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OHL Bodycheck Ban Could Signal Fight Ban Coming To NHL

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During the 2019 playoffs, Ryan Reaves talked about why his game was suitable for the postseason. One thing he didn’t mention was fighting.

I play physical but I know how to stay within the limits of the game and not take penalties and hurt the team. Otherwise, I think I’d be out of the league by now. It’s tough to stay in the lineup, especially in the playoffs if you’re taking a bunch of penalties. Especially, when you’re not a top goal scorer. -Ryan Reaves, 04/19/19

In three seasons with the Golden Knights, Reaves’ fight total has cut in half since his arrival. Overall, fighting in the NHL has dropped significantly. This isn’t new. Player safety and roster management are the biggest reasons behind the decrease. However, it now seems that cutting back on fights may be just the start.

Reports out of Canada are that the OHL is considering banning bodychecks when they return to play. With the continuation of the pandemic, health officials in Ontario determined checking could lead to massive COVID-19 spreading.

It’s highly unlikely the NHL heads down that path any time soon, but they could easily use the pandemic as a way to completely eliminate fighting from the game if they so choose.

While Reaves and the rest of the league drop their gloves less and less, the league continues to reexamine its existence in the sport. With the pandemic looming, and the start of the season nowhere in sight, fighting in hockey may have finally met its match.

2000-01: 0.56 Fights Per Game
2005-06: 0.38 Fights Per Game
2010-11: 0.52 Fights Per Game
2015-16: 0.28 Fights Per Game
2019-20: 0.23 Fights Per Game

Ryan Reaves Fights Per Season
2010-11: 8 NHL, 12 AHL
2011-12: 13
2012-13: 7
2013-14: 10
2014-15: 8
2015-16: 5
2016-17: 6
2017-18: 6
2018-19: 3
2019-20: 3

It’s clear the Golden Knights continue to extend Reaves for other elements to his game. According to Vegas President George McPhee, fighting isn’t necessary in today’s game, but he values a player that skates with a threatening presence.

I think we all enjoy where the game is right now. I don’t care if I ever see another fight again but I like having the threat of a fight in the game to keep people honest… and can sometimes keep the temperature down when you need to keep it down because we’re carrying sticks and it’s a physical game. -George McPhee to Our Line Starts Podcast

The next conversation is how to punish players if they do get into a brawl. It may not look like a fight but sometimes one can break out in other sports. Normally, the players involved are ejected and suspended. That could be a direction the NHL will take. Pandemic or not, fighting was being phased out of the game, but now it’s closer than ever before.

If the NHL believes fighting can lead to infecting other players with coronavirus they’ll cut the chord on dropping the mitts without hesitation. Of course, their main concern is player safety, but with a tight schedule ahead no one can afford cancellations and postponements. With that in mind, the league will find the best measures of protection.

Which means it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if we’ve seen Reaves’ last fight.

2020-21 Pressure Index: Defensemen, Goalies, Coach, Front Office

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Yesterday we tackled the Pressure Index for the forwards, now we move on to the rest of the roster and the front office.

Alex Pietrangelo

The Golden Knights franchise is not new to working in new players, and more recently, new stars. Some have thrived immediately, others have taken some time. With Pietrangelo, he’s going to have to have it figured out pretty quickly or this team is going to struggle along with him. Dealing with the new environment, first time with a new team, and the pressure to perform having signed the mega-deal all add up to the new guy feeling some heat, but he’ll have plenty of built-in excuses plus $61 million to relieve a lot of it. Pressure Index: 5

Brayden McNabb

The likely partner for Vegas’ newest superstar has been one of the steadiest players in Golden Knights history. It’s hard to believe anyone would be a bad match for Pietrangelo but any failures Alex has early will be blamed at least in part on his partner. Throw in the fact that as a pair they’ll be playing against the opposition’s best players every night and likely starting a majority of their shifts in the D-zone and it’s a tall task for anyone. Simply put, McNabb has to have a great season or his place as VGK’s most reliable defensemen will be lost quickly. Pressure Index: 6

Shea Theodore

No one has higher expectations for the 2020-21 season than Shea. After a masterful postseason most believe Theodore’s name should be in the mix for the Norris trophy this year. The statistical expectations most have for Theodore are probably unrealistic though. He was able to post 19 points in 20 games in the playoffs which leads many to believe he should be pushing 80 points in the regular season. His career-high is just 46 in 71 games. Maybe he can reach the insane numbers he’ll be projected for, but more than likely he’ll be looking at about a 50 point season with 10-15 goals. He needs to drive offense consistently for this team to succeed. There’s no reason to believe he won’t, but the weight of expectations will be heavy. Pressure Index: 8

