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Iole: The Passion VGK Became Synonymous With Must Return, And Soon

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.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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

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45 Comments

  1. Henderson One

    A Country Club team that is much too comfortable. The writer is correct, there is no zip with this current team. They are currently going through the motions. They have the talent but do they have the desire?

  2. Herby

    Agree.
    The front office did trade team for talent and did forget, that team beats talent.
    In addition to this, they did do way many trades that did hurt the chemistry.
    Not even sure if they make the PO‘s this season.

  3. THE hockey GOD

    forgot to mention that vegas has most man games lost
    and
    crazy NHL schedule that has teams timing way off because
    some teams are playing crazy number of games in short period of time , and other
    teams sit around play one or two games in a row, sit around, play one or two games in a row. IT’s madness.

    Hockey is a lot like baseball, if you sit, your timing goes way off. Timing is needed to build chemistry, timing is needed for passing, timing is needed for shooting, timing is needed for checking, timing is need for speed, timing is needed for goalies to make saves, and most important the game is all about time. There are 20 minutes in a period, three periods and one OT, five minute OT. Timing is a a very important.

    anyone who says otherwise, is obviously running out of time or there rolex
    doesn’t have a second hand, or their hour glass ran out of sand.

    sez
    me
    THG , nothing more than a straight shooter to all, and a windbag to one.

  4. THE hockey GOD

    nice article Iole, but a lot of people on this forum say that the pieces are not there, or the pieces are broken , and no one knows how to put them back together.

    No matter what, all the kings men couldn’t figure it out.

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again

    too little
    too late

  5. Dean

    All the roster movement has turned a Cup contender into a middle of the road team. Since management has destroyed our Cup hopes at the moment, it’s time to blow up this roster at the trade deadline and start a full scale rebuild.

    • sb

      MGT has destroyed our Cup hopes? Nope. MGT has put together a very talented team paid to the cap. It isn’t MGT’s fault. Instead, look at the guys making $5, $7 and $9 million dollars who aren’t producing at the rate of the paycheck they cash. It’s on the players. Not the Owner. Not the GM’s. They’ve done their part in every way. Making that kind of money and just going through the motions? I wish the players desire to win the Cup was as great as the Owner’s is. This is on the players.

  6. Yes, yes and yes. Hockey is a business, yes. But somehow forgotten by mgmt is the missing piece of the puzzle, the Human Factor. It matters. The shell game and trades, plus injuries, have created an unpredictable, unreliable environment. Tough to win consistently.

  7. John W

    While I share some concerns, I think we still need to give this team and coach some leeway before we write them off.

    Pretty much all of the top teams during this year have had some losing streaks, and seeming loss of direction.

    Go over to Tankathon.com, and look at the remaking schedule strength for the rest of the season. VGK has the 4th EASIEST remaining slate.

    https://www.tankathon.com/nhl/remaining_schedule_strength

    Regardless, regaining the “Passion”, will be a function of leadership. DeBoer and the FO off the ice, and Petro/Misfits/1st line on the ice need to raise their game.

    Next 3 games are key. Minimum of 4 points should help right the ship.

  8. Stone&Patches

    Why so quick to write them off? Edmonton was written off months ago.. 2nd place now…lol. its timing like someone above said.. they play one game every five days this month… look for March with 16 games in 30 days to be the real fun time and “proving ground” …desperation will come through, i 100% agreee they are lacking in it, esdpecially on D missing Marti all season and now Whitecloud. They are going to start to gel once the games start picking back up just watch. It hurts to watch them allow these teams to literally just skate medium speed over the blue line into their zone i CANT STAND IT. literally screaming at the tv to STEP UP. but they seem need someone to lead the way. someone will emerge. they always do. 2nd place pacificplayoffs here we come is my guess.

  9. Barb

    I have watched or listened to all but a handful of VGK games since their inception. I have two main observations. First, there is one player that was signed at a high price tag (and it’s not Eichel) that “doesn’t fit” the Knights. And second, knowing that the team is way over cap space and wondering if you will be the expendable player when the time comes might take some wind out of your sails.

    • I agree Barb on the pressure for the players when it comes to the cap. Take Reilly Smith–many thought he would be the one to go. It could be Dadonov. That can affect team morale. The good news is Eichel is in, a big hurdle. It also looks like Stone will stay out for the remainder of the regular season leaving only Martinez to worry about for the cap should he play before the deadine. With the roster now set for the rest of the season (Martinez notwithstanding and assuming Stone can be kept out) they can begin building on the stability and get the chemistry of the team built back up.

    • Yup. That Chopping Block is a pretty damned intimidating thing. Pros they are, but job security, or lack thereof, is NOT good for confidence or morale.It seems Hockey teams trade a lot
      ALL season, where other sports trade and deal in the OFF season…added pressure.

    • Amy

      Would be interested who you think that “high price tag” player is?

  10. Blitz

    Before you can say VGK has ultra talent (make no mistake it is now top heavy) you have to look at what you got. This team can’t even find a line mate, on the current roster, for one of the best centers in the league. 5 million dollar Dadonov is a no for now any way. Next best option is converting the 3rd best center, on the team, Stephenson to wing. I didn’t think Stephenson was terrible, but line 3 is not a good line. L4 isn’t great either, but I would say does its job ok. The misfit line couldn’t be broke up cause its clear without it this team has issues and/or giant holes.

