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Can VGK Repeat Blue Line Success From The 2020-21 Season?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If you look back to the 2020-21 NHL season you’ll recollect just how dangerous the Golden Knights were. They outscored their opponents by 1.21 goals per game and ended the season with a remarkable +63 in scoring differential. Vegas was a legitimate Cup favorite and was destined to face the Colorado Avalanche for Western conference supremacy. One reason why the Golden Knights had so much success throughout the shortened 56-game season was the support they received from the blue line.

With the addition of Alex Pietrangelo, VGK’s defense in 2021 was among the top scoring clubs in the NHL for points from the men who man the points. Between the group, Vegas’ d-men posted 142 points. Lead by Shea Theodore (8 Goals, 34 Assists), several Golden Knights defenders had career highs in points per game.

So, is it possible to duplicate their blue line scoring in the upcoming 2022-23 season?

We’ve broken down how new coach Bruce Cassidy has a slightly different mindset than previous coach Pete DeBoer when it comes to defensive involvement. Of course in Cassidy’s system blue liners will have the opportunity to score but not as much as they did in the past.

2020-21 VGK Defensemen Points
Shea Theodore: 8 Goals, 34 Assists
Alec Martinez: 9 Goals, 23 Assists
Alex Pietrangelo: 7 Goals, 16 Assists
Nic Hague: 5 Goals, 12 Assists
Zach Whitecloud: 2 Goals, 10 Assists
Brayden McNabb: 2 Goals, 6 Assists

14-year veteran Alec Martinez not only registered his highest points per game average (0.60) but was also a dangerous power play weapon. The two-time Stanley Cup winner scored 3 PP goals in 2021, the most he scored in seven previous seasons. Martinez even lead the Golden Knights struggling man-advantage with two PP goals in the 2021 postseason.

Most fans expect Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore to actively help out offensively but can the rest of the defensive unit step up like they did in 2021? With the lack of natural scoring forwards, even under Cassidy, Golden Knights’ defensemen should have ample opportunities to pitch in. To qualify for the postseason VGK may be forced to rely on crucial points from the point.

What’s the saying? Oh right, it takes a village to win a Cup.

Call Me Crazy, But…

Everyone loves a good hot take, so I’m here to provide a few of them using a format I’m borrowing from NFL Network’s Fantasy Live show. First, I’ll give my four predictions, and then I’ll share some of the best ones we got from our Discord server. Then, I want to see some from you all in the comments.

Call me crazy, but Keegan Kolesar will score more goals than Phil Kessel this season

Despite converting at a dismal 7.4% shooting rate, Kolesar still found a way to notch seven goals in his 77 appearances with the Golden Knights last year. He was constantly around the net and showed on multiple occasions he has the talent to score difficult goals. At some point, the floodgates are going to open for him and he’ll start scoring at a much more “normal” rate for NHLers. That would mean somewhere closer to 10%. I’d honestly be a bit surprised if Kolesar doesn’t hit double-digits this year and 15 or so is not out of the question.

Which brings us to the other side of the coin, Kessel. It’s mostly about the situation I expect him to find himself in as the season progresses. I just can’t see a 35-year-old suddenly committing to defense, which will lead to a decrease in minutes for a team trying to win games. He’ll probably end up struggling to get to 10 minutes and night and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he draws out of the lineup from time to time after he breaks the ironman record. His passing will still be there, so I’d suspect he can reach 30 to 40 points, which Kolesar may not, but the goal scoring is not going to jump as much as many believe.

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McCrimmon Shares Details On Stone’s Health, Hague’s Contract, And Goalie Outlook

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Training Camp is right around the corner. Trust me, it actually is, the long wait is so close to being over. With it a number of questions will begin to be answered for the Golden Knights. From lineup to systems to personnel to health, much of the picture will start to clear up every day we get closer to October 11th.

Until then, we must rely on snippets of information from the most important people in the organization, and recently we got some from the general manager. Speaking on the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports Radio, Kelly McCrimmon dipped into the latest on Mark Stone’s health, contract negotiations with Nic Hague, and the goalie picture.

First, on Stone. A few days prior to Stone’s surgery at a press conference McCrimmon shared the news of what they expected the offseason to look like for the captain.

