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“Not Everyone Will Be Back”; A Look Into VGK’s Free Agency Situation (Plus 9 Predictions)

Reading between the lines, either Neal or Perron likely won’t be back. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights were close to the ultimate goal, but in the end, they fell three wins short. So, they now head to the offseason with a plan in mind, make the team three wins better than they were a year ago.

There are plenty of decisions to be made with the roster as currently constructed and oodles of cap space available to bring in outside help.

The reality is in a salary cap world you have to make some tough decisions, and with this team, not everyone will be back. We’ve all learned lessons over the years, if you examine what happens in the salary cap world you have to be smart about what you do and the contracts you hand out or it hurts your team. We’ll do our best to keep this group together but there are always three or four changes. -George McPhee

The Golden Knights have four major unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) which are set to hit the open market on July 1st. They are James Neal, David Perron, Ryan Reaves, and Luca Sbisa. Also, Maxime Lagace, Jason Garrison, Brandon Pirri, Mikhail Grabovski, Clayton Stoner, Chris Casto, and Paul Thompson will become UFA’s in 20 days.

It doesn’t matter where in the lineup, you have to be smart about what you do. -McPhee

Then there are the restricted free agents (RFA’s) of which the Golden Knights have plenty. The most notable is William Karlsson. In short, Karlsson is not going anywhere. Unless something unprecedented happens, he’ll absolutely remain the first line center for Vegas next season. However, the projections on his contract are all over the map.

Technically, the Golden Knights only have to extend a “qualifying offer” to Karlsson of $1 million. This will happen soon and then Karlsson and his agent will request arbitration. An arbitration date will be set sometime in late July to early August. That will basically be the deadline for the Golden Knights and Karlsson to reach a long-term extension.

Tomas Nosek, Colin Miller, Oscar Dansk, Teemu Pulkkinen, Stefan Matteau, and Philip Holm are also all arbitration eligible and would follow the same process.

Finally, there are the two younger players who are RFA’s in Shea Theodore and William Carrier. Due to their age, neither are arbitration eligible. Thus, the Golden Knights can simply extend them a qualifying offer (Theodore -$874,125, Carrier – $787,500) and the player will have to sign it and remain with the team through next season. However, especially with a player like Theodore, this offseason may be a good time to lock him up long-term before he gets arbitration rights and has more negotiating power. The two sides can come to an agreement on a long-term deal at any time.

That brings us to the magical world of unrestricted free agency which opens on July 1st. Names like John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, and John Carlson will be thrown around with basically every team that has cap space. The Golden Knights have plenty of cap space so get used to seeing the big names linked to Vegas, but the Golden Knights also have a GM that’s historically not a big spender in free agency.

Mistakes happen, you don’t want to be part of them because they only get in the way of winning. There are different ways to make your team better. We’ll look at all the sort of different resources and ways to do that and figure out how we make this team better for next year. -McPhee

Since 2006, the first true offseason of the salary cap era, George McPhee signed a total of 11 players on as free agents on July 1st. None of them were the major splash deal.

2006 – Brian Pothier
2007 – Tom Poti, Viktor Kozlov
2008 – Jose Theodore
2009 – Mike Knuble
2010 – None
2011 – Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Halpern
2012 – None
2013 – None
2014 – Mike Moore, Chris Connor, Jon Landry

There are a handful of other players McPhee signed during the first week of free agency but very few of note. The biggest name acquired in free agency was Michael Nylander.

In McPhee’s first season at the helm in Vegas, he signed a total of seven players in the first few days of free agency, not a single one of them made more than double the NHL’s minimum salary.

In other words, free agency is not George McPhee’s normal desired path to success. His belief is that high priced free agents are always overpaid due to the demand. There are so few players available and so many potential suitors that no matter what, the player will end up making more than he’s truly worth.

So, prediction time. Here’s what I expect to happen in the next month or so with the Golden Knights roster. (These are all complete guesses with absolutely no inside knowledge from any players or the organization.)

– William Karlsson will reach a long-term deal in the neighborhood of $6 million AAV prior to his arbitration hearing
– James Neal, Ryan Reaves, and Luca Sbisa will not come to agreements with the Golden Knights and will play elsewhere next season
– David Perron will re-sign with the Golden Knights on a three-year deal worth around $5.5 million per year
– Shea Theodore will accept the qualifying offer, will not come to a long-term extension
– Colin Miller will go to an arbitration hearing
– Both Oscar Dansk and Max Lagace will be re-signed but one will be lost on waivers before opening night
– The Golden Knights will sign a player in the $3-4 million range on July 1st
– Vegas will not sign Tavares, Carlson, or van Riemsdyk.
– McPhee will make a trade before the season that acquires a player who will be on the roster to open the 2018-19 season (it will not be Erik Karlsson)

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26 Comments

  1. Albert Powers

    Very interesting take. I like it. But I think they will offer a bridge to Karlsson ala Kucherov.

    • Johan Winbro

      if they offer a bridge to Karlsson and he gets 40 goals again, it will get extremely expensive, maybe 10 million $ per year.