    I agree with the chemistry issue, but that is out of any ones hands until a *team* coach is brought in and/or the FO is ousted. I don’t see that until the off season at the earliest if even then. So what do you do. You have to exit Lehner or Dadonov or Marty or ??? for cap and bring in a L1 wing. Probably not alot of current trade value especially with the injuries. Can’t be Smith (see misfit line holding this team together, above).

    • Blitz it’s folly imo to call any coach “not a team coach”. C’mon. Any coach knows team chemistry is everything. Some coaches are better motivators than others and motivation might come into play here, but I doubt it. Does anybody really think the players that are set on this roster do not want the Cup, all in the worst way and that DeBoer does not coach to that?

      • Blitz

        You’re not a sports guy are you? You don’t seem to know anything about coaches. You are either a players coach or you are not a players coach. You can be successful as a systems coach and there are lots of examples. Galant is a players coach. Ted Lasso is a players coach. Deboer is a systems coach. This team had chemistry. It no longer does. It is now a system. Yes everyone wants to win, but that means nothing here.

        • Pistol Pete

          I don’t have experience with coaches other than high school varsity hockey. The coach was my math teacher and he could skate, obviously an excellent player in his day at the same school. I’m not sure why DeBoer or any other coach can’t be both a systems coach and a player’s coach, in fact in this day and age you want a system to go along with the role analytics plays, no? Anyways if you are claiming DeBoer is not a player’s
          coach, I can’t disprove that. Don’t get to go in the locker room or talk to the players so I can’t say one way or the other. Did you know DeBoer played two years on a
          top tier farm team tallying
          over 100 points? I mention that because one would think he went into coaching understanding the player side of the relationship.

  11. The premise of Iole’s piece that the chemistry and passion is gone conflicts with successes of the season, for example the pummeling of the Rangers and the eastern road trip. I do think there are issues with the chemistry but one can go overboard on it too. In any case, now that Eichel’s in and Stone is out (assuming the perception in the room is that he will return only for the postseason), they can now see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of stability of the lineup. Now they just have to go out and execute on a regular basis. Also, it will take time for Eichel to get his full game back and to develop chemistry with Pacioretty and the RW on that line. As I said on the Kings game, I attended it and watched it again. I did not see lack of effort or passion, just issues executing.

    • We apparently were watching two totally different games PP. But, let’s revisit this at the end of the month. The next 3 games are going to either support your analysis or mine. Enough said for now….

  12. Charlie Anzalone

    Kevin I agree 100, they need to start hitting to send a message to opposing teams

    • Nuklbonz

      The WORST thing they did was trade their energy guy. Reaves is a HUGE PRESENCE on the ice. He could change the tone and flow of a game with one hit.

  13. Lack of passion, chemistry and identity, a cap bloated paper tiger. A few of the players have shown great passion this year and consistently do so (Stone, Marcy, Carrier are the 3 that come to mind).

    Again, I just have to ask the question. Why is there a lack of passion, chemistry and identity?

    Ans: The excuses have been many including too many injuries, too many new faces too fast, too much experimenting. The real answer, in my opinion, is that Coach DeBoering’s so-called “process” is uninspiring and lacks imagination.

    When your team has to resort to flipping pucks like pizza from the d-zone to center ice as a strategy to get out and relieve pressure is when you realize the wheels are falling off this team.

    If McCriminal can’t see it, then hopefully McPhee and Foley do.

    I don’t think this season can be saved despite the addition of Eichel. I think Eichel is a great player and is a major upgrade at center. But the wheels are already falling off and the team appears to be out of gas.

    I predicted that VGK would finish 3rd, make the playoffs and be eliminated in the 1st or 2nd round. Now, I am not even sure they will make the playoffs. YEAH I SAID IT. The next 3 games are going to either solidify this prediction or not. It begins tonight.

    If DeBoer is worthy of being the Head Coach this team had better come out with intensity, desperation and totally dominate the ice.

    If not…..

    Well……

    • George L.

      Well, DeBoer will blame people and make weird excuses. He’ll tell us about the ice, even though both teams share the ice. He’ll tell us about injuries, even though every team has injuries.

      I’m okay with a Turk style coach. Not this.

  14. George L.

    We no longer have a team. We have an assemblage of players. We have players who don’t fit a system and we have a system that doesn’t work.

    The solution isn’t the shiny penny.

    It’s been a very odd season. We have fans hating other fans because their chosen goalie is either gone or injured. We have an owner who wants to win at all costs.

    Well, the costs aren’t worth the squeeze.

  15. Walt23

    Iole is simply regurgitating what several astute commenters on this board have already said in previous posts, about the lack of chemistry and cohesion and effort… etc

    But what he leaves out is the PDB factor. The coach has to be partly responsible for bringing out that passion, and he is a silent wooden statue behind the bench, and probably the same behind the scenes in the locker room.

    also, to be successful the team needs to play on their toes and be a forechecking buzzsaw, and you can’t do that when your lame coach changed the system this year to a 1-3-1, neutral zone trapping, snoozefest team. so, yeah, De Bore is plenty to blame for the fact that this team is underperforming bigtime, especially at home.

