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Hero vs Heel: VGK Swapped Roles, Now Do They Need To Swap Back?

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Down the stretch of the regular season, there was a common refrain from most hockey fans, (four-letter word) the Golden Knights.

It seemed like everyone outside of the Vegas fan base was openly, and strongly, rooting against the Golden Knights, almost finding the adversity VGK were facing to be comical. Whether it was tweets directly from other teams or Twitter accounts banding together, it was definitely in vogue to cheer for anyone else in the Western Conference.

The Golden Knights took notice.

Everyone does, everyone roots against us, but it’s all about the guys that we have in that locker room, the ones we battle with. There’s nothing much else you can do. -Shea Theodore

But they still aren’t exactly sure why.

It’s a great question, I have no idea. -Theodore

I’m sad to think of (how the perception has changed.) We would see the last few games that the whole NHL was rooting against us. It’s sad to think that but it’s not necessarily because of one person that it happened like that. It’s just an accumulation of a few things that people were just irritated with us. -Jonathan Marchessault

Usually it’s something players shrug off as uncontrollable and in many ways unimportant, but when you look at the shift in perception from the Expansion team that reached the Cup final to the Year 5 team that miss the playoffs, it’s impossible to ignore.

The question becomes, is it healthy, is it helpful, and can it be harnessed?

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Ownership’s Decision To Take More Vocal Role Could Be Best Solution For Golden Knights Identity Problem

What was once the best story in professional sports has turned into arguably the NHL’s most loathed. From the subjects of a heart-warming documentary to the butt end of collective hatred from fans across North America, the Golden Knights have done a complete 180. Now, they enter an offseason in which they have to decide what’s next.

The Golden Knights are at a critical juncture regarding the state of the franchise as a whole. It goes much deeper than just missing the playoffs or finding themselves in the middle of a few eccentric situations over the course of the turbulent 2021-22 season.

This franchise must figure out what it was then, what it is now, and what it wants to be moving forward. And this offseason stands as the most important in team history as they attempt to do just that while untying the complicated salary cap knot they voluntarily stepped into.

From the outside looking in, it’s clear how different things have become. But from the inside speaking out, there appeared to be a bit of a murkier view.

Comments from the general manager, head coach, captain, and many key players indicated a bit of a woe-is-me-type atmosphere. For each question about what went wrong, the solution was always the same, better health. Or in other words, better luck, something beyond anyone’s control.

That was until The Creator stepped forward recently in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal’s David Schoen.

We’ve got to get better. And we will be better next year. We might have lost a little personality over the last few years with some of the things that have happened. Our goal is to get back to this identity of never giving up, never giving in, and being a team. I believe we did move away from that identity somewhat with all the changes that have been made and the constant machinations. –The Creator to LVRJ

The Golden Knights’ owner vowed to be much more hands-on in solving this problem.

I’d say we’re going to be a team now that we’re ‘Ready, aim, fire’ not ‘Ready, fire, aim.’ We’re going to be careful. That’s a big priority for me, and I’m going to be involved in it. I’ve got a few specific ideas of things that I believe need to be accomplished. If I’m being very transparent, I’m going to be active. –The Creator to LVRJ

It’s a stark contrast to the words of one of his top lieutenants, general manager Kelly McCrimmon.

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VGK’s Collective Failure Began In Early January

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Since January 1st, the Golden Knights were statistically one of the worst teams in the NHL. Over the last four months, Vegas finished in the bottom ten in; Wins, Regulation Wins, Goals For, Goals Per Game, 5-on-5 Shooting Percentage, Losses When Outshooting Opponents, Wins When Outshooting Opponents, Goals Scored in 1st Period, Goals Scored in 2nd Period, Power Play Percentage, Penalties Drawn, Hits, Shootout Win Percentage, and Wins When Trailing First.

Incredibly enough, they only finished a few points behind the final Wild Card spot.

We got to camp and we were never at full health. You’re tired of hearing it, I’m tired of talking about it for as much as we have but clearly it’s the overarching issue that dominated our season. -McCrimmon

The numbers not only show Vegas was a below-average team in the second half of the season but struggled in a myriad of offensive statistics. Leading the way was the Golden Knights’ now notorious inadequate power play. Yet the organization is looking beyond the numbers.

I have great faith in the coaching. I’m not absolving responsibility on us as coaches either. We’re going to look at everything and I think we showed that in what we did during the season. We changed responsibilities, we had different voices, different looks. We’re going to keep looking at this until we get it right and I’m confident we will. -Pete DeBoer

Of course, it was an unfortunate, injury-plaqued season but it’s fair to ask if coach Pete DeBoer and his assistants adjusted enough in the final four months. Did the staff design or tweak enough to help generate more offense in the first 40 minutes of games? Unfortunately, it felt like DeBoer stuck with having “great faith” in what most would consider status quo.

