With media in from all over North America to cover what is likely to be one of the most emotional games in NHL history, coupled with the 2-0 start, the Golden Knights locker room was buzzing. But still missing from that was center Vadim Shipachyov. He was sent to the AHL, expected to rejoin the roster prior to Friday’s game, but that did not happen. Now, nearly a week later he’s still not with the team.
George McPhee held a press conference to give an update on his status. Here are the quotes on Shipachyov and SinBin.vegas’ best “translations” to help give the background on what he’s actually saying.
Vadim Shipachyov is still not on the roster at this point, is that a hockey decision or a numbers decision. -SinBin.vegas
That’s a numbers decision. As you know we had three guys who we could assign, and we did, to give us the room that we needed to carry what we are carrying. I do not have a specific date when that will change but we are working on things. -George McPhee
Translation: Shipachyov is waiver exempt, so the Golden Knights can (and did) assign him to the AHL without any risk of losing him on waivers to another team. Asking if it’s a numbers or hockey decision was to confirm that Shipachyov’s play on the ice was not the reasoning behind this decision. McPhee confirms this again later in the press conference.
Has this gone on longer than you expected? -Jesse Granger, Las Vegas Sun
No. We knew in the Summer that with Theodore and Tuch that we may have to send them down initially because we are going to have a lot of people that we are evaulating, and we are still evaluating. I don’t know how long it will take but I prefer to be in this position where we have enough people rather than not enough. -McPhee
Translation: As we explained throughout much of the Summer as well, the Golden Knights simply have too many players on NHL contracts to keep everyone. So, rather than waiving certain players, McPhee opted to utilize his waiver exempt players to allow him to continue evaluating the players on his roster.
The confusing part about this rationale is that three of the players he is likely in need to evaluating were inactive in both games this weekend (Griffin Reinhart, Brad Hunt, and Jon Merrill). Thus, how long this will take is still a major mystery. Of course, one injury would open a roster spot and allow for Shipachyov to return.
Have you been in contact with Shipachyov regularly letting him know what’s going on? -Granger, Las Vegas Sun
Through his agent yes. -McPhee
Has his agent expressed his disappointment with the decision? -David Shoen, Las Vegas Review Journal
Yep. They didn’t understand initially. But they do now. This is a roster move that’s not about performance. The three guys we sent down have all earned the right to be here. And we’ll get them here at the right time or as soon as we can. -McPhee
Translation: This is possibly where the reports of Shipachyov being unhappy emanated from. The original move was made on Tuesday of last week. His agent didn’t understand which likely meant Shipachyov would have been upset about the decision. McPhee returning to saying it is not a performance-driven decision while answering this question likely means there was at least a moment when Shipachyov believed it was performance based.
Why isn’t Shipachyov playing with Chicago? -Sheng Peng, HockeyBuzz
Because he came back home (to Vegas) to be with his wife because neither of them speak English. It was hard for her. So he reported and then came back. He paid his own way back because we are not allowed to do that. -McPhee
Translation: There is still quite a bit of confusion about the exact whereabouts of Shipachyov during the past week since being officially optioned to the AHL. We can confirm that he was NOT on the team plane to Dallas, per Golden Knights PR. However, Jonathan Marchessault told us that he spoke to Shipachyov while in Dallas to see how he was doing. Then we throw in the fact that Shipachyov flew himself back home to Vegas to be with his wife. So we assume he was indeed in Texas with the Golden Knights at some point. Very confusing, and likely not all that important other than the fact that a player who already needs to assimilate to the culture, the language, and the North American game, was not with the team during the first real road trip and two major team bonding wins.
Do you expect he will play any games in Chicago? -SinBin.vegas
So he’s not going to play in any games until this gets cleared up? -SinBin.vegas
Well we’ll see. But I do not expect he’ll be in the next set of games. -McPhee
Translation: Shipachyov will likely remain in Vegas and work out on his own at the practice facility. He is not expected to ever make the trip to Chicago to play in the AHL as this, once again, is not a performance-based decision.
