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.
The writer Mark Twain popularized a saying in the 19th century that is still used frequently today: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
I believe in advanced statistics, but I also believe in the eye test and the eye test says that there is something deeply wrong with these Golden Knights.
There is a passion lacking in their game that has been there for most of the four-plus years this franchise has been in existence. It’s an enormously talented team, and with elite players like Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Max Pacioretty, Shea Theodore, and others, of course, it’s one that should easily be in the Stanley Cup discussion.
But ask yourself this: Could you honestly see the team that couldn’t hold a two-goal 1st period lead on Friday at home against the divisional rival the Los Angeles Kings really winning the Stanley Cup? Could you see this team, which entered Friday’s game having been shut out back-to-back, really winning four games against, say, Calgary, Colorado, and Tampa Bay? Or winning four against Edmonton, Minnesota, and Carolina? Or winning four against Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh?
For as much talent as there is on the roster, there is no longer a spark. The team no longer plays with a passion, that joie de vivre that made it so fun to watch in the inaugural season. There wasn’t just a spark on the Original Misfits; they had fireworks just about every night. But try to get a spark out of these Golden Knights and it’s often not there.
In 2017-18, remember the way William Carrier recklessly threw his body around? How many times did the then-fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Carrier, and Ryan Reaves have extended zone time thanks to a big hit and then a good cycle? That had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team and is why Coach Pete DeBoer started Reaves, Carrier, and Tomas Nosek so often the previous two years. He knew what that meant.
If you want to look at statistics, then let’s look at goals. It’s a bleak picture, trust me. Mattias Janmark has zero goals in his last 13 games. Nic Roy — whom I absolutely love as a player and believe will be a big part of this franchise’s future if they re-sign him — has one goal in the last 15. Evgenii Dadonov, who is being paid $5 million to score goals, has no goals in his last 10 and has one measly power play point since Dec. 14.
Do you want more? William Karlsson has one goal in his last nine. Jonathan Marchessault is only slightly better, with two in his last 13. Chandler Stephenson has two goals in his last 15.
Keegan Kolesar’s job isn’t necessarily to score goals, but he only has two in his last 16. More troubling, though, is that he’s not doling out those massive hits that a guy with his thick 230-pound frame can, and has done in the past.
It’s an ugly picture.
DeBoer spoke about a lack of desperation at his news conference following Friday’s highly unsatisfying 4-3 overtime loss to the Kings.
Playing desperate hockey is a cliche players use usually at playoff time when they’ve fallen behind in a series. But this team hasn’t really played desperate hockey for a long time.
They need to become annoying to play against. They have to bump into the goalie now and then, and raise the other teams’ ire for doing so. They need to throw the kind of hits that Carrier and Kolesar used to routinely throw. They need to skate like they’re trying to win a race in a bid to get the puck.
This team has been dubbed a contender by so many for so long that I wonder if they’re taking it for granted. Yeah, the injuries hurt. They’re not defending as well as they did last year, and their goaltending tandem isn’t playing as well as Robin Lehner and Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury did last year. So when there’s a defensive mistake, it’s going in more often than it did last year.
Now, with so many teams making the playoffs, what matters is not so much seeding but simply qualifying. Montreal proved that last year. In the 1990-91 season, Pittsburgh defeated Minnesota in six games to win its first Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh was seventh out of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs that year, and Minnesota was 15th. So while it’s easier to finish higher and have theoretically easier early matchups, the whole point is to get to the playoffs.
But that Penguins team that won had a guy named Mario Lemieux, and at the trade deadline, it added Ron Francis. It also featured an 18-year-old rookie, Jaromir Jagr, who turned into a demon in the second half of the season. Jagr wound up his career as the NHL’s second-leading all-time scorer.
The Golden Knights have nothing like that in their lineup, as talented as they are.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t have much flexibility because of the uncertain status of Mark Stone, his second-highest-paid player who may or may not be out for the rest of the regular season.
If Stone gets healthy before the playoffs, he’d better do it before the trade deadline so McCrimmon can clear space to accommodate him on the roster. Because McCrimmon has played this team squarely into salary cap hell and he can’t have everyone active if he’s put onto this roster.
If they could find an agitator who can play it would be the best scenario there is. The perfect player is Boston’s Brad Marchand, who is a brilliant player who also happens to drive opponents nuts. He’s not going anywhere. Neither is Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, who is another of that type of player.
McCrimmon is going to have to find a guy like that who while maybe not as skilled makes more of an intangible difference.
The Golden Knights have the talent to win the Cup, but they’re not going to win it the way they’re playing. Fortunately, the playoffs don’t begin until May, and McCrimmon has time to address it.
It’s not going to be easy and he’s probably going to have to overpay to get a deal done, but that’s the price the Knights pay for knowingly going more than $10 million over the cap.
The pieces are there, but things can’t keep going the same and still consider this team as a legitimate contender.
It’s a damned lie to say otherwise.