the top spot in the West Division. Can they overtake the Avalanche? There’s two games remaining vs. the Avs, both at the Fortress, so a sweep of the pair would certainly help Vegas’ chances.

But if the Knights finish second, it likely means a date with Minnesota in the first round and we all know the challenges that lie within playing the Wild. And even if the Knights overtake Colorado and win the division, it probably means playing an improved St. Louis team which would not be an easy out.

So, what does a playoff roster look like?

Assuming everyone stays healthy, the lineup is pretty much set:

Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone
Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault
Nosek-Janmark-Tuch
Carrier-Roy-Reaves

Pietrangelo-McNabb
Theodore-Martinez
Whitecloud-Hague

Lehner/Fleury

You could see Roy move up to the third line and Nosek return to center the fourth line. But otherwise, that’s what we can likely expect Pete DeBoer to do with his lineup. However, there’s a wild card in all of this.

The Knights believe they have some offense stashed away in the event things go cold as they did in the Edmonton bubble last summer, someone who could generate chances and put the puck in the net, or, at the very least, set up his teammates for success.

I’m referring to Peyton Krebs.

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Carp: Fools Gold? Or Have The Top Six Woken Up In Time?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

When the week began, my original inclination was to draw a conclusion that the Golden Knights problem with their offense isn’t with their bottom six, but rather their top six.

Actually, make that top seven as I’ll include Alex Tuch in the conversation.

Then the Knights scored six goals Monday against St. Louis. Problem solved, right?

Not exactly.

The top guns went back into cold storage Wednesday in the 3-1 loss to the Blues. So the angle was back in play.

Or was it?

Friday, the Knights scored a season-high seven goals in defeating Arizona, 7-4. Reilly Smith got two of them. Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, and Max Pacioretty also scored. The line of Smith, Marchessault, and William Karlsson combined for six points.

I left The Fortress a bit confused. Was what I had witnessed an actual wake-up by Smith and the guys? Or was it a tease and we’ll see them go back into hibernation?

I’m still not sure what to believe. Smith has always been a streaky scorer. He’ll be in deep freeze for weeks. Suddenly, he’ll be wielding a hot stick and he’ll be scoring with regularity. However, I’ve learned to never give up on him. He’s too good a competitor to stay off the scoresheet forever. And when Marchessault, that little ball of hate, gets his juices flowing, that line becomes dangerous once again.

That brings us to today’s rematch with the Coyotes and what may be the most important 24 hours of the season so far. If you read ‘Yotes coach Rick Tocchet’s postgame comments Friday, you know he was a very unhappy boss. He basically called his team out for allowing the Knights to jump them and build a 5-0 lead. Yes, his team sort of responded with a bit of push in the third period, but it wasn’t close to being enough to overcome the hole they had dug for themselves.

I will be absolutely shocked if the ‘Yotes don’t come out angry and flying this afternoon, looking to make a statement. They are fighting for their playoff lives as they are currently one point behind the Blues for the fourth and final West Division playoff berth and they figure to play with a great amount of desperation.

My concern is will the Knights match that desperation? Will they play with jump, with purpose, and with intensity? Will they not hang Marc-Andre Fleury out to dry against Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, and Connor Garland, Arizona’s primary weapons?

Most important, will the top six build off Friday’s performance and will Tuch, who last scored a goal March 13 and has one tally in his last 17 contests, find the back of the net?

There’s another facet to today’s game. The NHL trade deadline is 24 hours away. Kelly McCrimmon has publicly stated he doesn’t expect the team to make a big splash by noon Monday. But Colorado got better Saturday in upgrading its goaltending with the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk from San Jose and Joe Sakic may not be done dealing. The Avalanche currently reside atop the West Division with a four-point lead on the Knights, who have a game in hand on Colorado. The two teams have two more meetings remaining later this month — both in Las Vegas.

The Knights had organizational meetings in town earlier this week to explore all their options. Remember, they’re up against the salary cap so they’re going to have to get real creative if they want to swing a major deal. Even a secondary trade may require some heavy lifting, depending on who is involved.

If I’m GMKM, I’m watching today’s match with more than the usual interest. It’s up to him, and Prez George, to determine if there’s enough offense to beat Colorado and/or Minnesota, then be able to score often enough to win the Stanley Cup.

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Carp: Anxious Times Await NHL Players

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Welcome to Anxiety Week.

It’s that time of the year where if you’re an NHL player, you start hearing rumors that you’ll be moved at the trade deadline. You get texts from friends. Your wife or girlfriend asks you what’s up. Your kids, if they’re old enough, are freaked out at the idea they may have to move and leave their friends and have to go to a new school.

Anxious? You bet.

For a lot of NHL players, they need not be worried. Some have no-move clauses in their contracts or, if you’re someone like Marc-Andre Fleury, have a list of teams they would agree to be traded to.

But for others, this is a tough week. The trade deadline is eight days away (April 12) and trying to maintain one’s focus on their job is not an easy task. Especially if your team is currently struggling and change is imminent.