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2020-21 Pressure Index: Forwards

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The weight of expectations is often the determining factor of success and failure in professional sports. In Year 1, the Golden Knights had absolutely no expectations and they helped ride that wave of pressure-free hockey all the way to the Cup Final. The following year, the pressure ramped up a bit as they had to prove they weren’t a fluke. They did it, but it still ended sadly. Then, last year, the expectations were at an all-time high, with something close to a Cup-or-Bust mentality. They reached the Western Conference Final, a success for most teams, but it felt like a missed opportunity because of the preseason expectations.

Now, they are all in on the Cup, and the pressure has risen not only on the team as a whole, but on plenty of individuals. New titles, big contracts, elevated roles, and high expectations will have a lot of players feeling the heat coming into the Golden Knights’ fourth season.

To illustrate the pressure on each player I’ve ranked them from 1-10 with 10 being the most pressure and 1 being the least. First, we start with the forwards. Tomorrow we’ll complete the roster with the defensemen, goalies, coach, and GM.

William Karlsson

With a full season between Stone and Pacioretty, it would be awfully difficult for Karlsson to be the problem. As long as he holds down the fort defensively and doesn’t get destroyed in the circle he’ll have the typical strong year we’ve come to expect from him. The contract is fair as long as he’s the only truly reliable center on the team. He has almost no pressure on him at all, but he is the #1 center on a team that doesn’t really have much behind him, so there’s got to be a little. Pressure Index: 3

Mark Stone

Assuming he’s named captain, which we expect to happen near the beginning of camp, he’ll be under the most pressure of his career this season. He has to continue performing at a near point per game pace, he needs to be on the ice for 18+ minutes a night every single night, and if the going gets tough, he’s going to be the one they look at to pull them out. Team performance is where the pressure lies on Stone. If they are good, he’s in the clear, but if they aren’t that C might as well be a bullseye for where people point to the problems. Pressure Index: 9

Max Pacioretty

Max is coming off a tremendous regular season on which he led the team in scoring, but then the injury bug hit and he disappeared at the biggest time in the playoffs. The pressure on him is simply to score. He needs to get to 30 goals (or the equivalent if the season is shortened), otherwise that $7 million cap hit is going to look like a major burden on a contending team. Pressure Index: 8

Cody Glass

It’s not really, because he’s just 21-years-old, but it really feels like it’s now-or-never for Glass. The Golden Knights have moved out two useable centers in Paul Stastny and Erik Haula over the past two years and replaced them with virtually nothing leaving the job wide open for Glass. He’s going to get his chance. He has to stay healthy and he has to look like a bonafide #2 center in the NHL. If he doesn’t, he’ll fly down the depth chart, likely end up back on the wing, and will certainly look like a bust if Stephenson and Roy are clearly outperforming him. Pressure Index: 8

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VGK And The 2021 World Junior Championships

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the NHL’s next season, there is meaningful hockey on the horizon. The 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship starts on Christmas Day and multiple Golden Knights prospects will be there participating.

The tournament is scheduled to be played inside the Edmonton bubble from December 25th to January 5th.

The Golden Knights have five players with a chance at participating.

Peyton Krebs
Canada

Krebs participated in camp with Team Canada ahead of last year’s World Juniors. Having just returned from his Achilles injury Krebs was left off the final roster that ultimately went on to win the gold medal. This year, Krebs will be a focal point to the Canadian roster, likely centering one of its top two lines.

Team Canada will be stacked this year with a host of 1st round picks that will include the 2nd overall pick in this past Draft, Quinton Byfield, and may even include the #1 selection, Alexis Lafreniere as well.

No matter how it all shakes out though, this will be Golden Knights fans first chance to see the most important prospect in the VGK system play meaningful high-level competition.

Kaedan Korczak
Canada

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It would be a surprise if Korczak misses out on the final roster but his role on the team is very much in question. There are six 1st round pick defensemen that have been selected to the initial 46-man Team Canada roster. But, only two, Bowen Byram and Thomas Harley, were selected in the 2019 Draft with Korczak.