Mark Stone has been seeing consultants and meeting with doctors and it appears quite likely he’ll have back surgery on Wednesday. He would be available for Training Camp and rehab over that period of time. That’s not 100% for certain but it’s certainly the most likely outcome at this time. -McCrimmon on May 16th

Three days later, following the surgery, the team released this statement via Twitter.

Mark Stone underwent a successful lumbar discectomy with Dr. Robert Watkins, IV at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital. He is expected to be ready to play for the regular season. -Golden Knights Official Statement

McCrimmon has spoken a few times and reiterated the expected timeline of Stone returning to the team for the first game of the season. In the interview with Fox Sports Radio, McCrimmon continued along the same path.

No different than what we’ve been saying all along. Mark’s in town, he’s skating. Our expectation is that he’s going to be available for the opening of the season. What that means exactly with respect to training camp, we’ll see. When you have these offseason surgeries, Laurent Brossoit is another one, really you don’t have that definitive timeline until the players get here, they get with the medical team, you see how they respond to certain treatments to certain levels of intensity. There’s a reason that teams at times appear to be vague with respect to timelines on injuries because it’s hard to pinpoint. My answers I’m giving here today are exactly I think as what we’ve said throughout the offseason and that’s the information we’re working with and the expectations we have. So that’s how we’ll play it out and once we get on the ice and see how players react that are coming off injuries or surgeries or lengthy rehabs we’ll know more at that time. –McCrimmon on VGK Insider Show

So, it still appears Stone is on track to be in uniform with the team on October 11th, but his availability to start Training Camp on September 24th remains in doubt.

On to the next order of business, restricted free agent Nic Hague.

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Four Prerequisites For The Golden Knights to Miss the Playoffs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Yesterday we looked at the four prerequisites that had to happen for the Golden Knights to win the division. Today, we’re doing the opposite. Here’s what would have to happen for everything to go wrong for Vegas and see them miss the playoffs yet again.

Jack Eichel leads all centers in goals against per 60 at even-strength

Last year Eichel actually led the team with the fewest goals against per 60. Eichel finished slightly better than William Karlsson, and all of VGK’s other regular centers, while wearing a VGK uniform. However, the last seven games nearly saw Eichel blow the lead as he was on the ice for seven goals against down the stretch, mostly in games the Golden Knights lost.

If Eichel takes the step forward defensively that Bruce Cassidy and the entire VGK organization are hoping for, it’ll completely change the makeup of the way they can utilize their lines. Karlsson will no longer have to play the heaviest defensive minutes and Eichel could potentially pair up with Mark Stone on defensive zone draws against opposing top lines, something Cassidy will likely avoid early in the season.

This isn’t saying Eichel needs to turn into a Selke candidate, or anything close, but if he doesn’t become a reliable defensive option, the rest of the team will struggle to make up for the shortcoming.

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Four Prerequisites For VGK To Win The Pacific Division

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For the first time in a long time, the Golden Knights enter the season without a clear picture of exactly where they stand in the Pacific Division. There’s an easy argument to be made they remain among the top contenders but it’s also not hard to point to the offseason as a reason why they may not.

Let’s stay on the positive side today and take a look at what must happen for the Golden Knights to raise their third divisional banner in six years. If Vegas hit every one of these marks, they’ll not only stroll into the playoffs, but they’ll win the Pacific.

Brett Howden, Nic Roy, or someone else with fewer than 100 career points scores 60 points

One of the biggest questions for the Golden Knights this season is depth. While they have a host of NHL-quality players slotted to play in the bottom-six, there aren’t many proven scorers among the lot. Howden and Roy are the clear favorites to take the massive step forward, but names like Paul Cotter, Brendan Brisson, Sakari Manninen, Jonas Rondbjerg, or a few others could make the leap as well.

For the Golden Knights to truly operate as a dominant force in the division, they’ll need an unexpected boom in scoring from someone. It doesn’t matter where in the lineup it happens either. If the player does it on a line with Jack Eichel or Mark Stone, it will leave a more established scorer to bolster the third line. Or, if it happens on a third or fourth line, Vegas will be able to load up their top-six.

