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NHL Owners Are Prepared For 48-Game Season

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While GM’s across the league convened via Zoom, NHL owners continued to stew about lost revenue. Any time money is the main topic, fans should be worried.

They don’t have any idea at this point what the specifics are, other than they’re still hopeful for early January. There are some who are starting to think that’s a stretch for the start of the 2020-21 season. That will be the target Commissioner Bettman continues to be focused on. -Darren Dreger, TSN Vancouver

Speculation from numerous hockey reporters has suggested the NHL is working on either a 60-game or 48-game season. However, it’s a work in progress as the league and owners aren’t necessarily on the same page.

Commissioner Gary Bettman would love to see a 60-game series to maximize revenue and provide as much content to the league’s television partners. The owners on the other hand are extremely worried about generating income, especially if they can’t sell tickets to attending fans.

The owners are worried about the economics. Before the NHL drops puck on 2020-21, I’m pretty sure Commissioner Bettman is going to present ownership with two or three scenarios. Specific again to the dollars. ‘Here’s how much we’re going to lose if we don’t play, at all. Here’s how much we’re going to lose if we play without fans. Here’s how much we’re going to lose if we wait until we can plug a percentage of fans in the building.’.. What we know is, we’re going to have to deal with it in every sense for the foreseeable future.-Dreger, TSN Vancouver

With the operating costs of arenas and practice facilities on top of player salaries, it’s a serious concern for most NHL owners. If they can’t make a buck without fans in their buildings, owners prefer a shorter season to cut back on wasted expenses.

I keep hearing from ownership side that they’re a little more adamant about February 1st. There appears to be two sides of start dates, Jan. 1 and Feb. 1. Maybe by March 15th, we can put six thousand people in your building. The owners will be saying I’d rather have to wait six weeks for that rather than ten weeks. Why don’t we just push back a month. There are enough teams that are thinking that they would like to push back a month.-John Shannon, TSN Vancouver

Beyond agreeing on start date for the 2020-21 season, the league will be under pressure to wrap up and award the Stanley Cup by early to mid-July. In the United States, NBC has exclusive rights to the NHL and the Olympics. The latter is a real money-maker for the network. The NHL has essentially been told that when the Tokyo Olympics begin the league won’t have a network to air their games.

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High-End Players Hit The Market Much More Than Suggested

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We’ve heard it a lot from the Golden Knights front office, and we hear it pretty much any time any team ends up with a new high-end player.

We had what we believe was an incredibly rare opportunity to add a defenseman, an elite player like Alex to our team. We really viewed it as a similar situation to the opportunity to acquire Mark Stone. Generally these are players that don’t hit the market and we were fortunate to make a trade for Mark Stone and sign a contract with Alex as a free agent. -Kelly McCrimmon

A rare opportunity. These guys don’t come around often. Have to take advantage of it.

It sounds great and there’s no debating that adding Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo to a team is an awesome thing to do. But, is it really that rare?

Just in the three years in which the Golden Knights have been a franchise, they’ve been tied to and eventually got Stone and Pietrangelo, and along the way, they were linked to Erik Karlsson, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, and Steven Stamkos.

Around the league, just in the past five seasons, four players who finished in the top five in Hart voting have changed teams. A Vezina winner, a Selke winner, and six more guys who have finished in the top five votings in either of those awards.

In all, just since the offseason of 2016, I count 17 high-end players that have switched teams, or about three to four per offseason. (That’s counting each guy just once despite some moving multiple times.)

I’m talking about names like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ryan O’Reilly, Erik Karlsson, and John Tavares.

If you want to dig a bit deeper, in the All Star Games between 2016 and 2018, at least 11 players are currently on different teams including an incredible 17 of the 44 players in the 2016 game.

Again, no one is criticizing the will to add high-end players like Alex Pietrangelo and Mark Stone. But if the main reason for doing it is because these opportunities don’t come around often, history suggests otherwise.

VGK Heading For Similar Offseason To Deadline Path

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There’s still plenty of time for things to change, but at the moment the Golden Knights appear set to head into the 2020-21 season with a similar mindset as they did in 2019-20.