The stock answer players give when asked if they’re worried about being shipped out is “It’s out of my hands” or “I don’t worry about things I have no control over” both of which are true. They understand the business side of the game and let’s not fret over where their next meal is coming from because everyone is well compensated for their services. If they have to go to Detroit or Ottawa, so be it. They’ll pack their stuff, head to the next destination, and try to quickly assimilate within their new team.

For the Golden Knights players, being moved on or before the April 12 deadline is even more disconcerting. You’d be leaving a team that is built to compete for the Stanley Cup, was leading its division for most of the season, and has been one of the best in the entire NHL since Opening Night. Can you imagine how bummed a player would be if he got a call from Kelly McCrimmon and he tells you you’ve been traded to Buffalo?

It could happen, to pretty much anyone. Especially given the recent events of this week that have seen Vegas drop three in a row, fail to hold the lead in the 3rd period, and a power play that has been more dismal than what we’ve come to expect.

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Carp: Stone Wearing ‘C’ Well

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

These days, we tend to mock decisions, using the phrase, “How’s that working out?”

So feel free to ask about Mark Stone’s captaincy of the Golden Knights. How’s that working out?

Pretty damn good I’d say.

When the Knights traded for him a couple years ago, I said in this space that he should be the team’s first captain. Not right away, but eventually. Some of you questioned that idea, which of course was your right. And a few of you even made some valid points.

But here we are, more than halfway through the 2021 season and Stone is leading, both in the dressing room and on the ice. He’s putting up the kind of numbers that gets you votes for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Peter DeBoer is stumping for him. Others around the league are saying his name too. Stone? He’s too busy scoring goals and making plays in his own end to deny the opposition from scoring to worry about it.

With March wrapping up, Stone has had an amazing month. He has 8 goals, 14 assists, five of which came in one game against Minnesota on March 1 which helped him earn NHL First Star honors on March 8. His 22 points in March are the most by a player in a single month in the brief history of the Golden Knights and there are still two more games left — Monday and Wednesday vs. the Kings.

He also has had one fight, a +6 rating, and his team is still in first place in the West Division with 47 points, one more than Colorado after Saturday’s 3-2 OT win over the Avalanche. He remains a constant presence in the lineup, having missed only one game this season. He leads the NHL in game-winning goals with seven so he has shown a knack for delivering in the clutch.

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Carp: This Roster Needs An Upgrade

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

With the second half of the Golden Knights’ season starting this afternoon in Los Angeles, the team is sitting pretty in first place in the West Division with a 21-6-1 record, 43 points, and a league-best points percentage of .768. But we need to look at the big picture and the upcoming playoffs in May.

The NHL trade deadline is April 12. But it’s never too early to talk about potential deals, particularly in a year where the word “quarantine” comes into play.

As history has shown, the Golden Knights are usually major players at the deadline. In the first season, it was obtaining Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reaves. In Year Two, it was trading for Mark Stone. Last year, it was Robin Lehner. In each instance, it was about trying to make the team better and have a roster that can win the Stanley Cup.

Notice I said “win” and not “compete for.” The Knights roster, as currently constructed, is good enough to compete for the Cup. But is it good enough to win it?

I don’t believe it is.

The lack of consistent bottom-six scoring is the biggest issue. Defensive depth is a potential secondary hazard though I think the Knights could get by without a major move on the blue line given the play of Dylan Coghlan, Nic Hague, and Zach Whitecloud. And presumably, they’ll have Alex Pietrangelo back in time for the postseason. If they need to trot Nick Holden out there, they can get by with doing it.

Playoff hockey is different. There are no weaklings to beat up on and if your fourth line isn’t contributing, it puts you at a distinct disadvantage. In the playoffs, your opponents are geared to shut down your top line, and as we saw last year in the Edmonton bubble, nothing can hasten your exit from the postseason faster than a hot goaltender who prevents you from putting the puck in the net. The bottom line is you need contributions from all four lines on a consistent basis during the postseason if you’re serious about having a Stanley Cup championship parade in July.

GM Kelly McCrimmon told the RJ earlier in the week he didn’t anticipate history repeating itself and the team making a big splash at the deadline. Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet’s respected insider, echoed similar comments, I assume after talking to either GMKM or Prez George, in his weekly 31 Thoughts column.

The big issue is the salary cap. Unless Pietrangelo’s LTIR for his left arm injury runs through the remainder of the regular season, which Pete DeBoer indicates isn’t likely, the Knights are limited in what they can do. The potential to grow the LTIR list ended Friday with the return of Chandler Stephenson and Alex Tuch, which is good news for the present.

So to make a deal, the Knights would likely have to move someone on the current roster to accommodate whoever they trade for. I doubt they want to break up the current band to add a backup singer, especially after going through what they went through in the offseason to construct this lineup.

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Carp: Knights Handle Adversity Right Way

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

We all knew the potential for disaster this six-game road trip presented when the Golden Knights embarked upon it 10 days ago. Little did we know the true adversity the team would have to endure.

There were 12 possible points attainable when the team left Las Vegas to start the longest trip of the season in San Jose. They got eight of those dozen points, going 4-2-0, which given the circumstances, was a remarkable job.

