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Guest Post: VGK Upgraded, But Enough?

Today’s Guest Post comes from Kevin Iole. Kevin is a columnist for Yahoo Sports. He was a sportswriter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1990 until 2007. He covered the Las Vegas Thunder for the entirety of the team’s run in Las Vegas, and did a little bit of work covering the Las Vegas Wranglers. A lifelong hockey fan whose favorite players were Eddie Shack, Battleship Kelly, Steve Durbano, and Gary Rissling before Mario Lemieux came along, Iole was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was a diehard Penguins fan and a season ticket holder for about 10 seasons. He is a Vegas Golden Knights and Henderson Silver Knights season ticket holder along with his wife, Betsy. He became a Golden Knights fan early in the inaugural season and counts the Knights as his No. 1 team witih the Penguins No. 2. His ideal outcome would be the Knights winning the Cup 4-3 over the Penguins every year. Other than hockey, Iole loves Basset Hounds and owns about 40 VGK jerseys, many of which need new nameplates. 

For a franchise whose motto ought to be, “Stanley Cup or bust,” the Golden Knights only got marginally better this offseason.

Sure, the defense is better after essentially swapping Nate Schmidt for Alex Pietrangelo, as well as continued growth from Zach Whitecloud. This, though, is a team that lost in five games in the Western Conference finals and the only change in its forward lineup will be that its No. 2 center will be replaced by an injury prone and unproven 21-year-old.

But the forwards are worse and the goalies are the same, so will the difference from Schmidt to Pietrangelo mean that the Stanley Cup will be toted down Las Vegas Blvd in 2021?

Hardly.

Oh, I like the Knights’ chances of having a parade better than the Sabres or the Senators, and probably even better than the Penguins, Devils and Coyotes.

So much could go so wrong for this team.

It starts with William Karlsson, the only true elite (or close to elite) center on the roster. If he gets hurt and is out for any length of time, it’s a disaster of epic proportions.

The Golden Knights’ depth at center is nonexistent, and it could withstand a Pietrangelo absence far more than it could a prolonged Karlsson absence.

Peyton Krebs is a promising prospect, but relying on a 19-year-old in one of the most important spots on the team — and a 19-year-old who is less than two years removed from tearing his Achilles tendon, remember — is not the stuff of which Stanley Cup champions are made.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If Chandler Stephenson regresses and plays next season like he did in the first half of the season with Washington rather than the way he did after he was traded to the Golden Knights, it will seriously imperil their Cup chances.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

This team is close, though, and it has the ability to make a move that could, in fact, make it the Cup favorite. It won’t be popular, of course, but Kelly McCrimmon already told us that the popular moves aren’t always the wisest moves. But the path the Knights should take, and I’d argue must take, is clear:

They must trade franchise icon Marc-Andre Fleury. Now, truth be told, they’d have been better off if they’d included the extra draft pick that teams were demanding to take on Fleury’s $7 million contract and kept Schmidt than they were in trading Schmidt and keeping a super-rich backup goalie.

I’d think a team with Robin Lehner in goal and either Oscar Dansk or Veteran X as the backup with Pietrangelo, Schmidt, Whitecloud, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb and Nick Holden would be far better than what they have now.

Trading Fleury, even if it means including a first-round pick, is the way to fix this. Yeah, the idea of having an outstanding goalie like Fleury to play on the second half of back-to-backs in what figures to be a condensed season is nice.

But let’s be honest: This is a team with Cup aspirations and the regular season doesn’t really matter. When it gets into the playoffs is when things will mean something.

And when that happens, Marc-Andre Fleury will be on the bench. So why not make it Dansk on the bench and have kept Schmidt?

But what’s done is done, so they have to look in a different direction. And if they can move Fleury and acquire a No. 2 center in one fell swoop, that would be a dream scenario.

That probably won’t happen either, though as I looked at the roster of the goalie-starved teams who could use Fleury, I salivated at Carolina’s roster: What about dealing Fleury and Glass to Carolina for Jordan Staal?

Staal would be the perfect fit for whatever line Karlsson didn’t center, and he’d be dynamic in the playoffs. He has a $6 million cap hit for three more seasons, but he’s Carolina’s captain and has a no-movement clause. So that’s a pipedream.

But maybe there is a way they could work something out with Carolina, to get it to take Fleury and the $500,000 they retained of Tomas Tatar’s salary, for something centered around Vincent Trocheck.

Fleury is an iconic player in the NHL and he’s the face of the franchise here. But he’s also a backup who costs a lot of money that he’s not worth if he’s not playing. And the organization’s dream of winning the Stanley Cup is considerably lessened with him on the roster.

