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Defending Champions And Playoff Rematch: How Have Others Fared?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When the Golden Knights take the ice tomorrow for Game 1 of the 2024 playoffs, they’ll do it in a pair of situations not many teams get to experience.

First, and most obviously, they’ll be the reigning champions looking to become just the third team in the last 25 years to repeat as champs.

History is mixed on the success of the defending champs in their next trip to the playoffs. Four of the last 15 champions have made it back to the Stanley Cup Final, with the Lightning and Penguins finishing the job and winning back-to-back. Tampa Bay nearly pulled it off for a third year in a row back in 2022 too, losing to Colorado in the Final. The other team to make it back was the 2009 Red Wings who fell in Game 7 when Marc-Andre Fleury made the signature save of his career.

On the flip side, six of the last 15 defending champs have lost in the first round and another didn’t even make it back to the playoffs. Colorado fell last year in the first round to an upstart Seattle team that scored the first goal on the Avs in all seven games. St. Louis stumbled in the bubble in 2020, while Washington (2019), Chicago (2016), Boston (2012), and Chicago (2011) all lost in the first round as well.

2023 – Colorado – Lost in 1st Round in 7 to SEA
2022 – Tampa – Lost in Cup Final in 6 to COL
2021 – Tampa – Won Stanley Cup in 5 vs MTL
2020 – St. Louis – Lost in 1st Round in 6 to VAN
2019 – Washington – Lost in 1st Round in 7 to CAR
2018 – Pittsburgh – Lost in 2nd Round in 6 to WSH
2017 – Pittsburgh – Won Stanley Cup in 6 vs NSH
2016 – Chicago – Lost in 1st Round in 7 to STL
2015 – Los Angeles – Missed Playoffs
2014 – Chicago – Lost in Conference Final in 7 to LAK
2013 – Los Angeles – Lost in Conference Final in 5 to CHI
2012 – Boston – Lost in 1st Round in 7 to WSH
2011 – Chicago – Lost in 1st Round in 7 to VAN
2010 – Pittsburgh – Lost in 2nd Round in 7 to MTL
2009 – Detroit – Lost in Stanley Cup Final in 7 to PIT

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Ken’s Three VGK Stars Award

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After every game on our Game Recap, I select my Three VGK Stars of the game. Like they do in the building I award a 1st Star to the best player and 2nd and 3rd to the next best two. Where my rating differs is that I do not include opposing team players. Whether the Golden Knights win or lose, no matter the score, three Golden Knights are recognized every game, home and away.

Tonight, following the final regular season game of the year, the Golden Knights will hand out the “Three Stars” award to the player who received the most votes in three stars in all VGK home games. That player will receive a special engraved Tiffany trophy.

For winning the Ken’s Three VGK Stars award, the player will receive absolutely nothing. But, let’s dive into the results anyway.

This year’s Ken’s Three VGK Stars award winner is…

William Karlsson

Karlsson ran away with the competition receiving the 1st star on 11 separate occasions and was named among my three stars in 35 of his 69 games played this season. Not only did he win the overall title, but he accumulated the most 1sts, 2nds, and 3rds in my voting.

Here is the full table of results from this season’s games.

PlayerTotalAppearances1st Star2nd Star3rd Star
William Karlsson7035111311
Jack Eichel57271188
Jonathan Marchessault49228113
Mark Stone3920758
Ivan Barbashev3016385
Chandler Stephenson2812723
Nicolas Roy2010343
Adin Hill1910415
Michael Amadio189414
Shea Theodore1811155
Brayden McNabb159144
Alex Pietrangelo148143
Logan Thompson146321
Paul Cotter136231
William Carrier125230
Keegan Kolesar104301
Pavel Dorofeyev96114
Alec Martinez94211
Noah Hanifin74112
Ben Hutton63111
Brett Howden42101
Tomas Hertl42101
Brendan Brisson31100
Mason Morelli31100
Brayden Pachal31100
Zach Whitecloud32011
Kaedan Korczak22002
Anthony Mantha22002
Jonas Rondbjerg21010
Jiri Patera11001

Despite missing 19 games, Jack Eichel’s 10 1st star wins helped him claim the 2nd spot while Jonathan Marchessault who played all 82 came in 3rd with eight 1sts, 10 2nds, and three 3rds. Chandler Stephenson posted seven 1st stars in his just 12 total appearances.