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Golden Knights 2021-22 Locker Cleanout Press Conference Audio

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The Golden Knights conducted their season-end media availability today at City National Arena. This is the complete unedited audio of every press conference.

0:00 – 31:47 – Pete DeBoer

31:47 – 1:07:24 – Kelly McCrimmon

1:07:24 – 1:23:10 – Alec Martinez

1:23:10 – 1:39:20 – Max Pacioretty

1:39:20 – 1:48:27 – Shea Theodore

1:48:27 – 2:01:44 – Jack Eichel

2:01:44 – 2:13:20 – Zach Whitecloud

2:13:20 – 2:26:48 – Mark Stone

2:26:48 – 2:38:01 – Jonathan Marchessault

2:38:01 – 2:47:46 – William Karlsson

2:47:46 – 2:57:56 – Brayden McNabb

VGK’s Frustration Visibly Noticeable To Opponents

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s been eerily quiet since the Golden Knights season finale. There hasn’t been a peep from any of Vegas’ players, coaches, or executives since their postgame press conferences on Friday night. It’s almost as if The Creator and his staff are choosing the next Pope.

Without any knowledge of the conversations being held it’s impossible to guess which direction Vegas is heading. Whatever it may be, it was apparently obvious to many lineups across the NHL.

I had a few teams tell me today that Vegas was always a very together team. Through good and bad. This year was the first year they really saw them as a frustrated team. Doors slamming in games, players showing frustration or snapping at each other occasionally during games. I don’t want anyone to take that I think the Vegas Golden Knights all despise each other because I don’t know if that’s true. –Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

It’s no secret, Golden Knights fans witnessed their team’s frustration almost weekly. That’ll happen with extensive injuries, poor performances, and a struggling power play. However, we can’t hear the doors slamming or snapping on the bench. Mark Stone and other team leaders keep their locker room tight but it’s hard to believe it felt the same without the captain for most of the year. Add in injuries to Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez and the chemistry had to have taken a hit.

When you’re losing and your season is slipping away that’s normal. Teams noticed it more this year. Was that just as frustration of the injuries and the season slipping away or is there any chance the fabric of this team has been changed and they have to address that. I don’t know. Teams noticed it this year, more than ever. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman’s advice to the Golden Knights is to address the goaltending situation. Over the weekend, the Sportsnet reporter continued to stress that Robin Lehner’s frustration and season ending injuries were sensitive matters.

The number one thing they have to deal with is Lehner. People are telling me wait. This is not over. There’s still more to go here. What’s everyone going to say? This is going to take some skill and handling. There are the possibilities of aftershocks. Is this something that the league and the Players Association are going to have to get involved in? Depending on where all of this goes. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

It doesn’t take a spyglass for an opposing team to hear or read about the tension between Lehner and the coaching staff down the stretch. It was on full display after Vegas’ late-season loss against the New Jersey Devils.

Is there a way to deal with this so that it can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction mentally, and physically, and emotionally without a series of aftershocks that further damage the franchise. If it’s not dealt with in a proper way it’s going to get worse before it gets better. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight, unfortunately without the Golden Knights. On the bright side, missing the cut allows Vegas more time in the offseason. A head start helps examine prospects, target free agents, trades or anything else they feel they need to get sorted out. The next few days will reveal what the organization’s plans are going forward. Lehner, DeBoer, slamming doors, and teammates snapping are areas that need immediate attention.

Iole: VGK Offseason Agenda

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Today is the last column for the season from Kevin. We cannot thank Kevin enough for contributing to the site all year.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Trying to forecast what the Golden Knights’ will be like in the 2022-23 season is all but impossible. We don’t know who is going to manage the team, who will coach it, and if several of the key players on it will ever be the same physically.

From owner Bill Foley on down, VGK management has to be praying that Mark Stone’s back injury that kept him out of 46 games this year and left him a shell of himself when he did return for the final, ultimately futile, playoff run is healed and just a sad memory when next season begins.

That’s no guarantee, though, and without a healthy and productive Stone, it’s all but impossible to take this team seriously as a contender no matter what else they do in the offseason.

There are a number of free agents, though none more important than Reilly Smith. But with the Knights up against the salary cap, will they be able to find the money to bring him back? And even if they can, will he want to return?