As much as it is going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt way more than it hurt to see all-time great good guy Nate Schmidt go, the best move to make is to deal him.

-Kevin Iole

Thank you so much to Kevin for sharing his opinion with us. If you have any interest in combat sports and are not following @KevinI on Twitter, you are doing it all wrong. Click here to check out all of Kevin’s work.

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43 Comments

  1. Jason Mason

    The Knights trying to get better on defense because they had no offense when it mattered? Is that how you fix not being able to score?

    I’d suggest MAF has never been the issue, so pretending he can’t play when the other team can beat you with one or two goals doesn’t strike me as a reason to spend so heavily on defense while not getting better on offense…so I’m in a bit of agreement with the article.

    Whatever kind of season happens next year will be one that has a good chance of MAF making management look pretty smart be default if Lehner doesn’t play like the big contract guy the Mc brothers made him. Not his fault for taking the money, any journeyman would.

  2. Mikegron32

    Dear Ken
    Thank you for this very informative guest post that was the exact same opinion as yours

    • Tim

      Exactly Mike, Ken will hammer away on Fleury forever. I for one told him they weren’t going to trade him months ago but he won’t let it go. He wants another couple 30 something players to win the almighty cup. His logic although like most people can’t see the forest for the trees.

      • Kevin Iole

        Mike and Tim,

        I wrote this piece on my own and sent it to Ken and asked him if he’d publish. I did not consult with him beforehand.

        As a longtime Penguins fan and a huge VGK fan, I love Fleury. But if you decided he’s going to be your backup, and backups typically don’t play in the playoffs, paying him $7 million makes little sense, especially with a glaring hole in the lineup.

        • Tim

          Kevin I understand your conventional thinking But. I have a different logic right or wrong. First let me say goals are a good thing and to piggyback on that assists are a good thing. Now what I consider an assist is when a player makes a direct pass to another teammate who puts the puck in the net. To many what they classify as assists are phony second and third passes down the ice to me this is padding the stats. Let’s assume Fleury as the backup goalie plays 30 games this year and being one of the best backups saves us a goal a game. That would equal a 30 goal performance from some new forward and you and I both know that’s not going to happen. Now of coarse the way Boston and Colorado were stuck in the playoffs when there goalies for different reasons couldn’t play. You have a house and car and you pay a lot of money for insurance and usually don’t need but you have it just in case. What’s the difference having Fleury as an insurance policy just in case. There’s a saying in hockey that goaltending is 50% of the game and if you don’t have one it’s 100% of the game. I believe the best way to the Stanley Cup is having the number one seat and with Lehner and Fleury that’s possible with Lehner and a has been it’s not possible. I believe were a contender but I don’t see us raising the cup. As you saw in the playoffs we were lucky to beat Vancouver and in game one of the Dallas series was all I needed to know about the Knights chances. When you are suppose to be a dominant team and can’t score a goal in 60 minutes the party’s over. So in a nutshell Kevin our only chance is to be the #1 seat and hope for the best and our two goalies give us that opportunity. Now you and everyone else can say dump Fleury and his 7 million contract but not me.

          • Daryl

            Tim,
            I don’t think your analogy with insurance is very accurate. If you want a comparison, then let’s say you own a house but you want to buy another one in case a hurricane knocks our your primary house. Sure you could use your other house from time to time, but since its on the same block it really isn’t a vacation home. On top of that, since you bought this house, you no longer can afford to buy a vehicle to get you back and forth from one place to another. I think that comparison is better than yours lol.

            Also, as I already stated, hoping VGK lucks into a Cup contending team needing a goalie isn’t very likely, but yes it is possible

    • STEPHANIE LIMPERIS

      Lol

  3. Tim

    The article exposes a lot of holes in our team. I’m burned out talking about Fleury so we’ll be a contender but winning the cup would be a long shot. Basically what it comes down to is we won’t bring up any young players for fear of failure. Kelly says how we’ve added players to our lineup. Let’s look at that Chandler Stephenson, NHL ready from Washington. Nick Roy from Carolina picked up in a trade, and Zach Whitecloud a free agent signing. Cody Glass was up for a cup of coffee and DeBoer must not of liked what he saw in Nick Hague because he went down to the AHL. What this tells me by going for the almighty cup you can forget young talent being infused in the lineup.. This organization places zero value on our prospects including Nick S. and Erik Brainstorm two of our first year first round picks. Will they trade Payton Krebs and Cody Glass probably for some 30 year old players that they believe can help them win the cup. I like to see young talent get a chance look at Vancouver and Colorado there exciting to watch and in a short time will pass us up. We on the other hand will stay decent but I think the cup is a pipe dream. If Nate was so good why did they keep Marshie instead he has a 5 million cap hit. You have to ask yourself does Marshie help the team more then Nate? Another year of us taking 40 or 50 shots in a game and the opponent taking 25 shots and we lose. Doesn’t that tell you there’s something wrong with the system this no puck luck only goes so far.

