On Christmas Eve, this one needs to explanation. So, I won’t write one. Here is the newest Guest Post from our guy John Owens.
When Santa is making his list (and checking it twice), he’s going to find that the Golden Knights have been quite nice this year. A little too nice, frankly.
So it stands to reason that the team should have some good tidings coming their way. While The Creator probably feels like his stocking is pretty full right now, what’s Christmas without some presents? Let’s have a look at 5 items on the Vegas Golden Knights’ Christmas list.
1. Health In The New Year (Between The Pipes)
It really is remarkable that Vegas sits atop the Western Conference standings, not only because they are an expansion team, but also due to the fact that they have encountered the worst luck with health at the goalie position of any team in the league. Ken wrote a great post on how Maxime Lagace saved their season, and it’s hard to disagree. It’s fairly rare to even see your organization’s fourth goalie come in for an emergency relief spot sometime during the year but to get 13 starts is pretty unheard of, and Max kept the team afloat.
That being said, both Flower and Suub are back and have played well, but it’s not a great look when your franchise goaltender who has just returned from a lengthy absence due to a concussion is out here making saves with no helmet. Of course, he emerged unscathed, but these boys need to take care of themselves the rest of the way. Hopefully forgotten (undefeated) Oscar Dansk can come back healthy as well to provide depth because as we’ve seen, you never know when you might need it.
2. Continued Success At Home
Is the “Vegas Flu” a thing? I love a good conspiracy, so let’s say it’s a thing! I certainly think it’s at least a factor. Currently sitting at 15-2-1 at home, the Knights have passed many tough tests, and are feeding off the T-Mobile Arena energy. Here’s a quick wish to keep that going.
3. Improved Penalty Kill
I originally had special teams as a whole here on the list, but the power play was en fuego Tuesday against the Lightning, going 4 for 5 on the night. The PP is now tied for 12th in the league with 23 goals and also 12th conversion-wise at 19.8%, so we’ll give the offense a pass for now.
However, in the same game, the Bolts went 2 for 4 with the man advantage. Yes, it was the Lightning, but still. The Knights penalty kill ranks 22nd in the league at 78.9%. This is an area that needs to be shored up in the New Year before the big playoff push. Improved numbers could be on the horizon given the return of their top goaltenders, Luca Sbisa coming back from injury, and perhaps some increased time on the PK for big Jon Merrill, but whether it’s tinkering with the system or personnel, adjustments need to be made.
HOWEVER, there is precedent here that provides some relief. Despite having a lackluster PK percentage, the Knights are also one of the most disciplined squads in the league, landing in the box just 109 times through 35 games. And wouldn’t you know it? Last season’s Chicago Blackhawks won 50 games and made the playoffs despite having the 24th ranked PK. But they were the second least penalized team in the league behind the (still) ridiculously disciplined Hurricanes. Not a bad a blueprint to follow.
It’s not a silly dream anymore. Barring a trade deadline fire sale (more on that in a moment), it’s going to happen: the expansion Vegas Golden Knights will be in the playoffs. This band of misfit toys has pulled their chipped shoulders together to shock everyone. The conversation is already shifting from “Will they make it?” to “Can they win the whole dang thing?”
Let’s deal with the getting in part first (that’s what she said). The Golden Knights already have 23 wins, which is insane. For relative comparison, the last time the NHL expanded in the 2000-01 season, the Minnesota Wild won 25 games THE ENTIRE SEASON. The Columbus Blue Jackets were victorious just 28 times.
On this date last season, just 5 teams had 20 or more wins (New York Rangers, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Montreal), and all of them easily made the playoffs. Last year, the Nashville Predators eeked into the second wild card spot with 94 points on 41 wins. If a similar record is required to make the postseason this year, it’s certainly reasonable to assume the Golden Knights can scrape together another 20 wins and 50 points over their remaining 49 games, even with some expected regression.
5. Get Maximum Return On Expiring Contracts
A playoff run is imminent, and there is the strong temptation to stand pat and let things play out, but is that wise with 12 contributing players set to become free agents? Definitely not.
Having that many guys with uncertain futures has certainly helped fuel the team’s success, and you would hope they’re enjoying the ride and want to stay, but a lot can happen between now and the end of the year. Plus, free agency is anyone’s guess. McPhee recently said the brass’s oft-mentioned three- and five-year plan “changes every day,” which is great, but the future of the franchise cannot be ignored.
So while all of these players are under team control, what do you do? Flip them for assets while you can? Sure, you could. Several are having a career renaissance and their value has never been higher (looking at you James Neal, David Perron, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Colin Miller), and they would each yield a good haul in a trade. That being said, “maximum return,” doesn’t necessarily mean “trade them,” and it could be in the franchise’s best interest to bring as many back as he can, a la Brayden McNabb .
The players listed above plus Shea Theodore form the Knights’ core, and are either in or entering their prime, which also means they will be looking to get PAID. It would be quite the coup if McPhee is able to coax them all into returning on sweetheart deals. But another thing the Knights do have in their favor is money. With most contracts coming off the books, including $8.25 million for players that will never even suit up for the team (Mikhail Grabovski, $5 mil, Clayton Stoner, $3.25 mil), they have a ton of salary cap flexibility.
That’s why this Christmas, I say practice patience. There is simply no way in desert hockey hell you can have a deadline fire sale as a contending team, especially in your first year in a new city. That’s a sure way to alienate your growing fanbase who are just getting to know the game, the franchise, and its players.
Put the whole thing on black and let it ride.
This is Vegas, after all.
Author bio: John Owens is a freelance writer. He grew up on the Hartford Whalers and at age 13 once scored on Jonathan Quick. The former D2 club hockey sensation and current beer league All-Star is still weighing offers for who will be his new team, 20 years after the Whale broke his heart and moved away. .
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☃Happy Haula-Days from the Golden Knights…and Schmidty the Elf☃ pic.twitter.com/pZ359OukNl
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 24, 2017
My only comment on this is for VGK fans to only be cautiously optimistic on making the playoffs. Stats are stats but nothing is guaranteed yet…far from it. Lots of hockey to be played and just remember, many of the people who are calling the playoffs a “lock”, are the same who said they would suck before the season started. Feel free to enjoy this unbelievable ride, but don’t plan the parade just yet.
Playoffs are all but guaranteed, 96 of the last 96 teams that led the conference at Christmas made it. The only people who think it isn’t are the people who buy the hockey created nonsense hockey doesn’t start til January. The truth is 80 percent of teams in the playoffs by thanksgiving make it. No parade yet, but playoffs are about as certain as waking up tomorrow.