The answers to those questions will play out in the next several months. But I’ve identified six areas whoever is running this team will need to solidify in the offseason if it is to have a reasonable hope of fulfilling Foley’s dream of a Stanley Cup title by Year 6.

Get younger and faster

The Knights were the third-oldest team in the league in the 2021-22 season, and at times it looked like they didn’t have the jump they needed. They certainly didn’t play with the pace of a championship team.

When the Misfits went to the Stanley Cup final in 2018, they forechecked ferociously and took time and space away from the opposition on virtually every shift.

The inordinate number of injuries they suffered through played a role in that, but they need to infuse the lineup with both young, hungry players and speed.

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Family-Like Atmosphere Around Golden Knights Appears To Have Disintegrated

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Tonight, the most tumultuous season in Vegas Golden Knights history officially comes to an end.

It’s been a year in which the storyline has been dominated by injuries, but was also marred by reverted trades, salary cap manipulation, goalie controversy, and so much more “outside noise” as the organization likes to call it.

A team that was expected to compete for a Stanley Cup fell woefully short and the diagnosis of why will shape the most important offseason the franchise has ever seen.

Because of the spotlight that has followed the Golden Knights since their arrival in the NHL, pretty much everyone has an opinion on what went wrong. These opinions are wide-ranging too.

Many believe there’s simply nothing the Vegas organization could have done to avoid a season in which they lost nearly 500 games and $26 million of salary cap value due to injuries. While others completely discount the injury issues and point to intangibles surrounding the team, some of which even include mythical constructs like curses and karma.

Everyone views it slightly differently as each person has a different background that helps them frame a season that truly is unexplainable. Some lead to wacky off-the-wall over-exaggerations (admittedly, I fall in this category from time to time), while others just chalk it up to the randomness and sports.

Recently former NHL player and current analyst Bill Lindsay weighed in on how he viewed the situation surrounding the Golden Knights. As a former player of more than 700 games and color commentator for the Florida Panthers, he took a unique angle as to what has changed inside the walls of City National Arena.

There is a personal part of a family and believing that it’s a core there. And they had that, they were the Misfits early on, the underdogs and everyone was discounting them. Even though it’s a business when people do good work for you it’s a family throughout the whole organization. -Bill Lindsay, former NHL player and NHL Network analyst

Lindsay cited the firing of Gerard Gallant, the casting off of Marc-Andre Fleury, and the failed trade of Evgenii Dadonov as examples. He also tied it back to his playing days when he was part of a situation he feels is similar to the one here in Vegas.

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Organization Requested Injured Lehner For Failed Stretch Run

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Last night the Golden Knights were officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Vegas failed in shootout for the third straight game, ending what was supposed to be a highly successful season. Over the past week, the team was desperate for points, and Logan Thompson, on no rest, gave them the best chance to succeed. It wasn’t ideal. Late season back-to-backs, four straight extended games, and endless pressure was one of the reasons the organization pleaded with Robin Lehner to play out the final few games.

He was unhappy with some of the criticism he was getting and being pulled. There were talks about how can we make this work, can you at least play through the season. Then he saw the doctors, he’s legitimately injured. They announced one surgery but I think there are two or three different injuries. –Elliotte Friedman, The Jeff Marek Show

Surely, had Lehner been available coach Pete DeBoer would have considered starting him against the Blackhawks. Or at the very least use him to support Thompson. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and the team was left with one option while Lehner prepares for season-ending surgery.

Lehner’s playing with two, possibly three really tough injuries. I just don’t know if it’s one thing or more than one thing. He’s left the team at times, he’s been injured at times. He’s tried to play through it, he’s competitive. It’s definitely effected his ability to be at his best. He’s not at his best but he’s competing. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman reported the team had asked Lehner to finish out the season and fight through his injuries. I’m sure that’s a common conversation players have with coaches this time of year. In this case, Vegas’ goaltender was battling too many ailments to suit up. Playing through injuries and being publicly criticized must have annoyed and frustrated Lehner. Which shouldn’t surprise DeBoer or the front office.

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Reliving The Previous Two Games Against The Dallas Stars This Season

Remember when we used these photos for the playoffs in the bubble. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Playoff “Photographer” @BadSportsArt)

It’s not often we get to say this and actually mean it, for the Golden Knights tonight is truly a must-win. If Game 80 results in a loss to the Stars, the season will be over for the Golden Knights. If it happens in regulation, it truly is mathematically over, but even if it happens in OT, there will be no coming back for Vegas.

