When the Golden Knights step up to the podium at 9:30am Tuesday to address the media in what is known as “locker-cleanout day,” the most common words that will be used are “injuries” and “health.”
In an attempt to excuse away the worst underachieving season of VGK’s first five, players, coaches, management, and the owner (if he chooses to speak), will point to the enormous number of “man-games lost” by the Golden Knights this season.
On its face, it’s true, the number is monstrous. By my count, the Golden Knights lost 508 games due to injury this season. A number rivaled only by some of the worst teams in the league, Montreal, Arizona, Philadelphia, and Buffalo.
However, that 508 number bothers me, because it’s self-serving. It acts as an excuse for a team that purposely positioned itself to rack up such an insane number.
When the Golden Knights entered the 2021-22 season, they did so with a roster that was nearly $5 million over the salary cap. They were allowed to do this because they came into the year with multiple players unable to play the very first game of the season. Alex Tuch, William Carrier, Nic Roy, and Brett Howden were all unavailable due to injury. In fact, Tuch’s injury dates back to May 2021 and it was well-known throughout the offseason that he would miss at least the first 30 games of the year.
Vegas saw this as an opportunity, not a pitfall. They knew that under the current rules of the CBA they could stash players on long-term injured reserve in order to bolster the roster beyond the allowable $81.5 million salary cap. So, that’s what they did to start the year.
Then, when Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty were sidelined early in the season, they sought out a trade for Jack Eichel, who was injured himself. Once again, in no way could, or would, the Golden Knights ever be able to field a legal roster with what the players they currently had under contract plus Eichel, but with multiple players on the shelf, the opportunity was ripe to continue utilizing LTIR to reinforce the roster.
The trade brought hopes and dreams that one day a roster of Eichel, Stone, Pacioretty, Alex Pietrangelo, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Robin Lehner, and the rest of the Golden Knights would see the ice togehter and take the NHL by storm. But, it was never possible, or legal, in the regular season. The only way to keep that fantasy alive was to rack up massive numbers of man-games lost.
In many ways, the 508 man-games lost are the only reason the Golden Knights were considered a Cup contender in the first place. Without them, they would have had to trade away nearly $12 million worth of assets, completely shredding the deep roster that had everyone so excited in the first place.
I wanted to find a way to illustrate this concept to show exactly how many man-games the Golden Knights purposely lost based on their willingness to venture deep into the pits of LTIR. And I did it, coming up with a number of 202.
Here’s how I went about the calculations.
- HEALTHY SALARY: Add the total salary of the players in the lineup and available as healthy scratches
- AVAILABLE CAP: Subtract the salary cap from the total healthy salary number to show how much available room the team had to add players
- INJURED SALARY: Add up the total salary of the players unavailable for each game due to injury
- AVERAGE SALARY PER INJURED PLAYER: Divide the injured salary by the number of players unavailable to play in the game
- GAMES LOST UNDER CAP: Divide the available cap by the salary lost per injured player to show how many of the injured players the team could afford legally under the cap
Ex: Game 77 vs. San Jose
HEALTHY SALARY – $79,178,333
AVAILABLE CAP – $1,559,167
INJURED SALARY – $11,601,667
AVERAGE SALARY PER INJURED PLAYER – $1,933,611 (6 players)
GAMES LOST UNDER CAP – 0.8
Let me explain the thinking behind these calculations. The concept is simple in that at no time during the regular season could the Golden Knights have fielded a roster with all of their injured players. So, I wanted to find a way to show how many of them they could have used had they been healthy and how many they couldn’t.
Obviously, using an average for each player does not exactly maximize the possible usage of the injured players, but it does account for the idea that missing Mark Stone is more significant than missing Nolan Patrick. Of course, with $1.5 million of cap space, Vegas could have used two players making the minimum salary, but they could not use one making $5 million. Using the average kind of walks the line between both.
In the example, you see that in Game 77 the Golden Knights will be credited with six man-games lost. However, they only had a little more than $1.5 million in cap space available, so even if all six players were healthy, only two at league minimum salary could be used. Thus, using the calculation that I felt as the fairest way to illustrate the difference between true man-games lost and salary cap eligible man-games lost, there was a difference of 5.2 games. Vegas could only afford one player (or maybe two) due to cap constraints but will take credit for all six that we unavailable.
I went through and did these calculations for all 82 games. The total number of games the Golden Knights lost due to injury, COVID, or family leave was 508. The salary cap eligible man-games lost was just 306. That’s a difference of 202 games and would take the Golden Knights from having the 6th most in the NHL (behind MTL, ARI, PHI, BUF, and VAN) to 18th.
In 6th, the Golden Knights are in a group of non-playoff teams. In 18th, they are in a group with Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington, Colorado, and Seattle, and slightly behind Florida. That’s six playoff teams, all of which reached at least 100 points in the standings.
Now, there’s no denying that 306 man-games lost will affect any team and the Golden Knights clearly would have garnered more points in the standings had they not experienced these setbacks. Vegas missed the playoffs by just three points, had it been even 50 games healthier it likely would have made up those points.
Injuries played a factor in the Golden Knights’ demise this season. So did a miserable power play, a leaky defense, average to subpar goaltending, and an inability to score in pressure-packed moments.
Vegas’ front office wanted to be among the league leaders in man-games lost. They did it purposely in an arrogant attempt to exploit the LTIR rules in the regular season and ice a roster well above the legal salary limit in the postseason. Now, as it’s blown up in their faces, they will point to the injuries as a reason for their shortcomings when it’s really a manifestation of their desire to manipulate the system.
The fact is a healthy roster pushing right up against the salary cap for the final nine games of the season mustered up just three wins including a meaningless one after they were eliminated. Despite the purposeful amassing of man-games lost, the team was still alive and well with destiny in their own hands in the final weeks of the season.
This team has problems, lots of them, and simply excusing them away due to astronomical injury numbers is not going to lead to success in the future. Especially when you consider the team purposely brought 40% of the number upon themselves.
For those interested, I’ve attached the calculations to this Google Sheet.