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Iole: Navigating The Upcoming Muddy Waters

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Kevin’s back today to take a look at a position of depth, one that’s been notoriously thin in years past.

After a disheartening 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights were 1-4-0, tied for 28th in the 32-team NHL and squarely in the Shane Wright Derby.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The magic seemed to be gone. Mark Stone was out indefinitely. Max Pacioretty was out indefinitely. Vegas had been outscored nearly 2-to-1 in those five games. The Edmonton Oilers were 5-0 and Connor McDavid looked like he was taking things to an even higher level.

When the calendar turned to 2022, things were vastly different. A 3-1 victory Friday over the Anaheim Ducks that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, left the VGK with 44 points, which leads the Western Conference and is third in the NHL.

After 34 games, there were 204 possible games played in the top-six forwards. Those players — Stone, Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault, played in a combined 150.

That means the VGK’s top six forwards only played in 73.5 percent of the team’s games. The top four defensemen going into the year — Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, and Brayden McNabb — played in only 68.9 percent of the available games.

So, there is optimism that the recent hot streak should continue as the top players should be more available in the second half and, of course, Jack Eichel will debut sometime before the playoffs begin.

But getting cap compliant is going to be a massive chore and mark my words when I say that there will be plenty of pain yet to come in terms of roster subtractions to fit Eichel in.

The untouchables there are, obviously, Stone and Pietrangelo, since they’re not only among the best at their positions in the NHL, but because they had no-move protection.

But also on that untouchable list for me has to be Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, Robin Lehner, Nic Roy, Stephenson, Pacioretty, and Marchessault.

Hague and Whitecloud are close to being top-pair defensemen already and haven’t looked at all out of place in increased roles. Martinez isn’t an untouchable considering his age and the wear-and-tear on his body, but he’s the kind of guy who makes good teams great and great teams champions.

Smith, Karlsson, and Evgeni Dadonov are the most likely to be moved, with Karlsson the most difficult to swallow of the three.

Smith plays like a champion night in and night out but he’s on an expiring contract. They could theoretically move him and try to re-sign him at a lower price in the offseason, but there’s no way to know how much interest he’d have in that scenario.

If either Smith or Dadonov went, it would create an issue for where to put Eichel.

As Stephenson keeps up his sensational season, it makes sense to keep him between Stone and Pacioretty. If Smith goes, Dadonov would bump up to the second line to replace him, but then who would Eichel play with? They didn’t acquire him to play with Matias Janmark and William Carrier, that’s for certain.

If they try to keep both Smith and Dadonov, they could jettison Carrier, Janmark, McNabb, and potentially back-up goalie Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit has been a very solid backup, but if he is carrying the load in the playoffs, the Knights probably aren’t winning the Cup no matter what.

Moving Janmark, Carrier, McNabb and Brossoit would be more than enough to enable them to fit Eichel in.

With Eichel replacing Stephenson on the top line and the Misfits staying together, the third line would look good with Stephenson, Dadonov, and Roy. And that would leave a fourth line of something like Patrick, Howden, and Keegan Kolesar.

If Coach Pete DeBoer and GM Kelly McCrimmon opt to keep the top line together, Eichel would probably replace Karlsson on the Misfit Line, with Karlsson then slotting in with Roy and Dadonov. Again, it would be a solid line.

The fans who were happy upon hearing that Pacioretty underwent wrist surgery and would be out indefinitely were undoubtedly hoping the VGK could pull a “Kucherov” and add Eichel without subtracting anyone of significance.

Losing Pacioretty for the season would do that. Last year, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov missed the entire regular season, but returned in the playoffs and was magnificent as the Lightning won its second consecutive Stanley Cup.

What people don’t realize is how immensely difficult what Kucherov accomplished is. Only the best of the best of the best can be out that long and come back in playoff hockey and immediately be a force.

As terrific of a goal scorer as Pacioretty is, he’s not that kind of player. He’ll need some games to work his way into condition for the playoffs.

The VGK need a healthy Pacioretty to win the Cup. So from that standpoint, the surgery to fix an ailing wrist has to be good, assuming he returns early enough to be in playing shape by the playoffs.

If the Knights can manage the cap to get Eichel into the lineup without subtracting a nearly irreplaceable forward, the chances of a parade on Las Vegas Blvd. increase exponentially.

But to get there, the big guys not only need to perform at the highest level, but they’ll need some other improvements.

The most significant of which could come from Kolesar, an immensely talented big man whose hands have been miserable and whose size isn’t as much of a factor as it once was.

The Knights need Hague to maintain the pace he’s set since largely becoming Pietrangelo’s defense partner.

Lehner has been mostly great, but if he could take his game to another level, it would be significant.

Dadonov needs to score more consistently.

But cap woes or not, this team that started so poorly looks on New Year’s Day every bit the significant Cup contender. It’s going to be a wild second half.

**You can find all of Kevin’s tremendous boxing and MMA work at Yahoo Sports here.**

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30 Comments

  1. Justin

    The end of your article was a shocker – Lehner has been mostly great…. Huh???

    You’ve been watching the games right?

