The NHL season is officially “paused” with the hope that it will resume sometime in the near future. When, or if, that will happen remains a mystery to all as slowing the spread of the virus takes precedence over all else. However, hockey will return at some point, be it in April, May, or much later. The NHL is not gone forever which means the Golden Knights will return to the ice and like every team will feel the effects of the hiatus.
The Golden Knights were set to play in Minnesota with a pretty banged up roster. Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty were both on the shelf until at least the end of March, Alex Tuch has been out since February 13th and suffered a set back a few days ago extending the injury, Chandler Stephenson missed a game with a wrist injury but was expected to play yesterday, and Cody Glass had been ruled out for the season after knee surgery.
The hiatus is almost certainly going to last a month, which means aside from Glass, the Golden Knights should be as close to healthy as any team in the league when hockey does indeed return. Every team will benefit from the break but it will have a greater impact on playoff teams who were potentially heading in without a star player or two. Colorado and Tampa Bay stand to gain more than Vegas, but the Golden Knights have to like their chances entering a playoff run as healthy as they’ll likely be whenever this does end.
There are plenty of potential options the league could use if the season does start back up with a plan to award the 2020 Stanley Cup. For the most part, any option will benefit the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights were going to make the playoffs if the season was played out in full, but now, there’s essentially no format that will keep them out. There are really two options for the NHL.
- Select playoff teams based on points percentage on March 11th
- Return for a few regular season games before the playoffs begin
It’ll all depend on timing, but either option has the Golden Knights sitting pretty. As of the pause, Vegas is in 1st place by three points and .021 percentage points over Edmonton. Also, the Golden Knights have moved up to 3rd place in the Western Conference. A few games being added to the regular season could shuffle things at bit, but no matter what, the Golden Knights will be in pretty good shape.
The NHL playoffs normally take more than two months to complete. The league may not have that kind of time this year. So, there are two choices the NHL can make to shorten that time frame. First, they can remove games from the early rounds. The first round might become a best-of-five, maybe the second round too. Instead of having to win 16 games, maybe it shrinks to only 14. The other option is to tighten up the dates on the games played. Play back-to-backs on the home games or when travel is light. The normal format has at least one day between every game and sometimes two. It takes two weeks to finish a seven-game series. The calendar may dictate needing to wrap series up in 10 days instead.
The first option is bad for the Golden Knights. The more games in a series, the stronger the chance the better team has to win. Vegas is the best team in the Pacific Division, but sometimes the hockey gods get in the way of them proving that on the ice. In a five-game series, every bad bounce, every soft goal, every “McDavid is too fast” moment is magnified. By the time Vegas would benefit from the shorter series, they’d be back to normal best-of-sevens (it’s highly unlikely a Stanley Cup is awarded in a shortened series). It will also make the goalie rotation a bit trickier on Pete DeBoer. The longer a series, the longer the leash can be on swapping them out. In a seven-game series, there’s more room for error.
The goalies come into play positively in the other options though. Vegas should be hoping for as tight of a playoff schedule as physically possible. No team in the league has a better goalie tandem than the Golden Knights for this playoff run. Back-to-backs would allow both goalies a chance to play and give each the rest that the opposition probably won’t be able to afford. If you thought having two goalies for a playoff run was important before, a tighter schedule could make it the greatest luxury of all. Also, the Golden Knights are awesome on the second night of back-to-backs. After beating Edmonton in OT on Monday, Vegas improved to 9-2-0 on Day 2 of the B2B, which is the best record in the league.
Since their inception, the Golden Knights front office has had a hard and fast rule against acquiring “rentals” at the deadline. They’ve instead always gone for players with term left on their contract (see Tomas Tatar, Stone after the extension, and Alec Martinez). This deadline, it appeared they broke their own rule giving up multiple assets to acquire Robin Lehner. If hockey doesn’t return until the 2020-21 season, Vegas is going to get burned majorly in that trade. They’ll have acquired Lehner to win three games that ultimately didn’t matter. They could re-sign him if they’d like, but they could have done that without the trade in the first place. It will essentially mean the Golden Knights have flushed a 2nd round pick, the rights to Slava Demin, and the control of Malcolm Subban down the toilet. Not to mention, two 2nd round picks for one full season of Martinez won’t look so hot either. The circumstances will always serve as an excuse for those trades going south, but the Golden Knights broke their own rule and now may have to pay the consequences they looked to avoid by instituting the rule in the first place.
Unfortunately, even though the league technically hasn’t done it yet, canceling games is inevitable. Fewer regular season games, potentially fewer postseason games, and maybe even fewer games next year in an attempt to extend the offseason, will mean less revenue generated by the league. This means a lower salary cap for 2020-21 (and beyond).
The Golden Knights have built their roster using the principle of “cost certainty.” Long-term deals were signed to help free up cap space down the road. Well, that cap space might not be there anymore, or at the very least it won’t be as plentiful as it was going to be. Vegas needs all the money they can get because they have a strong roster and a great owner willing to spend it.