  4. P-Dawg

    Love or hate the Mac twins, they are smart. They know the hole the team has down the center of the ice. They almost certainly have a plan to address it. They lost all leverage with MAF, and the price was too steep to unload his salary at the time of free agency. The options will hopefully look much more promising toward the trade deadline when MAF only has one year remaining and several playoff teams may be looking to shore up the net. They’ll be glad they retained that first round pick for trade value. It’s not just dumping MAF’s salary; it’s also retaining enough assets to get something in return to fill the salary spot. Their strength on the wings, blue line, and net will keep them competitive until that time comes.

    • Daryl

      Very optimistic approach but unless another Cup contending team has an injury with their netminder, VGK will be stuck with MAF and will have no one to lead the center of the ice

  5. Ken and Kevin – interesting – Ken you found someone who you believe thinks along the same line – hats off it is always good to have a back-up. Kevin I certainly agree with you they didn’t improve their situation much if at all, you referenced hardly – which essentially is saying the same thing. I do question that all the blame should fall at the feet of MAF a victim in the fiasco that mgt created. With all the good goalies available there was no reason to jump the gun with Lehner as I am confident he is no better and maybe not even equal to some of the talent that were on the market. Yes Nate was a good guy as you mentioned, I did notice that really doesn’t equate to performance – is he better than some, sure but wasn’t at his best in the playoffs this year and slipped some from yr 1. What makes everyone think the Knights will have a 7 mill guy on the bench who knows it could be the other way around if as PDB stated its on performance. Did VGK need a successor for goal certainly -at this very moment ???? – not sure they found the right one and that has nothing to do with not liking Lehner. Did they need a 8.8 mil defenseman don’t think so but what is done is done. What they do need is some guys who aren’t afraid to screen the opposition goalie as 40 to 50 shots a game isn’t going to get it done when he can see what’s coming – they have certainly proven that. I noticed you referenced Glass – injury prone – hope that is is his past but certainly leaves a lot of questions. Assuming they make the playoff unless some other moves are in the pipeline they won’t be raising the Cup next year either – they hardly beat Vancouver and they have a number of young hungry guys with something to prove. Don’t believe the Knights have that same attitude. Kevin your first line says it all “Stanly Cup or Bust” they are blinded by the light which has its pluses and a great goal but comes with many negatives that can’t be ignored. I believe it is the definition of insanity. Fix what’s broken leave everything else intact.

  6. THE hockey GOD

    interesting take , but not fare enough

    team needs a completer re-tool.

    See prior posts.

    • THE hockey GOD

      far

    • While you may be right that’s not a real practical solution under the circumstances- fix the glaring issues first and work on the others down the road. They have painted themselves into a corner which will be difficult if not i.possible to get out of. Not a pretty place to be. No moves big money and players laughing all the way to the bank. Congratulations Splash brothers!!!!!!

      • STEPHANIE LIMPERIS

        Agree with this dude too .tbinking vgk wouldve been better off with an Artemi Panarin kinda guy .at least anothrr person or someone that has moves and creates

  7. Daryl

    Overall I do not think this team is better than last years. They upgraded the blueline (mostly for offense) but took a hit on offense. Pietra is good but he won’t move bodies from in front of the net, he won’t block shots, and he will jump in the offensive zone when he shouldn’t. He is a very good puck handler and will make good passes out of the zone but I don’t know how much he will help out in the defensive zone. VGK basically had to give up two players to make room for Pietera and I don’t know if he, by himself, is better than having both Stastny and Schmidt.

    As for the goalie situation, I completely agree with Ken here… having both goalies is a total waste of money… UNLESS Lehner is going to be injured and not able to play at the beginning of the season. I get this will be a condensed season with more back to back games, but lets be honest with ourselves, the Pacific Division is VERY weak and VGK should have no problem making the playoffs when practically anyone as the backup. And when the playoffs come around, only 1 goalie will play, as we saw last season, so you now will have a $7.5m player sitting on the bench. That money could be used to get Maroon or several other players that aren’t afraid to play in front of the net. We need someone to screen the goalie and handle all those 40 shots from the blueline we will get from Theo and Pietra.