Consider:

  •  The team lost one of its top defensemen to injury.
  • They were booted from their San Jose hotel on game day, a potential huge distraction.
  • Their best player tested positive for COVID-19 only for it to be a false positive.
  • They had two back-to-backs to deal with.
  • They had to face two of the better teams in their division.

That doesn’t include William Carrier’s injury, which forced him from the lineup and eventually resulted in coach Peter DeBoer making one of his best moves of the year in reconfiguring his bottom six.

Yet here the Knights are this morning, still in first place in the West Division. How did they manage to do that?

A few reasons:

One, they have great leadership. Putting that “C” on Mark Stone has turned out to be the right call and he, along with the other veterans, kept the room together. Don’t underestimate the importance of that, especially when you’ve lost two in a row and things were looking a bit bleak.

Obviously, we’re not in the room so we don’t hear or see what goes on. But trust me, the message was made clear after they dropped those two games to Minnesota.

Stone also led on the ice, scoring in Friday’s 5-4 overtime win at St. Louis, then potting a pair in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Blues to help right the ship following the two losses in St. Paul to the Wild.

Two, the coach knows what he’s doing. Say what you want about DeBoer, but virtually every move he has made this season has worked. His moving Tomas Nosek and Nic Roy up to play with Alex Tuch and dropping Cody Glass and Keegan Kolesar down to the fourth line to partner with Ryan Reaves worked Friday as the third line generated three points (Nosek’s goal and assist plus Roy’s assist), giving the team some desperately needed bottom-six scoring.

Saturday, Glass was not in the lineup, replaced by Patrick Brown who didn’t look out of place playing with Kolesar and Reaves. I’m glad to see Brown get a chance and I hope Saturday was not a one-off for him.

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Carp: Will Ivan Morozov Succeed In Vegas?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

I don’t think I was in the minority when I say this, but I was excited about watching Kirill Kaprizov play in person this week.

The Minnesota Wild rookie forward from Russia is impressive. He gets the puck on his stick and he quickly becomes the center of everyone’s attention. He’s gifted, hard-working, and exciting.

Watching Kaprizov got me thinking about another Russian forward. No, not Pavel Dorofeyev, though he appears to be off to a good start with the Silver Knights.

Remember Ivan Morozov? He was the Golden Knights’ first player taken in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, going in the second round at No. 61 overall. He has remained in Russia and is currently playing with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League.

How’s he doing? Quite well, actually. In 55 regular-season games, Morozov scored 13 goals and had 31 points and was a +15 for his team, which won its division and was second overall in the KHL in points. He’s still maturing, both physically as well as emotionally. He’s 6-foot-1 and weighs 178 pounds. And he’s only 20 years old.

Wil Nichol, the Knights’ Director of Player Development said he has not seen Morozov play in person in a while because of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus. But the Knights have their European scouts on the ground in Russia and they have access to Morozov. Alex Godynyuk is a regular at Morozov’s games and according to Nichol, the reports he’s receiving from Godynyuk in Russia are positive.

We’re really happy with him — as a player and as a person. I’ve gotten to know him and he’s an incredible kid. In terms of his development, when he played at the World Juniors a couple of years ago, he was as good as any center in the tournament. He’s carried that over to the KHL.  -Nichol

The Knights own his NHL rights. Unfortunately, Morozov has one more year remaining on his KHL contract so unless something happens and he is allowed to leave, we’re going to have to wait until 2022 for Morozov to sign his entry-level contract, come to the U.S., and get on a fast track to the NHL via Henderson where he could team up with Dorofeyev and give coach Manny Viveiros a 1-2 Russian punch up front.

Nichol said Morozov and Dorofeyev are good friends. Dorofeyev’s father coached both of them as kids so they have a bond.

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Carp: Focus On The Big Picture

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Give the NHL this — it is willing to think outside the box when it comes to staging these outdoor hockey events.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature, like the coronavirus, doesn’t give a damn about aesthetic beauty, the NHL, or NBC. The sun was determined to shine and thus destroyed what was going to be an uplifting occasion for hockey fans everywhere.

So the Golden Knights and Avalanche started, stopped, then started again well into Saturday night in an attempt to complete a game and hand out the two points that came with it to the winner, which was Colorado, 3-2. Let’s not forget that amid the fabulous scenery of Lake Tahoe, these are two teams that are battling for the top spot in the West Division and are among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup come July. The outcome mattered. Just like Monday’s outcome at Ball Arena in Denver will matter.

When the Knights show up in Colorado Monday night, they do so with their first taste of adversity this year as they are dealing with their first losing streak of the season. It’s only two games, but they don’t want it to manifest itself beyond that.

Points have been garnering my attention since this four-game series between the Knights and the Nordiques, er, Avalanche was announced. Everyone has had their eyes on this matchup and the fact that the Knights had won Tuesday and should’ve come away with a point Thursday tells you how closely matched these teams are and how likely they are on a collision course to meet in the playoffs.

These are games that are easy for players to get up for. It’s best vs. best in the division and when the sheet is fast, as was the case at the Fortress earlier in the week and will likely be quick in Denver on Monday, the quality of play goes up a few notches.

Right now, Colorado is the better team.

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