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Wing Support Crucial To VGK Success

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The wing position in the NHL can be very grueling. More often than not a right or left wing is in the corner pushing and shoving to gain possession of the puck. It’s not as glamorous as snapping off ten pucks a night and hearing your name called by the great Bruce Cusick. Due to the proximity of the boards, wingers must play a more physical style. It’s just the nature of the game. Thankfully, Vegas has the skill on both sides to battle, possess, and ultimately score.

Over the years the Golden Knights have been well built on the wing. Mark Stone is one of the league’s best along the boards, using his stick to create a rush or a turnover. His ability and 6’4″ frame make it difficult for defenders to stop the Golden Knights captain from disrupting and attacking the offensive zone. It goes without saying how much Stone’s presence was missed in 2021-22.

Vegas’ other top RW plays differently than Stone but shares the same high hockey IQ every coaching staff desires. Plain and simple, Reilly Smith is dangerous in all situations. Since the inaugural season, Smith has registered 230 points, third only to his linemates William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Not only is Smith creative but he’s extremely reliable. Coach Bruce Cassidy is inheriting a player that skates top six minutes, facilitates on the power play, and is a major threat on a penalty kill.

Right Wing PK Points Since 2017
Reilly Smith 16 (321 Games)
Connor Brown 15 (355)
Cam Atkinson 12 (318)
Mitch Marner 10 (350)
Tom Wilson 9 (334)

The other bonafide top-six wing might be the most beloved Golden Knight on the roster. Maybe it’s his natural ability to score and pump up a crowd, or his emotions and sharp tongue, either way, Marchessault won over the fanbase from the jump. As the leading scorer in team history with 291 points, the LW always seems to come up big in the right moments. I know it’s tough to look back, but directly after the infamous major penalty in San Jose, Marchessault scored sending the game into a series-deciding overtime. Had the results been different, we are talking about one of the most memorable goals in franchise history. If Marchessault continues to net 27+ and tick off opposing players, then he’s doing his job.

If the trio can match season averages, the Golden Knights can pencil in 70 goals and 100 assists from Marchessault, Smith, and Stone. Obviously, Cassidy will come up with the best alignment as well as finding a fourth top wing. It could be a converted center, Phil Kessel, or an elevated forward from the bottom six. Injuries aside, expect all three top wings to be highly effective this season. The season will depend on the production of VGK’s top players and the core will undoubtedly accept the challenge.

Miscommunication Unfortunately Shaping VGK Roster

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights have had a not-so-memorable offseason. The roster has changed dramatically and devastating injury news continues popping up week after week. A lot of it seems to stem from miscommunication between various parties.

Earlier this week, NHL.com reported that Mark Stone would shockingly miss all of training camp. The reporter was quoting from her conversations with Golden Knights center Jack Eichel and head coach Bruce Cassidy. One or the other likely unintentionally let too much slip out in his interview with Spiegel. Later in the day, the reporter tweeted the team had clarified some of the comments.

While the organization cleaned up some comments they never offered a concrete response to Stone’s training camp expectancy. “Availability is questionable,” is not a full response, and McCrimmon’s comments in his press availability left plenty of room for a timeline on Stone’s return. Vague information leads to speculation from the fanbase and they’ve done enough of that. From all accounts, Stone was on track to attend training camp on time with the rest of his teammates. That’s what the Golden Knights captain implied on NHL radio earlier this summer.

I’m battling a pretty bad back and ended up getting a discectomy and should be ready to go first day of training camp. – Mark Stone on NHL Network Radio in June 2022

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What The Acquisition Of Adin Hill Says About VGK’s View Of Their Goalie Situation

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It was just five days ago when Kelly McCrimmon said the Golden Knights’ plan was to head into the season using the tandem of Laurent Brossoit and Logan Thompson in net. He said after internal discussions the team felt they really liked the two guys and they both “earned the opportunity” to take the reins between the pipes.

Then, yesterday, they went out and surrendered a 4th round pick to add 26-year-old goalie Adin Hill and his $2.175 million cap hit.

With NHL front offices, actions speak much louder than words. So, what exactly does this move say? Quite a bit actually.