  8. Mikegron32

    People seem to overlook that we actually signed 2 big UFA’s this off-season, Petry AND Lehner.
    So let’s see… we got Lehner, Petry, a 3rd and a 4th for Schmidt and Stastny. Who doesn’t make that deal??
    Ya ya ya I know but what about Fleury..
    Your other option was to bribe someone to take Fleury, give them a high draft pick, eat some salary, sign a garbage back up goalie, and keep Schmidt or Stastny. I’ll take option A any day. At some point they still might move Fleury when a contender loses their starter and then comes knocking. Now ALL the leverage is in your corner!
    Last thing, name one cup contending team that has done more to upgrade their team this off season. You could possibly argue Colorado but that’s it.

    • Daryl

      We are talking about upgrades and Lehner was already on the team so he isn’t an upgrade. Plus, I question whether he is even an upgrade from MAF. And as I stated above I believe Pietra is an upgrade but is it worth losing Schmidt and Stastny? I just don’t know.

      And as for MAF, if a Cup contending team does lose their starting goalie, then VGK has options but that’s a big IF. I’d also ooiny out that other Cup contending teams didn’t need to make drastic changes so you can’t really compare VGK to them

    • Tim

      Buffalo, Montreal, Calgary, Detroit, and as you said Colorado have all made positive moves,

      • Mikegron32

        Ok if you could switch entire roster, coaching staff, management with one of those teams would you do it? Not having a reliable backup goalie quite possibly cost Avs a chance to play for the Cup. And FYI you can read any one of those teams message boards and their fans hate their management just as much as you hate yours…

        • Tim

          Mike your right Avs and don’t forget the Bruins they were sucking wind.

          • Daryl

            That’s still a lot of money wasted on a what if…. VGK needs Centers more than anything else. So unless they know something about Lehner’s surgery that the rest of us don’t, which is quite possible, I don’t think the risk is worth the reward

  9. THE hockey GOD

    “Erik Haula C, Florida Panthers
    Erik Haula is going over his options, as he remains unsigned 11 days into free agency. ”
    Rotoworld

    talking to 12 or so teams, if he really like VGK so much why hasn’t he signed ?

  10. Jake

    My view is, Roy, Stephenson, Glass, Krebs are all players that the Knights management believe are ready to take the next step and excel, fill the breach, in ways most of us don’t realize.

    I still think Fleury is gone this season, chance for Haula to come back.

    Or…the management mucked this up terribly.

    I prefer the former. We will see.

  11. Tim

    The simplest solution is resign yourself to the fact were a good team but not a Stanley Cup team and just enjoy the games. All this what we should do to win the cup is nonsense. We don’t have the driving force to make it happen. Throw in the Gallant firing, the DeBoer hiring, the Fleury Fiasco, giving Perron away, giving to much for Patch a one trick pony, the Tatar fiasco, trading Haula a week before his wedding and on and on all factor in to a desperate team that has lost it’s way. The Splash Brothers can put any face on the team they want but they’ve alienated a lot of there fan base.

    • Daryl

      Time…. I completely agree with everything you said. Kind of how I watch my Dolphins… I know they aren’t going to win anything for a VERY LONG TIME so I might as well just enjoy any win they can get. And considering I quit watching the games on TV and don’t buy any jerseys or apparel anymore, it makes it easier while watching games on the internet.

    • STEPHANIE LIMPERIS

      Holy crap you sound like my brother !! Lol
      Are you a stholder or were you?

    • DC

      Agree with Tim. Just spending money and wheeling and dealing players alone does not guarantee a Stanley Cup. You’ve also got to build some esprit de corps in your players, loyalty, and commitment to the team and community, the kind of magic that led VGK to it’s amazing inaugural season and led the improbable Blues to the Cup in 2019. Let’s be honest, this is missing in Vegas right now. Players sense that they are vulnerable pawns in Vegas’s relentless pursuit of the bigger, better, deal.

  12. Tim ‘ I seriously question they give a hoot about the fan base. They are under the assumption “if we build it they will come”. That may be a legitimate assumption in vegas for the short term but it will not with stand the test of time. The problem with that approach they are sacrificing the tomorrows for today and they haven’t figured out the formula to make it work. All the tweets here and there hasn’t improved the team that much. They think they can buy their way into winning the cup and you know that’s a path to failure. Maybe they have something up their sleeve only problem it’s short sleeve shirts. Wanting to win the cup is one thing the attitude to making that happen is an entirely different animal.