At the deadline of Year 2 the Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone and agreed to an enormous contract extension that was set to kick in the following season. Thus, in the offseason, they were forced to shed some salary in order to return to cap compliance. They did it by trading Erik Haula, Colin Miller, and Nikita Gusev and the only tangible piece they got in return was Nic Roy. Then, at the deadline, they packaged all of the draft picks they received a in the offseason to make splash trades bringing in Robin Lehner, Alec Martinez, and Nick Cousins. The idea was to use the players that needed to be sent out in the offseason to create capital that could be spent in a more effective way at the deadline.

This year, the Golden Knights may end up going down a similar path. As was the case with Cody Eakin last year, the clear player to move to create cap space this offseason was (and still is) Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas signed Lehner to a long-term deal relegating Fleury to the bench and making his $7 million cap hit a burden. But, instead of making that move, Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee opted to trade Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt instead. The return was a pair of mid-round draft picks, which can once again be used as capital to make more moves at the deadline.

The trouble is, this year the piece that must move out to clear cap space at the deadline will be much trickier to move than the one last year. Cody Eakin’s $3.85 million was clearly expendable in the offseason and if Vegas wanted to do anything significant they needed to move it at the deadline. They found a suitor in Winnipeg and turned it into a 4th round pick. That paved the way to use the picks from Haula, Miller, and Gusev to add a forward, defenseman, and a goalie.

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What An All Canadian Division Would Mean For The Golden Knights

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No one knows when the 2020-21 season is going to get underway nor does anyone have any idea what exactly it will look like when it finally does.

Recently, there’s been a growing sense that one potential option the league may be forced to take is to re-align the divisions to keep all Canadian teams together. In fact, The Creator mentioned it as an option he expects to happen in a recent interview on Vegas Hockey Hotline with Brian Blessing.

I don’t think that border is going to be open on January 1st. I think they are going to play a Canadian division. -The Creator

Major League Baseball faced this problem as the Toronto Blue Jays were not granted access to fly back and forth across the border to play games. Instead, they had to play all of their games in Buffalo.

So, if that were to be the case, where does that leave Vegas with three teams suddenly out of the division. Here’s the most logical option the league could be left with.

Canadian Division
Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg

West Division
Arizona, Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas

Central Division
Chicago, Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Tampa Bay

East Division
Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington

This is certainly not perfect for Vegas, but it’s not terrible. They still remain in a division with the three California teams and they no longer would have to take the tough trip up to Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary). But, adding Colorado, Dallas, and  St. Louis is definitely tricky.

The league certainly could shuffle a few things around including possibly seeing Chicago or Nashville instead of St. Louis in Vegas’ division.

Winning a division with Colorado in it will be much tougher for Vegas than without. Nonetheless, no matter how it shakes out the Golden Knights should be in a prime position to once again reach the postseason.

Schmidt: Fleury Situation Was “Tough On The Room”

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Back in the days when the Golden Knights played games at T-Mobile Arena in front of 18,000 fans, the song “The Man” by the Killers would occasionally blare over the loudspeakers.

♪♪ I got skin in the game
I got a household name
I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man ♪♪

That man for the Golden Knights was Marc-Andre Fleury.

When he’d make an incredible sliding save, stop a breakaway, or steal a goal with a windmill glove save, you’d hear that song, usually accompanied by a shot of him smiling through his mask on the big screen.

Fleury was the man at the Expansion Draft. He was the man in training camp. He was the man in the playoffs and into the Stanley Cup Final. Since the moment the Golden Knights got him, Marc-Andre Fleury has been “The Man.”

Then, he wasn’t.

Marc-Andre is a guy that I look at and he’s one of the best humans, the biggest personalities, one of the greatest guys and it was hard to see what happened. But you have a chance with Robin and he’s a fantastic goalie as well so those things are difficult. It was tough for the room. –Nate Schmidt to Sportsnet 650

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In the next 50 years of the Golden Knights franchise, they’ll probably never have a guy as universally liked as Marc-Andre Fleury. So for his teammates to see him placed in an unenviable position was always going to be rough.