First of all, it’s important to note that what McCrimmon said last week was the correct statement to make in the moment because it set the Golden Knights up nicely whether they wanted to add a goalie or not. If they were considering it, which we now know they were, it made sense to keep that information close to the vest to ensure they were not taken advantage of on the trade market. Plus, if any deal for a goalie fell through, it was best to portray confidence in Brossoit and Thompson in the event they did enter the season as the tandem.

But, despite it being the correct thing to say, it’s unclear whether or not the statement was actually what the Golden Knights truly believed. The acquisition of Hill says two different things depending on its validity.

If VGK did truly believe five days ago that Brossoit and Thompson were the plan, then the trade shows they think Hill is either already, or has a strong chance to be, better than both this season. If VGK projected Hill to be third behind Brossoit and Thompson, they never would have rushed out to spend a draft pick and use up cap space to make this move.

If VGK did not truly believe in their goalie tandem as they were presenting, the move can be viewed as insurance or even another lottery ticket. If you like the two guys in the organization but aren’t completely sure they can get the job done over the course of an 82-game season, it makes perfect sense to burn through a little draft capital to have another legitimate option in the system.

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Dissecting Bruce Cassidy’s Power Play System And Philosophies: Faceoffs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Parts One and Two of this series focused on entries and in-zone play. So, we only have one place left to explore in Bruce Cassidy’s power play system, faceoffs.

**Reminder: Much of the information highlighted in this series comes from a 36-minute presentation from Bruce Cassidy on TheCoachesSite.com called Principles of the Power Play. If you are looking for more detail than provided in this article, we highly recommend you watch the video in its entirety.**

Now, if you know anything about me you are aware that I’m not a big believer in the importance of faceoff percentage. I truly believe that a terrible team at faceoffs, which wins about 45% has an equal shot of winning the game as an elite team winning them at 55%. No matter what you feel about faceoffs, the fact of the matter is that inevitably, you are going to win some of them.

When the Golden Knights are on the power play, and that happens, here’s what to expect from a Bruce Cassidy power play.

Defenseman to the center of the ice

When a draw is won cleanly back to the blue line, the first action Cassidy wants to see is the puck lugged to the center of the ice. The idea behind this is to establish the 1-3-1 setup as quickly as possible and instantly start attacking. Getting to the center of the ice gives the puck carrier multiple options that may be limited if he stays near the blue line along the boards. Finally, by bringing the puck across the zone, it forces the penalty kill to show their cards. The forwards have to make decisions on how much they are pressuring and the defensemen must decide if they want to collapse and take away the bumper and net-front players or fan out and cover the wings.

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Organization May Lean On Brossoit When Fully Healthy

Many Golden Knights fans would like to see Logan Thompson named as the starting goaltender for the 2022-23 season. It’s a strong argument considering how well Thompson performed late in the season when injuries promoted him as Vegas’ number one. So, are Bruce Cassidy and the Golden Knights coaching staff leaning towards Thompson? He’s confident, skilled, and younger but he’s not as experienced or expensive as the other goalie on the team. Which could lead the organization to eventually select last season’s planned backup, Laurent Brossoit.

Our last update from the organization on Brossoit was promising. The 29-year-old is rehabbing from his offseason surgery and is feverishly working his way back to form. There is no announced date or timeline for his return, but many assumed it would be awhile based off the limited information we’ve received over the summer. Last week NHL.com reporter Kevin Woodley reported Brossoit could be available sooner than later.

He isn’t ready to be on the ice yet, but there was some talk that he isn’t that far away from skating. All indications are he is ahead of schedule, but that doesn’t mean he will be ready for opening night. It could be a few weeks into the season. –Kevin Woodley, NHL.com

Woodley participated in an NHL goaltending camp which happened to be presented by the agency that represents Brossoit. The Golden Knights goaltender wasn’t in attendance, but representatives gave Woodley some positive news about the veteran’s potential return.

The camp that I was at last week was put on by his agency and LB wasn’t there. Not ready to be on the ice yet. There’s a lot of examples of guys having it done in the same window. Having this exact surgery and being back by training camp. Maybe not the beginning of camp but on the ice and doing drills early in the season if not for the start of the season. -Kevin Woodley, NHL.com

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