    • Tim

      hdbiker like I’ve said before I’ve been here since I got out of the army in 1965 and you are so right. During the Tartanian era from 1974 to 1991 you couldn’t get a basketball ticket it was the biggest show in town. Now I have no clue who’s on the team and they draw flies. Football started in 1968 and they had aspirations of joining the Pac 10 in 5 years well here it is 2020 aside from a few decent years they still can’t put a competitive team on the field and can’t draw fans. The Knights with all there bullshitting around may end up in the same boat someday.

    • Daryl

      HD, I also agree with you…. I think they believe if they build it, fans will come. Problem is, they aren’t going to win anything, now or in the near future, so people won’t be coming.

    • Julie

      HD, I agree with you about the VGK management and fan base thought. They seem to think fans can’t or won’t pay attention to how their decisions play out. Side note, I see SinBin is still torq’d that Fleury is still around. If I could submit a cartoon drawing of SinBin with a tear coming down its face, I would. Lehner is having shoulder surgery, so I guess no pain killers for him as that would be a risk. I wish him the best on that. Other than not securing a trade for Fleury before signing Lehner, this may be some known knowledge when the “decision” was made to keep Fleury.

      I also agree from a money and logical perspective that Vegas isn’t built for the Cup right now both in terms of the players but also the coach. There is another article floating out there that Vegas needs the bonding of the players to get going and develop that synergy quickly. We’ll see, but I expect watching the games will show us that the spark and magic of the team has been clouded. I would also expect that the first game PDB lets Fleury play, there will be a standing ovation – not just for him but because fans know the VGK management has really displayed their shortcomings recently.

      • Hi Julie – I would like to think that MAF is still around because of knowledge concerning Lehner surgery but believe that is wishful thinking as they had to know about the surgery thing when they signed him if they didn’t shame on them. Truth be told they couldn’t find a taker for Fluery plan and simple because they played their cards signing Lehner before they had anything else sowed up. Just a plan stupid move no if buts or maybes. There were other goalies available so there certainly was no panic to sign Lehner in fact they may have paid to much as you know teams he was associated with previously allowed him to walk or they walked away. Either case not exactly a huge endorsement regarding his value. It will be interesting to see how things turn out but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to hoist the Cup as I don’t see that happening this coming year. They have 30 million tied up in 4 players and that is suicide with the current cap – in fact you could make a strong argument its suicide with any cap for the near future.

  13. I belive our youg guys have enough talent to play well at the Centre position with either Glass or Nic Roy or even Krebs. The argument you make is one of age. Both Glass and Krebs are 1st round picks. If you look at the top centers in the NHL, may of them began playing in the league at that age Look not further than the Tampa Bay Lightning and Brayden Point. He began playing in the NHL as a 20 year old. He was a 3rd round pick. He had 40 points in his first full year as a 20 year old. Why couldn’t Glass, Stephenson, Roy or Glass do that? NO GOOD REASON. I reject your conclusion and look forward to keeping Fleury and playing the young guns. STOP looking for problems!!! We have a great squad as is.

    • Daryl

      Our young guys have been given chances to play (most of them) and they were not able to perform at the NHL level. I wish you were right and all those players were ready and looked good playing. If that were the case, VGK wouldn’t be that bad off. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case which is why VGK will be hurting for several years to come. More than likely, you will see VGK trade away a couple of those plyers either at the deadline this year or next year during free agency. They will be traded for a player they think will help them win NOW instead of building the talent for the future

  14. Daryl, you are right in your conclusion about the opportunities. The only reason I do see hope is the growth trajectory of young players, especially the caliber of Glass and Krebs. One year of further training and playing up at the NHL level makes a huge difference in their games. For now I’ll be optimistic about that. Perhaps at the end of next season we can revisit this point. Cheers!!

    • Daryl

      Gapper,
      I don’t know if any of our young players will be ready next year but hopefully in a year or two they will be ready to step up and lead this team. Unfortunately, I’m not so positive they will still be around when that time comes. I do like our young talent and it’s only a matter of time before they take the next step

  15. Totally agree about MAF and I love the guy as we all do, its really not right, we lost a guy, Schmidt, for nothing. If we don’t have the younger guys step up, we slid back a little. I think we are 1 or 2 guys short of taking the Cup, a just miss team. We have to really depend on Glass stepping up, I love his intuitive play, his passing, his knack of being in the right place. I hope Krebs is 100%, he’s really the mystery here, he needs a shot soon, we need to see him in action.

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