Plus, it wasn’t the only thing that was “tough for the room.” The firing of Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly was incredibly challenging for everyone as well. Throw in the pause in the season, the bubble, and the pandemic itself and it becomes fairly clear the Golden Knights were set up to fail.

Sometimes, change is necessary. The results may have indicated that with both the firing of Gallant and the switch from Fleury to Lehner. But in a league with as much parity as the NHL, a few percent increase on the ice may not be worth the ripple effect it causes off it.

The Golden Knights should know this as well as anyone in the history of the league. They rode the “Golden Misfits” label all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in a year that most believed their talent level should have had them staring at the NHL’s cellar rather than the mountain top.

The organization has gone to great lengths to make the team better, and it’s hardly in question that’s exactly what they’ve done. But there’s been an emotional toll along the way, none bigger than the fallout from the benching of Fleury.

There’s no way to prove the exact empirical effects but professional sports are a binary business. Either you win or you don’t. The Golden Knights didn’t and hearing a now-former player share how tough the Fleury situation was on the team, it’s hard to believe it didn’t at least contribute to how the season unfortunately ended.

Pietrangelo Signing Reaction, The Untouchable Reilly Smith, Kicking The Tires On Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos And The Ripple Effect Of It All

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It was the biggest signing of the offseason, changing the landscape of the NHL. When Alex Pietrangelo signed his seven-year deal with the Golden Knights the league wildly reacted to the deal and its effect on the franchise.

They don’t lack for boldness. The end of the road map for them, like every team is the Cup. Their path seems to be a lot more direct. I don’t know if it’s going to work. They’re dancing on a wire… The Stastny thing I guess opens the door for Cody Glass. If you take Stastny and Schmidt out of the lineup and just put in Pietrangelo, I don’t know how much better they are. I think Pietrangelo is really good, but you’re taking on two pretty important players. I really don’t know what to think of it.-Ray Ferraro, TSN on TSN1050

Another pundit, however, understood the mindset of the Golden Knights front office aggressive nature.

They’re a no nonsense franchise. They’re all about winning. That’s what Mr. Foley their owner is about. They make no bones about it. George McPhee is all about that. Kelly McCrimmon’s about that… They hate San Jose. They don’t dislike San Jose, they hate San Jose. When Pete DeBoer got fired by San Jose, the team they hated the most and probably the coach they hated the most they hired him because they thought he gave them the best chance to win. They’re about winning they don’t worry about all the other stuff, the window dressing. It’s not everybody gets a trophy in this league. They’re a hard edge organization.-Pierre McGuire, NBCSN to TSN1200

By this point Golden Knights fans are aware of the front office’s hard edge, win at all costs mentality. The massive commitment to Pietrangelo proved that, as well as the difficult decisions to trade Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny.

I heard the deal in Vegas was going to be 7x$8.5M. It came out 7x$8.8M. It’s got the no move protection. I’ve been told it has the protection that Pietrangelo wanted. The buyout protection later in the deal it’s there, in the form of a signing bonus. I heard it was a grind… I do think there were some other teams that wanted to get in on Pietrangelo but I don’t think Vegas was going to let that happen. No matter how grindy the negotiations got, he was their target, he was the guy they wanted. I think Vegas was always Pietrangelo’s first choice.-Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman relayed some of the information he gathered surrounding Pietrangelo and gave detail to why certain players in the organization were irate hearing their names circling around the rumor mill.

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Golden Knights Building Dangerous Reputation Concerning Loyalty

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The Golden Knights are on the verge of landing the biggest fish in NHL free agency, Alex Pietrangelo. The former Stanley Cup-winning captain of the St. Louis Blues is expected to make his decision at any moment and it would come as a shock to the entire hockey world if he ends up anywhere but Las Vegas.

Like they did with Robin Lehner, Mark Stone, and Tomas Tatar at the last three deadlines, or Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny in prior offseasons, the Golden Knights will have made a splash in the name of bringing Vegas one step closer to winning the Cup.