      • Mike

        I agree, which is why I would prefer to see if we can essentially offer him the same deal as Marchy and just be done with it. That said, I don’t foresee another 40 goal season, but he’s so good on both ends of the ice and will probably still be in the 30 goal range, with possibly more assists.

      • scoobydoo

        Wild Bill isn’t going to make 23.4% of his shots again. Anders Lee was second in the NHL at 19.2 % and he basically sits in front of the net and slams them home. Karlsson got unbelievably lucky this year and I would bet a good amount of money he never scores 40 goals again.

        • Albert Powers

          I just don’t see GMGM taking the risk by giving him a lengthy contract and would rather pay for a proven player. Still saying bridge. And if he makes 25+ goals for three more years, pay the man.

  2. Brian

    Excellent read and analysis, once again.

    Will the $3-$4 million player you’re guessing GMGM signs be a forward or defenseman?

    You see any of last years draft crop making the lineup next season? Or any of the Wolves?

    What’s the schedule for Prospect Camp?

  3. Chris

    I agree that GMGM has not made a lot of signings in the salary cap era, but that appears to be more of a function of the dearth of players available. If John Tavares makes it to the open market, he will easily be the best player to hit free agency since the salary cap was instituted.

    Keep in mind, in the late 90s after the Caps went to the Finals in ’98, GMGM brought in some high end talent in Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang, but as was the custom for the late 90s, the UFAs were over 31 years old. They also had to compete with Detroit, Dallas, Colorado, and New Jersey who could all afford $70-$80 million payrolls. By ’03-’04 they decided to sell off the talent and it paid off because they got Ovechkin.

    So looking at the list of free agency signings you provided, here’s who basically the best players as UFAs they could have gotten in those years:

    2006 -Zdeno Chara, Ed Jovanovski, Rob Blake (always going back to LA), Jason Arnott
    2007 – Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, Daniel Briere
    2008 – Marian Hossa, Todd Bertuzzi,
    2009 – Marian Hossa, Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi
    2010 – No one of consequence.
    2011 – No one of consequence.
    2012 – Zach Parise, Ryan Suter (went home to MN) (lockout year)
    2013 – Daniel Alfredsson (a stretch – his last year)
    2014 – Thomas Vanek (Orpik & Niskanen signed by Caps this year – ugh.)

    People knew Chara was good, but I don’t think they realized how good until he got with Boston for a few years. Hossa is the biggest name here, but he was jumping from team to team that he thought would win him a Cup until he landed in Chicago in 2010.

    But overall, if you look at the free agent signings from these years – UGH. It’s all middle-level crap at best. So I wouldn’t put this on GMGM for not signing players during those years.

  4. JV

    Good article. I would offer Perron no more than 18 mil/ 4 years. He got 6 A in SJ series but disappeared during Jets and Caps series. That has been his knack, injured or becoming invisible in the playoffs. Hope GMGM doesn’t lowball the RFA’s like he did to Schmidt. Let’s not create bad feelings. I think we have a shot at JVR. Most players that had a season like Karlsson don’t repeat, but if he settles into 25-30 goal scorer, 5.5- 6.0 mil per year is good. Maybe 3 mil per year for Theodore, 3.3 for Miller? Just spitballing here.

  5. Michael V. Smith

    If we go offense I would like to see Riley Nash tossed into the mix. Good price, decent return based on past performance. More important though is he has been underutilized. Only 29.

  6. BJL

    I think this is a great read of the situation and I agree with the sentiment. However, seeing that this approach didn’t bring McPhee much success outside of the regular season during his years in Washington, I wonder if he will change it up a little. McPhee also had the luxury of having a superstar in Ovechkin. It’s tough to overlook that.

    If the SinBin prediction holds, I believe that the team goes backwards next year. You could probably make that prediction regardless of any moves they make over the summer. Lots of parity in the NHL.

    I think we will see a statistical regression to the mean in terms of scoring with a lot of these players. Do we really think Karlsson gets 40 goals or Haula gets 30 goals next year? Losing Neal will have an impact, even if I believe it’s right to let him get overpaid somewhere else. We could use a few more horses on this roster for next year and we have some cap space to do it.

    I think you have replacements for Perron and Neal already on the roster with Tatar and Tuch. If you’re goIng to overpay someone, make it Tavares. I’d retain Sbisa because he can be physical and Engelland only has so much time left. Reaves is gone, keep Carrier. I wonder if Washington’s Michal Kempny will be available because I can’t see the Caps signing or losing both players.

  7. Chris

    Except for injury, I expect Karlsson to have similar numbers to Hank Zetterberg did from ages 25-31 (7 seasons). He played 528 games, scored 215 goals and 322 assists for a total of 537 points. He’ll stay in the mid-30s for goal scoring for the next 3 year, and then settle into the mid-20s.

  8. Don

    I understand Shea Theodore is young but he got schooled against the Caps numerous times. 🙁

  9. Don

    I understand Shea Theodore is young but he got schooled against the Washington Capitals numerous times. 🙁

  10. Carmine

    What about the Foley factor? With his earlier call for winning the cup in 6 accelerated he might give GMGM the go ahead on making big deals and signings.