    • Blitz

      Exactly not sure why he says there is no way we are winning with Brossoit, but somehow Lenher is amazing.

      Stats:
      Lehner: 14 wins, 9 loses, 3.03 GAA, .905 SV
      Brossoit: 8 wins, 3 loses, 2.59 GAA, .904 SV

      Brossoit has a better GAA and the same SV. Not too mention isn’t hurt all the time and mental.

      I am not confident either will get us there, to be honest, but shitting on Brossoit and praising Lehner in this article is just stupid.

      • Julie

        Blitz, the writers will never be too critical of Lehner in print and announcers do the same at game time. It’s like they all got the memo to keep it light and bright. They fear if Lehner goes south, they don’t want any backlash. The most analysis I have ever heard on Lehner came from McKenna who said Lehner has trouble transitioning laterally. I do think when Lehner is on, he is good. But he’s too inconsistent.

    • Obviously, not concerning the walrus, just wishful thinking on his part. Concerning all who believe past performance equates to future performance Eichel could be the Kucherov and ensure Jack is totally heeled before putting him back into combat. Not convinced, as some are, that is the case, but it does avoid having to address the cap issue their spending has created until later.

      • Pistol Pete

        I for for one am not banking on a quick Eichel entry and impact, but anything is possible given the player and specimen he is. With Patch out, potentially past Eichel’s entry, the cap will be easier to deal with.

  2. Blitz

    I respect Kevin Iole and his thoughts, but some are wrong and I disagree with some too.

    The wrong (and why this is going to be harder than most think): Quote: “Moving Janmark, Carrier, McNabb and Brossoit would be more than enough to enable them to fit Eichel in.”

    Janmark: 2 mil
    Carrier: 1.4 mil
    McNabb: 2.5 mil
    Brossoit: 2.325 mil

    Sure if you subtract all those guys you save 8.225 million. “more than enough” right? Guess what, you need to replace them with other guys. You can’t play without a backup goalie and short 2 forwards and 1 d man. Even if you replace all of them with $725K players, that is not enough. With 725k replacements you are down to only saving 5.325 mil and that is not enough to fit Eichel. So keep chopping.

    You have to get rid of a +5 million dollar player and then something extra or two.

    For this year you need LTIR to save your ass or you are dumping one of Smith, Theodore, Martinez, Pacioretty, Karlsson, Marchessault, Dadonov, or Lehner period. As well as some extra fodder, like Janmark, Carrier, Patrick, or Brossoit.

  3. John W

    Assuming Stone and Patch are healthy before the Trade deadline, and Martinez is back (Real lack of good info on all), then I think the FO really has to consider Theodore as the best trade opportunity.

    Theo would have the most trade value, likely to bring at least a high first and perhaps a high level prospect.

    The emergence of our young defenders, and a good “scrap heap” pick up by the FO in Hutton, help make Theo more expendable.

    I think being forward heavy is the way to go. Also, keeping the top line intact makes sense. So my proposed moves/forward lines, assuming health, are:

    Trade Theodore and Carrier.

    Stone-Stephenson-Patch
    Marchy-Eichel-Dadanov (offense line)
    Smith-Karlsson-Janmark (shutdown line)
    Roy centering any 2 young forwards besides Kolesar

    Roll the top 3 lines roughly equal minutes.

    Thoughts?

    • Galdom

      John W, I understand your logic by trading from a position of strength. While I did agree that you would be able to get much more for Theodore than Dadonov I would only wanna move Theodore if I really was getting a solid return. I chuckle at the anything but Kolesar remark. I guess you are part of the hating Kolesar club. I’ll take a Kolesar on my team as a fourth liner

      • John W

        On Kolesar – I am not a Kolesar “Hater” – I can read a stat sheet. if he was more of a physical presence, then a 4th line spot is fine. But, until his “gift” goal from Hutton the other night, he had literally the lowest shooting percentage on the team.

        Right now, he is a faster version of Reeves, but without anywhere near the intimidation factor. Howden, Brooks or just about anybody is a better option.

        He is shooting about 4%….if he was around 9%, VGK would have about 3 more goals. One more win?

    • James

      Theodore is the most valuable contract on the team, and the best decision the franchise has made. Some logic to moving him in terms of return, but it would be the worst decision they could make.
      Comp players are almost twice as expensive.

      • John W

        Theodore worth 10.5 million? 2 million more than Pietrangelo?

        Doubtful.

        • Galdom

          I think he’s a $7.5 million player. And on that same point this is why Alex Tuch was so valuable. I saw him as a $6.5 million player on the open market with that special skill set of size and speed and being very young. Let’s just say that Jack Eichel better be the superstar top-five player in the league when he plays.

        • Daryl

          With how Theo’s been playing, I’d say they are very close in salary

      • Galdom

        I’m with you James. He’s a $7.5 million player making 5.25 million. And at his age and with the term left on the favourable contract they would have to get an absolute massive haul for him.

    • Blitz

      I think trading Theo is a realistic scenario if you want to keep the top 6 forwards and make a great 3rd line. I love the guy and would hate to see him go, but his value to us is not what it was 2 years ago.

