It feels like ages ago now, but just six months ago the Golden Knights kicked off the third season in franchise history. It began with a pair of hotly contested games against the hated San Jose Sharks, each resulting in Vegas wins. From there, the Golden Knights ripped off wins in six of their first nine games before hitting the skids a bit dropping 12 of the next 17.
It all added up to a paltry 11-11-4 start. In those first 25 games, the Golden Knights were without Alex Tuch for 17, Nate Schmidt for 12, Malcolm Subban for nine, and Cody Eakin for four. Plus, Valentin Zykov was suspended for 20.
According to George McPhee though, those weren’t the only ailments plaguing his team early in the season.
We started the season a little slow. We had three players that were injured. The hidden injuries, we had three guys that were hurt late in the summer in training and missed a lot of training time. They were really behind when we got going. It was pretty obvious. -McPhee to GoldenKnights.com
My first thought was, “who’s he talking about?”
Shea Theodore’s bout with cancer could certainly fall under that category, but it’s hard to call that one “hidden.” Tuch, Schmidt, Eakin, Subban, and Whitecloud were all hurt on the ice during regular or preseason games, so he can’t be talking about them. Then there was the William Karlsson “can’t take draws” injury that seemed to occur in a preseason game, but once again, that shouldn’t have gotten in the way of the summer training.
“Three guys hurt late in the summer in training.”
The first, most obvious, candidate would be Ryan Reaves. He missed a majority of training camp, not hitting the ice for the first time until September 24th.
The next best guess is Paul Stastny who was absent for the first four preseason games but played in the final three and didn’t miss any of the 71 games played thus far.
Finally, there are Mark Stone and Deryk Engelland. Both participated in training camp, but neither saw preseason action until the third preseason game. That’s not horribly unusual, but when looking for “hidden” injuries the only names missing from the first two preseason games have to be considered.
Statistically, Stone was dominant out of the gates this season putting up 18 points in his first 15 games. The other three, not so much. Reaves tallied just three points in his first 20, Engelland had just two in 20, and Stastny had nine points in his first 20.
Or maybe it’s someone else I’m not even considering. But the point of this isn’t to out the guys who were potentially injured though, it’s to ask why that is an acceptable excuse?
McPhee said the team had a slow start due to three guys missing training time. First off, 6-3-0 isn’t exactly a slow start. 11-11-4 is, but are games 10 through 25 really affected that much by missed offseason training?
Which brings me to the main point here, if the guy in charge believes these injuries to be a reason for the slow start, why were they playing if they weren’t in shape enough to play? The answer is quite simple and actually was the next sentence out of McPhee’s mouth after making the “hidden injury” excuse.
We stuck to our blueprint. -McPhee
That blueprint is the one we highlighted back around the trade deadline. The one where they completely ripped apart any depth the team had in the offseason with the plan to rebuild it in February. The blueprint was to field a team without any depth for the first 60 games of the season so they could accrue enough cap space to make a run at the Cup come April, May, and June (and now hopefully July, August, or September).
The “injured” players had to play because the team simply didn’t have enough good players to replace them.
Depth has been an issue for the Golden Knights since the beginning of season two. Their lack of production from draft picks has left holes down the lineup when normal starters are injured. Now, it’s being used as an excuse as to why the team was not good to start the season, even though that was kind of the plan all along.
McPhee and McCrimmon have both said they plan to take the time to evaluate their blueprint during the pause in the NHL season. Aside from setting a coach up to fail, watching it happen, and then firing him for it, depth should be the piece they focus most on. The main roster looks great, if healthy. But this is hockey, there is no such thing as healthy and now we know even when we think they are healthy, there are “hidden” injuries to deal with as well.
The blueprint they followed had them positioned pretty well for a postseason that now may never happen. But there were some bumps along the way that caused franchise-altering decisions.
Those decisions weren’t necessarily wrong, but this time off needs to be used to re-evaluate them. The President of Hockey Operations blamed a “slow start” to a few “hidden injuries” that cost three players a few days of offseason training. Is that really what happened or did the blueprint set the team up to not be able to handle the inevitable injures that ultimately came their way?
The time for reflection is now.