Being older and right-handed will likely give Korczak a leg up but these are still tough waters to navigate to get significant playing time on a roster brimming with talent.

Hopefully, for the Golden Knights sake, he has a strong camp in November and the claims a spot for the important group stage games in late December.

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The Golden Knights And The Success Of High Cost Teams

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The St. Louis Blues did it, same with the Washington Capitals, so why can’t the Golden Knights do it? I’m not only talking about winning a Stanley Cup, but doing it with one of the highest payrolls in hockey.

2019-20 Highest NHL Payrolls (per CapFriendly.com)
Arizona: $85.1M ($3.59M LTIR)
Toronto: $95.2M ($13.7M LTIR)
Dallas: $82M ($525K LTIR)
St. Louis: $83.2M ($1.75M LTIR)
Vancouver: $83.9M ($2.42M LTIR)
*** 9. Vegas: $81.8M ($668K LTIR)

LTIR= Long-Term Injured Reserved

The Creator is a rare owner driven to win and willing to spend to the limit, and he’d probably spend over it if he were allowed. That’s why the Golden Knights owner is considered a fan’s owner.

We all know about the cap jam Vegas is in and there’s no doubt they’ll fix it by the next time they play. It’s might’ve cost them a lot, but it’s hard to question their elite-level talent and championship-caliber roster. The Golden Knights are not only a highly rated team but they’re also built to win championships.

Cup Winners (Payroll Rank)
2019-20: Tampa Bay (18th)
2018-19: St. Louis (7th)
2017-18: Washington (3rd)
2016-17: Pittsburgh (6th)
2015-16: Pittsburgh (6th)

With the exception of the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the past handful of winners were in the upper quarter of the league’s salary threshold. When the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in 2018, Washington boasted a $75.3M cap hit, while Vegas was #18 on the list with a $68.7M payroll. Clearly, a difference in cost and expensive talent helped result in a five-game Capitals win. Washington’s high-priced talent paid off and could’ve been a motivating factor towards the Golden Knights direction of signing league stars to big contracts.

This year, all ten of the highest cap teams made the postseason, but I think it’s safe to say we can throw out the 24-team bubble playoff format. Going back to 2015-16, teams in the top 10 have no missed the playoffs often.

Highest Payroll Teams To Miss Playoffs
2015-16: Vancouver (2nd), Toronto (9th)

2016-17: Philadelphia (2nd), Arizona (4th), Detroit (7th)

2017-18: Chicago (2nd), Dallas (7th), Detroit (8th), Vancouver (9th), St. Louis (10th)

2018-19: Detroit (1st), Edmonton (4th), Anaheim (8th)

Although it’s happened over the years, it’s a small percentage of teams (13/50 since 2015) that missed the postseason. Also, many of those teams were mismanaged or at the end of their playoff windows.

Assuming the Golden Knights remain within the top ten highest payrolls next season, fans should confidently expect them to clinch a playoff berth. And possibly go on another deep run. Vegas’ window was open before but after this offseason, it’s wide open right now.

Trade Market May Pick Back Up When Future Is More Certain

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The Golden Knights say they are ready to head into the 2020-21 season with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner on the roster. That was clearly not the plan prior to free agency and the Draft as rumors swirled constantly about Vegas’ willingness to unload Fleury’s contract.

As of right now, no one was interested in taking on the final two years of the contract, along with the future Hall of Fame goalie, for the price the Golden Knights were offering. It led to Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee being forced to trade Nate Schmidt to complete the Alex Pietrangelo signing.

However, there’s still time to trade Fleury as the season still does not have a start date. According to Pierre LeBrun that uncertainty may have been the reason why Vegas had such a hard time moving him, why they still do now, and why that may change at some point in the hopefully near future.

Once there’s a clear idea of what that looks like it may fuel further trade discussions around the league because I think there are some teams waiting to see what the heck next season is about before they decide to add to their payroll or go the other way. There are some teams saying ‘Listen, I’ve got to tell my owner why I did this and if we’re not even playing why did I add this?’ So we might be a little frozen right now until there’s some clarity on next season. –Pierre LeBrun on TSN 1040

In other words, good luck finding a team that’s going to take on Fleury’s contract and pay him when they aren’t even sure if the season is going to happen at all.

Assuming the league comes back, and there are fans allowed in the buildings, the compensation that comes with taking on Fleury may suddenly look more attractive to a team, especially one that could use some star power.

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.

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