  16. Pistol Pete

    You got a deal R-R. Just to confirm, my analysis is that effort and passion are there, execution is not. I have definitely come around to the notion that VGK needs more cohesion, stability in the lines.

    I will say in watching the game live I did notice numerous times VGK having trouble gaining possession in the D zone. Not sure I understand the dynamics of that other than diligent forechecking by the Kings. I definitely did not see lack of effort during OT—rust in Eichel though.

    • PP

      Eichel will be fine. I am much more comfortable with his physical conditioning and the fact that he’s taken some good hits without concern.

  17. Pistol Pete

    One thing we can all agree on is Eichel’s potential. This is the second game not an unexpected move up. Really impressed too with his ability to win puck battles. Did not realize he is known for that.

  18. To me the missing link is grit and HITS. This team in 2018-2019 averaged 28 hits per game. This is near the top in every season since. This season however were are 5 teams from the bottom with the HITS stat. We are averaging a paltry 19 hits per game. No grit. No hits. To me its simple. We have tossed the chippiness away. Someone must step up.

  19. Pistol Pete

    Off to a nice start in SJ. Jack gets his first. Tip-in on a Stephenson shot. The Eichel Tower—2 pts/3 games and tallying.

  20. Pistol Pete

    Eichel has 4 shots in period one. He’s scaling up.

    Have we discussed how competitive he is and what it means that guy like this has never played a postseason game? Can you say desire held hostage to lack of opportunity? Think he might be motivated to win a Cup?

    • Pistol Pete

      I’ll go on record as predicting that if Eichel does well it will have a positive impact on them performance of the entire roster. We’re not there yet but….

      • Pistol Pete

        This enthusiasm will fade some if the Knights relinquish another 2-0 lead.

        • Pistol Pete

          Wasn’t a tip-in it was a pass from Stephenson from behind the goal line. Eichel was just quick to see the opportunity and was there before anybody could do anything about it.

  21. Pistol Pete

    Half way in Thompson looking really good. 3-0 VGK.

  22. Pistol Pete

    Eichel now 3 pts in 3 games +1

  23. Pistol Pete

    By the time we get to Saturday Eichel will have 4 games under his belt when he plays COL compared to zero on Wednesday.

    Only took him game 3 to record his first multi-point game. 5 shots this game and counting.

  24. Mike StG

    The cohesion issues have been a topic of discussion the last couple of days for posters here so I’ll skip it and go to the subject of hits.

    The latter part of last season I noticed that hits seemed to be down, so I went thru the stats and Vegas was outhit consistently for basically the entire last half of the season. And that was with both Carrier and Reaves playing. It appeared to me to be a conscious effort to hit less and actually try and produce offense more, at least on the 4th line. And it occurred to me that maybe it was also to reduce injuries, as Carrier has been hurt off and on by his own aggressive play. Their off season acquisitions seem to support that theory, as their current 4th line (including Patrick when healthy) seems to be more of an energy line that can score than a heavy line that delivers punishment. Also, I think McNabb’s well-timed crushing hits at the blue line are more effective at stifling or disrupting zone entries.

    Also, like Ken I don’t have any concern about Vegas making the playoffs, and as long as they don’t end up a 2nd wild card (playing COL in the first round) they should probably make it to the 2nd round, or even the conference final again.

    Just hope Marty makes it back. Hague needs to be back on the 3rd pair. He is not able to backstop either Petro or Theo so they can activate freely. And his skating is still not good enough to be playing top 6 forwards they’ll face in the post season. And his blue line shots at 5v5 aren’t very effective and occasionally lead to breakaways. If they have Marty & Zach back in their 1st & 2nd defense pairs they will be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs.

  25. Mike StG

    Thoughts on TD additions: it seems that there will need to be some deletions before adding anyone. I don’t think Tierney (suggested by Ken) makes sense. His cap is $3.5M and the team doesn’t need another center. I like Tyler Motte, or if you want to add some grit then how about Nick Deslauriers? I also like Lawson Crouse, who’s an RFA next year and has 13G & 23P in 48 games. Would probably be a L3 replacement for Dadonov or Janmark if either was traded. Low cap, but he would probably cost you a high pick + prospect. That assumes ARI would even consider trading him.

    Personally, I don’t think Vegas needs to add anyone, unless there’s a major injury. They already have their TD acquisition – Eichel.

  26. I think the next game against the Avs. will either confirm or dispute a lot of the previous coments. The knights had a very sucsessful east coast road trip and were competitive against arguably the best teams in the leage. Cant wait to see how they play the Avs. 2nd time around . If they come out and play like they did on the East coast swing …i say we have a contender. We should be good for the third playoff round minimum. Will place my bets for the cup after that Game. Go Knights

    • I agree and it’s part of what I have been saying during this slump against the sentiment that the team has no chemistry, lacks desire etc.

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