25 different players were named 1st star of a game this season including Mason Morelli, Brayden Pachal, and Brendan Brisson.

Congratulations to William Karlsson for winning the most prestigious award a Golden Knight can win. Sorry there’s no prize Will.

Thursday Should Be Jonathan Marchessault Appreciation Night

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

While tomorrow concludes the Golden Knights regular season and fan appreciation week, it feels like it’s missing something. Instead of just honoring the fans, tomorrow should be Jonathan Marchessault appreciation night as well. On Thursday, the 2017-18 Original Misfit may be playing his final regular season game as a Golden Knight. Without a signed extension, the 2023 Conn Smythe winner will skate into the postseason as an unrestricted free agent. Unfortunately for VGK fans, Marchessault’s magnificent season will likely field plenty of interest.

So, tomorrow is a chance fans can show their admiration and affection for their favorite award-winning, crowd pleasing, lamp-lighting Original Misfit.

We’ve gone over the numbers many times. The Golden Knights salary cap is tight. Of course, the dream scenario would be if both parties agree on a fair deal. However, a team friendly contract with Marchessault is unlikely. His offensive capabilities are valuable to any NHL team and most pay handsomely. The eleven year veteran should take advantage of the opportunity he worked hard to earn. Especially, if he hasn’t received an appealing offer by the VGK’s front office.

Here’s a quick reminder of some of Marchessault’s accomplishments as a Golden Knight.

Golden Knights Team Records

  • Games Played – 1st – 514
  • Goals – 1st – 192
  • Assists – 1st – 225
  • Even Goals – 1st – 150
  • Power Play Goals – 1st – 42
  • Game Winning Goals – 1st – 32
  • Shots On Goal – 1st – 1,698
  • Hat Tricks – 1st – 5

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If Healthy, The Golden Knights Have Tons Of Lineup Options

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are getting healthy at the perfect time, again. Both goalies are available, Tomas Hertl is starting to gel, Nic Roy is back from his knock, Chandler Stephenson has the new dad energy, and Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, and William Carrier appear to be right around the corner.

Having a healthy group would leave head coach Bruce Cassidy with an embarrassment of riches at all three levels and a bunch of incredibly difficult decisions to make. If everyone is indeed healthy and available for Game 1 of the playoffs, he’ll have 15 legitimate NHL forwards, eight bonafide defensemen, and two goalies with a strong case to be the starter.

The lineup options truly are endless. Today though, I will give you two different lineups of 12 forwards and two separate sets of defense pairs to show the merits of some of the many combinations.

1st Line

Option A: Barbashev-Eichel-Marchessault

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This top line was dominant in the playoff run last year and had carried a lot of that momentum through the regular season this year. They score at a consistent rate and they are strong enough in possession to limit some of the potential defensive deficiencies that could arise. On paper, it doesn’t always look like the perfect line, but on the ice, it has proven to be just that time and time again against the best competition in the league.

Option B: Dorofeyev-Karlsson-Stone

Combining the two best defensive forwards on the time with a young gun who has shown he has a natural knack for finding the back of the net could be the perfect mix for a VGK top line. What will make this line so dangerous is their ability to not only take on the most defensive responsibility against the opposition’s best players but also to soak up a majority of the defensive zone starts. It doesn’t matter where Stone and Karlsson’s shift begins, it’ll probably end up with puck possession when it’s over. Karlsson’s speed and Stone’s vision will generate transition chances and Dorofeyev will be a nightmare to deal with as a “third wheel” who can score in bunches.

2nd Line

Option A: Stephenson-Hertl-Stone

This is a top line on most teams in the NHL and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if it overtook the dominant top line in this same lineup. It would be difficult to take the puck away from them and having two guys willing to get to the front of the net will highlight Stephenson’s passing. Cassidy loves having two players who can win faceoffs on the same line to give him a little more freedom to deploy them in the defensive zone. With Stone’s defensive prowess along with Hertl and Stephenson, there would be no concern about sending this group over the boards against McDavid, Robertson, or Pettersson.