      As for trade value. Normally he would bring you alot and teams see his potential. However, it is known that team desperation will bring the value down and also that VGK doesn’t get good return when in this spot. If this were to happen I would expect the return value to be insulting.

  4. Galdom

    That was a disappointing article. Blitz is right. You can’t just subtract four players on your roster without adding four at 725,000 to replace them. That’s some lazy math by Iole. I’ve been a defender of Lehner and even I know that he hasn’t been great this year. So that was another odd thing to say.

  5. Daryl

    At this point there is so much up in the air there is no telling what might happen

  6. FG

    Martinez may not return this year. Stone may require surgery. The return of both, as well as Pacioretty is uncertain. There is no guarantee Eichel will be healthy.
    Lehner’s injury history and performance so far this year should not inspire confidence VGK has adequate goaltending to succeed in the playoffs.
    As of now, there are significant uncertainties facing the team, and hopefully there will be more clarity as the trade deadline approaches.
    I’m sure the author is the only human alive who describes Kolesar as “immensely talented”.

  7. THE hockey GOD

    nice article, ignore the RL haters

    • Daryl

      Sorry, but saying RL hasn’t been great doesn’t make us haters… It makes us fans without the rose colored glasses

  8. Tim

    I’m still sticking to my gut and once again predicting Alex Martinez will stay on long term IR until the playoffs. This solves all our problems and it makes the most sense.

    • Blitz

      Interpreting coach speak, PDB said Marty is “close” to coming back and he wasn’t even asked about him specifically. To me that is telling and this is much better than last time when he said he was progressing and that Patrick was closer. I am guessing we will see him in the next couple of games or so. I don’t think he will be your LTIR guy, but I think LTIR is still a possibility and this season has not stopped giving LTIR opportunities.

      • Tim

        Blitz, Please tell me if they just put Martinez on Long Term IR how he is close to coming back?

        • Blitz

          The terms of LTIR is 10 games and 24 days, however LTIR is retroactive. So if Marty misses some games/days, then they put him on LTIR, it takes into account the already missed games. He’s been out forever. I am guessing he has missed more than 10 games and it has been more than 24 days so I would imagine he can come back any time when deemed fit to play. If they (Dr’s) say you are fit to play then you have to come back or at least you count on the cap.

          Patches is or will be LTIR and he will have to miss at least 10 games and 24 days. I would imagine it will be longer than that. PDB said at least a month.

  9. Blitz

    I am commenting too much today, but just waiting for the game and bored. (Wife thinks I am working)

    Here is my current roster move to free space for Eichel:

    Martinez comes back, establishes his game and then gets traded. Hutton takes his spot. This is worth $5,250,000-750,000 = 4.5 million cap savings. Trade Janmark (who Eichel replaces in the lineup) for another 2 million dollar savings. I believe we need 7 million for Eichel to fit. So the last 500k probably comes from dropping a low guy and playing short or maybe you waive Patrick.

    Hutton is not Marty, I get that, but someone has to go and the defense has been playing ok lately and is used to playing without him.

  10. Galdom

    Hey blitz, maybe we don’t have to get rid of anybody if Patches is on LTIR. Martinez would not be too difficult to move. He’s a warrior.

    • Blitz

      It’s hard to tell Patches real time line with the closed lips of VGK. PDB said at least a month and LTIR is 24 days min. So assuming a fast heal that is only the beginning of Feb give or take. The trade deadline is March 21st and the last day of the reg season April 29th. That is a long way off. I would assume it won’t be Marty or Patches that we can use for the Eichel LTIR relief fund. If a high dollar player goes on LTIR right before the deadline OR they have a real long injury it could happen, but honestly I don’t think you can plan this early.

  11. Aaron

    Marchessault isn’t and shouldn’t be untouchable like the article says, not that I think Vegas would be a better team in any scenario without him. Moving him would free up salary both this year and next however, but would make resigning Riley more important. I also don’t understand why people keep making reasons why you can’t move Stephenson off the top line for Eichel. If the argument is that Stephenson is actually producing even without Stone and Patches… Then great. Let him keep doing that with the third line.

  12. Mike StG

    This interesting proposition from Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period today, suggesting Vegas is considering a deal to acquire Ryan Kesler’s contract from ANA:

    “By acquiring Kesler’s rights from the Anaheim Ducks, they’d still have to pay him the balance of his $6.675 million salary, but they’d be able to utilize his $6.875 million cap hit in LTIR overage space and exceed the cap by that amount – something teams have done and continue to do.”

    Cap gymnastics are not always plus & minus of players salaries. As noted, other teams have done the same. Tampa Bay was not $10M over the cap (as Ken has said several times recently) – they were $18M over the cap at the end of last season. Based on this approach there are legit and legal options that would allow Vegas to remain cap compliant without sacrificing Smith, Theo or even McNabb. Although Dadonov’s days in Vegas are no doubt numbered.

    In fact, I will predict here and now that not only will Reilly not be traded but he will re-sign for at least 3 more years. He is invaluable to the team and the Misfit line, and PDB relies heavily on him.

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