Russian media has reported that his agent is trying to get him back to the KHL, is there any truth is that? -Peng, HockeyBuzz
There is no truth to that. He’s not allowed to go back. He’s under contract with us. -McPhee
Translation: Here is the initial report that spurred this question. Shipachyov’s agent then spoke to TSN’s Darren Dreger to deny the report. McPhee saying “he’s not allowed to,” is very interesting an honestly, we took it as almost a bit arrogant from the GM. There is precedent for Russian players to leave their contracts and go back to the KHL, but obviously, McPhee does not believe this will be the case with Shipavhyov. The biggest concern here for the Golden Knights is how comfortable Shipachyov actually is with what’s going on. In the short term, it’s highly unlikely that he would be so frustrated that he would give up nearly $10M to leave. However, the longer this drags on, the most confusing it will get for the player and things (which may be ok now) could turn sour in a hurry.
You have another Russian player (Nikita Gusev) that you acquired via trade, is there any concern that may be some communication about how this situation was handled. -SinBin.vegas
No, it doesn’t bother me. -McPhee
Translation: McPhee acquired 25-year-old Russian forward Nikita Gusev via expansion trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gusev was selected in the 7th round of the 2012 draft due to concern that he would not ever leave Russia to come play in the NHL. The question was if the handling of Shipachyov would have any impact on what may happen next Summer, when Gusev is expected to make a decision on if he will leave Russia to play with the Golden Knights.
Gusev has a chance to be an elite scorer in the NHL and was a key cog to the trade which brought Jason Garrison (and his massive contract) to Las Vegas. If Shipachyov has negative things to say to Gusev, it could wind up being a double whammy for McPhee. It’s one thing to lose a 30-year-old in Shipachyov, it’s another to lose a much younger player who you actually gave up an asset to acquire.
Coaches and players focus on the short-term, you are focused on the long-term plan. Correct? -Nic Cotsonika, NHL.com
We are still evaluating. You don’t really know players until you work with them. You find out they are better than you thought, not as good as you thought. They can play in different roles. So we are still evaluating what we have and trying to figure out what people do. We are two games into a season, there’s no rush to do anything we are not in a hurry to do anything. We will do things when it feels right. We are an expansion club that has to think long term. If we are going to move people, try to get something that makes sense for the club long term. And also be careful, we know how this business goes we might move someone tomorrow and Wednesday two people get injured. No you are getting thin. So I don’t mind having a full roster and people that are ready to be called up. It’s better than being shorthanded. -McPhee
Translation: Everything in here is exactly the way McPhee should be thinking from a logistical standpoint. This is about the long-term and losing assets for nothing is something that is not beneficial for the team. However, there is also a personal impact to every move that is made. Beyond just Shipachyov, Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch are in a way stuck in the AHL, and both know they could (maybe should) be in the NHL. Players are humans, and treating them like pawns on a chess board is a tricky game. If the communication is great, it shouldn’t be an issue, if it’s not, these things tend to pop back up during contract negotiation time.
(Paraphrased) Would potentially losing players to waivers for nothing be counterintuitive to what you worked hard to assemble during the Expansion Draft? -Gary Lawless, VegasGoldenKnights.com
The point is to try and get some sort of return if we are going to move a player. We’re going to have to draft our way to a championship. We’re going to have to trade our way there as well. Can we get a prospect rather than a pick back? Again, I like that we have a real competitve club right now but we want to build a champion and we are going to do it the best way we know how. And that’s what we are doing right now.
So the record won’t get in the way of business decisions? -SinBin.vegas
Translation: McPhee has been steadfast in saying that his goal was not to have success in year one, or year two, or even year three, but he wants to build a winner through the draft. The real question is though is he over-valuing the picks/prospects he may be getting for the players he’s holding onto (and keeping Shipachyov, Tuch, and Theodore out of the NHL)? Only time will tell on that one.