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Unsavory But Not Illegal: Regarding Golden Knights’ Cap Circumvention

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Mark Stone returned to practice eight days before the playoffs, exactly the same number as last year when he went on to play in Game 1 of the playoffs and help lead the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup.

Considering what Vegas did last season and were able to do at the deadline due to his absence, it’s understandable that the hockey world is quite skeptical about Stone’s situation.

Much of what is being said about it is simply ignorant, especially those suggesting the injury was fictional. However, that’s not to say there isn’t a valid gripe from those questioning the legitimacy of what the Golden Knights are doing.

At the trade deadline GM Kelly McCrimmon suggested it was “impossible to know” the timeline on Stone’s return. On the same day, he also declared Stone out for the remainder of the regular season, or at least the next six weeks. This allowed the Golden Knights to add three players, Anthony Mantha, Noah Hanifin, and Tomas Hertl, worth about $11 million in cap space. They were only able to make these acquisitions because they knew Stone would not return to play before April 18th which gave them the freedom to use his $9.5 million in cap space that was placed on LTIR.

Now, with Stone nearly back to action, it is clear there was at least a remote chance Stone’s 10 week injury could have healed a few days quicker and thus allowed him to make it back in time for the regular season. However, now that they’ve made the additions, they cannot activate Stone from LTIR. This is the genesis of where cap circumvention allegations come into play as a possibility. While the Golden Knights never wanted Stone to get injured in the first place, once it happened, they needed the injury to be severe enough to keep him out through the remainder of the regular season to benefit from it. So that’s exactly what they need to happen now.

While no one can prove Stone would have been able to play prior to the regular season ending, it is absolutely fair to ask the question considering the proximity to the end of the season. If he could play in regular season Game 82 and doesn’t, that would be against the NHL’s rules and the Golden Knights would be skirting the salary cap. As of right now, there’s nothing to suggest that is the case, but the argument will gain credence if Stone does indeed play in Game 1 of the postseason, as he did a year ago.

In the end, the rule is written with ambiguity and allows for this situation to occur. Heck, the Golden Knights did the same thing last year with the same player and did something similar the year before, also including the same player. The NHL has opened this loophole and despite it being fair to criticize teams exploiting it, there’s no way for the league to enforce the rule as they intended it.

So, yes, the Golden Knights appear to have once again purposely taken advantage of it and are likely bending the rule in their favor for the third consecutive year. And yes, Mark Stone has helped them by accepting the fact that they’ve made moves ruling him out for the remainder of the regular season even when it was “impossible to know” if he could have made it back. And yes, it does come across as quite unsavory, dancing on top of the line between cheating and trying.

But, it is what it is, and there’s not much anyone can do about it, unless the league decides to fix the rule.


The new contract will keep the 27-year-old Hanifin in Vegas through the 2031-32 season.

Last 10 Games Typically Tell VGK’s Future In Playoffs

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There’s always a belief in the NHL that it’s crucial to be hot going into the postseason. For the Golden Knights, it has absolutely proven to be the case in their five previous trips to the playoffs. In the four seasons they ended the year well, they went on extended runs to the Conference Final or beyond. In the two years they stumbled down the stretch, they missed the playoffs and were eliminated in the First Round.

Vegas is currently 3-1-0 in the first four of the final 10 games of this year’s regular season and they have a playoff berth all but officially wrapped up. There are games still on the schedule against two of the three possible opening-round opponents, Vancouver and Edmonton. Here’s a look back at the history of how the season finished and how it turned out.

Last 10 Games: 6-1-3
Playoffs – 16-6 (Stanley Cup Champions)

The Golden Knights were winning and scoring in bunches down the stretch last season. They scored three or more goals in 11 of the final 13 games and posted at least four in eight of them. A pair of dominant wins over the Seattle Kraken ended the regular season and helped lock up the #1 seed in the Western Conference. That meant a home game to start the playoffs, which was a dud, a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg. VGK would go on to win each of the next four and start the Second Round with a win as well.

There were two games against an eventual playoff opponent in the final 20 games of the season, a pair of games played consecutively against the Oilers. VGK won in Edmonton and fell at home three days later.

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