Here’s the good news. This season, these two teams have faced off twice and the Golden Knights were the victors in each. To get ready for tonight’s game, it seems wise to look back at the previous two to see who played, what went right, and what went wrong for the Golden Knights.

Lineups

October 27th, 2021 – at Dallas

Carrier-Stephenson-Krebs
Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Dadonov-Roy-Kolesar
Howden-Leschyshn-Miromanov

Hague-Pietrangelo
Martinez-Theodore
McNabb-Coghlan

Brossoit

December 8th, 2021 – vs Dallas

Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone
Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Janmark-Roy-Dadonov
Carrier-Kolesar-Amadio

Hague-Pietrangelo
Theodore-Whitecloud
McNabb-Coghlan

Lehner

Projected for tonight

Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone
Marchessault-Karlsson-Roy
Janmark-Eichel-Dadonov
Carrier-Amadio

Hutton-Pietrangelo
McNabb-Theodore
Martinez-Whitecloud
Coghlan

Thompson

In the last game, the home game in December, the Golden Knights were about as healthy as they’ve been all season, save for Eichel having yet to make his debut. The game in October however was a much more limited lineup missing both Pacioretty and Stone, and using Miromanov as a forward.

How the games went

October 27th, 2021 – at Dallas

Vegas conceded early, just 2:20 into the period, on a tipped goal from a shot from the point. The Golden Knights’ defensemen, McNabb and Coghlan, failed to get inside position and Luke Glendening had an easy tip-in chance to steer it past Brossoit. The Golden Knights tied almost instantaneously though as Shea Theodore intercepted a clearing attempt and threw the puck on net. It was stick-checked by a Stars player and fluttered along the ice towards the goalie who was fooled by the speed. A bit of a fluky goal.

Vegas allowed another tipped goal early in the 2nd and trailed for a majority of the game after that. Jonathan Marchessault ripped home a one-timer with the Vegas net empty to send the game to overtime. Evgenii Dadonov would win it in OT.

The game was dominated at even strength for the most part by the Stars who outshot Vegas 34-16, outchanced the Golden Knights 44-21, and racked up 16 high danger chances to VGK’s just seven. The final tally in expected goals was 3.03 to 0.9, yet the score showed 2-2 at the end of regulation.

Vegas could not keep the Stars away from the front of the net and needed the best game Laurent Brossoit has ever played as a Golden Knight to even keep them in it. It wasn’t pretty at all, but it was an OT victory in the end.

To be fair though, VGK were playing the 2nd night of a B2B, three games in four nights, and had travel issues getting into Dallas the night before/day of.

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Iole: It’s Not Just Playoffs Off The Line Now

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. 

Before the Golden Knights had ever played a game, owner Bill Foley said his goal was to reach the playoffs in three seasons and bring a Stanley Cup championship to Las Vegas within six years.

On Sunday, his team begins a stretch of four games in six nights, with three of them on the road, likely needing to win each of them to qualify for the playoffs in Year 5 of the franchise’s existence.

The Knights are further from the Stanley Cup than they have been since those halcyon days early in the 2017-18 season when nobody truly appreciated what was about to happen. That team won the Pacific Division, won the Western Conference and won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018.

Washington, of course, swept those final four games, but the expectation among Vegas’ rabid fan base was that it was just a matter of time before a parade would be held.

George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon, who along with their scouts and staff did such brilliant work putting a team together during the expansion draft, have largely bungled their way through the next four seasons. Their heavy-handed approach has turned off many, and though the fans who were in T-Mobile Arena for the pulsating overtime victory over the Capitals on Wednesday nearly blew the roof off the building when Shea Theodore scored the game-winner against Ilya Samsonov, Knights’ fever in Las Vegas is unquestionably down.

McPhee and McCrimmon have made a mess of the team’s goaltending, among other things.

On Friday, journalists from both The Athletic and ESPN reported that VGK goalie Robin Lehner was undergoing season-ending surgery. An hour or so later, Coach Pete DeBoer shot that down and said Lehner is healthy, expected to dress and available to play for Sunday’s home game against San Jose.

Now, is it possible that The Athletic’s Jesse Granger and ESPN’s Emily Kaplan both got it wrong? Sure.

But I would bet everything I hold dear that they were each told about Lehner having surgery by more than one person either in the Knights’ organization, by Lehner’s agent and/or most likely by Lehner himself.

Meanwhile, the Knights’ record on truthfulness is not good.

This is the latest episode in the goaltending follies that has unquestionably put jobs at risk. What seemed unthinkable in September is now something that may be more likely than not: If the Knights miss the playoffs, Foley may well clean house.

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