  11. A Fan

    Since this is the time for predictions, (guesses) I’ll add a few of mine also.

    Perron or Neal: Neal could be back, Perron gone.

    Sbisa & (for sure) Lagace gone, Dansk stays.

    Theodore, Carrier stay and hopefully Reaves as well.

    Wild Bill gets his long term deal.

    I think McPhee will do something some don’t think he will in free agency, spend big and sign not 1 but 2, like a Tavares and Erik Karlsson. (John Carlson stays with the Caps) I think Foley will help make that happen. I know it can be very difficult to repeat a previous years success, but I think they really want to show next season they weren’t a one time wonder and go hard for the Cup again next year.

    The next couple of months will be very interesting for sure.

    • Brian

      Hate to be the bearer of bad news……..but E Karlsson isn’t a free agent come July 1……….

  12. Paul

    Well written! I think too much for Perron.

  13. Cody

    I say let all the UFA walk and promote from within/sign a few bargains. This team had more bodies than it could use last year, and probably a few young guys will earn time. Imo this team wasn’t expected to even make the playoffs, I’m not convinced the goal becomes “Win the Cup” just because they overachieved. Keep developing the group.

  14. Bob

    Been looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our upcoming UFA/RFA’s since the clock went to zero for game 5.

    Request that you give us your thoughts on how Jason Zucker might fit into the roster that GMGM has constructed.

    Also would love an update on how the young guys did this year: Glass, Suzuki, Branstrom, etc.

    Thanks for what you guys do!

    • I think it would be great to get Zucker but I highly doubt Minnesota is going to give him up. Plus, he apparently has a new house and his kids are in school there. I’d be quite surprised if he leaves the Wild any time soon.

  15. Willy Andara

    I think this is all smart thinking. Fans get too caught up in the all-in mentality of teams in other sports. In the NHL it is not a smart move. Even if you are the most talented team in the league (on paper), you have at best a 25% chance of winning a Cup. The best strategy is to just make sure you are good enough to get to the playoffs. Have enough depth to survive injury spells. Have a good enough third and fourth line to steal some games. Just make sure you can get to that level, but don’t go crazy trying to be much better than that. Don’t sign guys so you can move an 7 rated player down a line and fill the spot with a 9. Instead make sure you have enough 6s and 7s around and avoid having 4s and 5s. Part of that is playing young guys who may be 4s and 5s for a short period of time before they get to be 7s or better. This is the part of GMGM’s speech I don’t get, he and the staff should be getting excited about promoting at least one of the young guys. No its not ideal to have lots of teenagers in the NHL, but one a team is not that much.

    Teams like the Caps and Sharks have embodied this movement and it paid off after pundits said those teams blew their “window”. The Kings were about to get blown up until they had their Cup winning year, but they are the ultimate example of a team who doesn’t care about the regular season. We have as many division titles as them now, but we have some work to do in catching up to their Cup count.

  16. Maritimer

    Great read but I honestly thought they’d keep Nealer over Perron, and I actually wish they would keep both of them. If they don’t keep Nealer I thought he may go back to Nashville or Pitts but I do not feel that way any longer. Maybe a Canadian team.

    I thought there might be something on here about MAF? If they want him to have another huge season like he did this season they best make him feel secure as least by the Christmas break. I know they’re waiting to see how well he does before making any huge deals! Lock him up. Pay the man what he’s so worth. You won’t find a better human being, goalie, teammate, and player to represent LV.

    Sorry, but I do not think Sbisa is a fit for the VGK.

    Willy Karlsson, I would pay 5 million 3yrs. The highest I would go is 5.5 3yrs. Add in some incentives. I see these players often have big seasons when their contracts up, and then fall off over the next yr or so, not that I think he will, but be very careful.

    Don’t be shocked if you see something go down between the NYI and the Pitts Penguins. There is a chance you may see JT in the Burgh, and Kessel in NY. Toronto is still paying $1,200,000 of his contract for 1 more year.
    Tavares has the same numbers and he’s cheaper, and PK is not getting along with coach Sully Mully. JT and Crosby are very close friends. He even goes to see Sid in Nova Scotia, every summer, and they play golf.
    Brassard will become a winger, maybe for Geno, and JT plays center. I know Kessel is a Right Wing, and shoots right, and Brassard is a center and shoots left, I still think you will see Brassard on the wing this yr, and that opens up a Center. I say all this as if the VGK want any chance against the Penguins next yr GMGM better step up to the plate and find at least 1 big name this off season. Why? Because I think the Pens are gonna be the team to beat next season. Rested, Brassard, Letang will feel better, the big G, and maybe JT.

    I wish the VGK would go after Erik Karlsson. I’d pay for him and make Sbisa and a goalie part of the deal. VGK don’t need anymore goalies but the Sens certainly do..

    I know one thing, if Pitts wants to let Sheary go, the VGK better grab him. I think he would do great in Vegas.

  17. Casey

    VGK needs to lock up Brandon Pirri. Dude was awesome in that last game against Calgary.

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