However, as Isaac Newton taught us, with every action comes an equal and opposite reaction.

I worry about the Vegas reputation now. They are trying to win, which is admirable, but if they are getting a reputation for being a place that talks you into coming, what do you think the free agents today that are watching these guys get shipped out are saying to themselves? ‘That can be me in two years if I go there.’ There’s a fine line between trying to win and having some organizational loyalty. –Brian Burke, former Stanley Cup winning NHL GM

That reputation might end up getting even stronger after the fallout from the Pietrangelo deal too.

As Burke said, it’s all done in the name of winning, which is great, but when dealing with highly-paid professional athletes with families, that loyalty piece has to be kept in mind.

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Backloaded Deals Might Be A Trend This Offseason

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If there’s one thing we’re starting to learn to count on it’s that there will never be a shortage of comments from NHL agent Allan Walsh. While he’s seemingly done discussing his client Marc-Andre Fleury’s future (for now), Walsh explained a way a team like Vegas could entice a high-end free agent by paying them more later than now. It would allow a front office to go out big game hunting, potentially attracting a veteran free agent like Alex Pietrangelo.

I’ve never seen this kind of activity. The only time that compares to what’s happening right now was in 2005 when we were opening free agency after losing a whole season to the lockout… In 2005, teams had the ability to use two compliance buyouts and take money out of the system and that doesn’t exist right now. There’s a lot of teams right now that are bumping up against the top of the upper limit and still have a number of their own players to sign. Let alone look at the free agent market and see who they can be in on to bring on board and into their city. -Allan Walsh, NHL agent

The Golden Knights are one of those teams up against the cap but unlike other clubs, it won’t stop them from adding players they desire. Vegas is desperately trying to move certain players to free up cap space but the organization can get creative when talking about real salaries as their owner is never afraid to spend to make his team better, something many other owners are not.

While the hunt can’t begin until officially until tomorrow, Vegas has probably been sniffing out their competition. Sources have told SinBin.vegas that the Golden Knights intend on making a real effort to sign Pietrangelo. With the uncertainty of the cap, their internal budget, and the players’ demands, Walsh explained how a club like Vegas can entice an attractive UFA to ditch their old club for Sin City.

There’s an escrow cap this coming season in 2020-21 of twenty percent. There’s a ten percent deferral that will be deferred until three, four and five years from the coming season. If you can defer money, and by that I mean put the money into the outer three years of let’s say a six-year deal, the escrow cap in those years is six percent. That means you will get your negotiated face value of the contract up to six percent that you could lose to escrow. That’s a huge difference. -Walsh

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What The Golden Knights Look For In A Draft Pick – 2020 Edition

The Golden Knights are set to participate in their fourth NHL Entry Draft. This year Vegas enters with just five picks including a 1st and two 3rds which make it their lightest draft ever. In 2017 Vegas selected 12 players then followed it up by picking eight in each of the previous two years.

Thus, the Golden Knights have made 28 draft picks to help us get a feel for exactly the type of players they prefer. The Vegas front office remains untouched but we might see a bit of variance this year with a new head coach behind the bench. First, we’ll dig into the style of player the Golden Knights prefer. (Here’s last year’s edition of this same article.)

6 – Skilled Forward (Suzuki, Elvenes, Dugan, Kruse, Dorofeyev, Donovan)
5 – All-Around Center (Glass, Morozov, Cotter, Krebs, Primeau)
5 – Two-Way Defenseman (Hague, Corcoran, Bouchard, Korczak, Ahac)
4 – Offensive Defenseman (Brannstrom, Campoli, Demin, Diliberatore)
4 – Goalie (Zhukov, Patera, Kooy, Saville)
3 – Defensive Forward (Leschyshyn, Rondbjerg, Jones)
1 – All-Around Winger (Kallionkieli)

Last year Vegas opted for two skilled forwards, two all-around centers, and a pair of two-way defensemen. They shied away from both offensive defensemen and defensive forwards for the first time. Vegas has selected a goalie in each draft.

Next we move on to the “word cloud” which helps illustrate the traits the Golden Knights looks for in draft picks. These are descriptions used from our two draft favorite Draft guides (NHL Black Book and Draft Recrutes). Only positive terms were used for this portion.

The most commonly used terms are skill (14), two-way (11), hockey sense (11), strong (10), skating (9), quickness (9), and long-stride (8). The Golden Knights also seem partial towards players who are good in transition (7), have good sticks (8), play in all situations (6), are physical (5), and have a high work rate (5).

When it comes to negative traits, the most common one we see is inconsistent which showed up on five different players. The term we rarely find, literally has been mentioned as a negative for just two VGK draft picks, is skating.

Next, we move to the league in which players come from. The OHL remains atop the leaderboard with the USHL and WHL right behind it. In the 2019 Draft, each of Vegas’ first two selections (Krebs and Korczak) were from the WHL.

6 – OHL
5 – USHL
4 – WHL
3 – Sweden
3 – US High School
2 – BCHL
2 – Russia
1 – NCAA
1 – QMJHL
1 – OJHL

Through three drafts, the Golden Knights have still never selected a Brandon Wheat King, the team Kelly McCrimmon previously owned, managed, and coached. The connection remained strong though as Marcus Kallionkieli joined the Wheaties after being selected by Vegas in the 2019 Draft.

As for size, the Golden Knights have continued to run the gamut hitting all shapes and sizes. Though they do seem to love kids that are exactly 6’2″ as 10 of their 28 draft picks hit that exact height.

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Even Without The Only Stabilizing Provision An NHL Player Can Have, Robin Lehner Feels Stable In Las Vegas

In his next contract, Robin Lehner put a high priority on stability.

He mentioned it over and over again in his Zoom meeting with the media following the signing of his new 5-year $25 million contract.

It’s clear he believes with the Vegas Golden Knights, he finally has it.

I’ve worked very very hard for this. It’s been a long journey since I moved into the league. I’ve had my bumps and bruises, I’ve battled through a lot of things… I have a 5-year-old son that has five different hockey jerseys. We live a privileged life, but you want to give your family stability as well and I couldn’t find a better opportunity and a better setting than here in Vegas with a great community and fan base. -Robin Lehner

Lehner has bounced around a lot in the last few years of his career. After putting up good numbers on a struggling team in Buffalo, he was not extended a qualifying offer by the Sabres which saw him hit the unrestricted free agent market in the summer of 2018. He bet on himself, signing a one-year deal worth just $1.5 million. That season he turned in a Vezina quality year and appeared to be headed for a payday in the summer of 2019. But, while the pay raise came (he signed for $5 million) term did not. He accepted another one-year deal, this time in Chicago. He split time with Corey Crawford and then at the deadline found himself on a third team inside of two calendar years all while playing out the end of an expiring contract.

He’s about as open and honest a person as you’ll find in the NHL and he has not been shy in sharing his disappointment that he was unable to find a long-term home despite performing at a high level. That’s why when pen hit paper on the deal in Vegas, he was overjoyed to have finally found it.

It’s obviously been a pretty emotional day for me and my family. We are exteremly happy to be here and get this deal done. I have a lot of people to thank but it’s a big win for us. -Lehner

There’s just one problem that remains. Despite committing himself to the Golden Knights for the next five seasons, Lehner’s contract did not come with a full no-trade clause. Instead, he received a modified no-trade which allows him to veto eight teams in the first three seasons and then five in the final two.

That’s not exactly reassuring regarding stability considering this is an organization that signed another goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, to a similar contract in July 2018 which was scheduled to run through 2022. Vegas will likely cut ties with Fleury with two years still left on the deal and that contract actually had a larger no-trade clause than Lehner’s.

Lehner is well-aware of how the Golden Knights conduct business. He described it as a “no politics team,” clarifying to mean that the best players play no matter the situation. So when I posed the blunt question of, “how do you feel stable in an organization when you do not have a full no-trade clause?” he answered calmly, insightfully, and incredibly confidently.

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