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Reilly Smith Sized Hole In Forward Lines Will Force Decisions

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

On the 22-game road to glory, the Golden Knights were able to maintain remarkable consistency with their lineup. From Eichel, Marchessault, and Barbashev on the 1st line to Carrier, Roy, and Kolesar on the 4th, Vegas rolled out a similar-looking set of forwards throughout the entire two-month run.

Heading into 2023-24, as they look to defend their title, it’s unlikely Bruce Cassidy will be able to lean on the similar lineup that brought home the Stanley Cup, unless the team adds another forward.

The trade of Reilly Smith leaves a fairly significant hole in the middle of the Vegas lineup. While the Golden Knights do have a number of capable options to step in and play in Smith’s place, none of them are truly a like-for-like option to Smith.

The two leading candidates to take the place are Paul Cotter and Pavel Dorofeyev. Both have shown they are able to play at the NHL level but neither would be considered a defensive stalwart the way Smith was. Simply replacing Smith with either Cotter or Dorofeyev makes the roster look much different, as the third line no longer carries the identity of a shutdown line the way it did with Smith and Karlsson.

The easiest fix for this would be for the Golden Knights to bring in another player that is more similar to the style of Smith. Once Brett Howden’s arbitration hearing is complete (or if a deal is agreed to ahead of time), Vegas should have around $1.5 million in salary cap space still to work with.

One name still on the market that could fill that void is former New York Islander Josh Bailey. The 15-year pro has steadily seen his offensive numbers decline and after being moved in a salary dump trade remains a free agent deep into the offseason. Defensively, Bailey’s point shares are similar to Smith’s and he’s used to playing in a system in which a lot is expected defensively out of forwards.

Bailey has made $5 million each of the last six seasons but his production should see him land closer to the $2-3 million range, if not less. If the Golden Knights can save a few dollars on Howden, or if Bailey is willing to take a cheap deal to come play for the reigning Cup champs, he could be a great fit and allow Vegas to keep rolling out their balanced lineup.

Former Golden Knight Tomas Nosek, Paul Bryon, or Carl Hagelin could all be potential fits as well.

Otherwise, Cassidy will likely have to look towards making some changes to the lineup. A line with Michael Amadio and William Karlsson does not appear on paper to be completed by either Cotter or Dorofeyev.

Building a line around Karlsson is tricky with Smith no longer on the roster and Marchessault locked to the wing of Eichel. Historically, one of the only other players who has had consistent success with Karlsson has been Nic Roy. Roy stepped into that place in the postseason and has over the course of the past few years as well. Moving Roy up would leave a hole in the center of the 4th line, which would be best filled by Howden. That leaves Cotter or Dorofeyev to play with Stephenson and Stone.

That lineup certainly has potential but it leaves just one line from the Cup-winning lineup intact.

Either way, there are many decisions still to be made this offseason and into the start of next year. The Golden Knights are the hunted now, they must be ready.

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35 Comments

  1. John W

    Concise breakdown of the problem. I think a basic assumption is that Kessel isn’t coming back.

    How about Nosek centering line 4, and moving Roy up?

    • I don’t think Kessel solves the problem even if he were to come back. I don’t mind the idea of Nosek.

      • THE hockey GOD

        I saw kessel in streets of soho walking with the queen
        doin the werewovles of london
        i saw kessel eating a hot dog at trader vics
        and his hair was perfect

        Ah-hoo, werewolves of London
        Hey draw blood- dep
        Ah-hoo, werewolves of London

      • Jonathan

        I want Nosek to come back, the first guy ever to score a goal in the SCF for Vegas, and win the Cup with us so we can still say we did it with 6 original misfits :p That would be hilarious!

    • Achilles

      My thought as well.

  2. knights fan in minny

    cotter and pav need nhl ice time

  3. THE hockey GOD

    article blows away all the wagon jumpers from prior year when franchise had to deal with franchise recodr of injuries and all these clowns, who don’t post here any more went running for the hills.

    Everything just panned out perfectly this year from Boston and AVS bowing out, open the door for Vegas. Along with only one major injury in playoffs to goalie. Script couldn’t have been written more perfectly. Don’t expect the same free ride next year. It’s purely random how injuries pile up and go in streaks. Has nothing to do with FO or coaching.

  4. THE hockey GOD

    I’d take JOSH BAILEY in a new york minute, Ken forgot to play up Smith’s PK skills and chemistry with no. 71.

    Anyone who has their OWN CHANT in NHL is ACES in my book !

  5. Jake

    I was hoping Blueger would be the low cost option to center the fourth line, kill penalties, move Roy up to Wild Bill.

    All were difficult moves but acquiring Barbashev, Eichel, Pietrangelo, at high costs were the correct choices.

    Vegas has never had one of these three, and their talents, prior to their arrivals.

    Injuries during the playoffs were minimal.

    Some good teams got knocked out, which usually happens, helping Vegas a bit. The champion doesn’t have to play all of these teams and beat them, only the ones that make it through each round. The “door was open” for Edmonton as well but they decided to play minimal defense and live (or die) on their PP prowess.

  6. Emmanuel

    Roy-WK-Stone.
    Then use Doro and Cotter with Chandler as a scoring 3rd line.

  7. I WISH THE KNIGHTS HADNT THROWN REILLY SMITH ASIDE RIGHT AFTER WE WON THE CUP.
    SMITH WAS SO HAPPY DURING THE CELEBRATION . HE SURE DIDNT SEE THAT TRADE COMING AND SO QUICKLY AFTER THE CUP

    • Jettison Smith was a huge mistake which I am sure many will disagree with which of course is their prerogative. He will be sourly missed on the PK and in the locker room together with is instinct to be the right spot at the perfect time. He and Wild Bill were a very affective couple and truly had the chemistry necessary to get things done. I still believe there were other ways to develop the necessary cap space one way or another to sign Barby. I wish him the best in Pittsburgh.

      • THE hockey GOD

        it was a very tough decision by FO HD, very tough.

        Not so easy at letting whiner, and non team player, back stabber, gaffer, MAF go. That one was easier than going easy on mayo on tuna salad sand wedge.

        • Jim Limperis

          Getting rid of Theodore was the answer!
          Hate if you want… He Sucks!

          • THE hockey GOD

            Teddy saved at least three goals in the finals that got behind THE SAVE

          • knights fan in minny

            you are simple limpy

          • JEFFREY S DWYER

            Your out of your mind. Theo is a great defenseman. His offensive prowess is incredible when it’s needed. He is great in shoot outs as well. Get rid of hom your nuts. Unfortunately Smith was the answer. We loved Smith just like the flower but GMs can’t build teams on their heart they have to make hard decisions and do what needs to be done to stay competitive and at the top.

    • Ts

      Ditto. A really nice guy. We will miss him!

  8. JV

    Hell no to Bailey unless its under 1M. Don’t need someone that refuses to shoot and makes a drop pass on a 2-0. His game has really fallen off the past two years. The fact that he got benched despite the Islanders lack of decent wings tells you what you need to know.
    ( I have been an Islanders fan since 1974)

  9. Seriously…what is this obsession with Kessel…he is way past his prime…cant score…and the team became a juggernaut when he was FINALLY benched…please save the chemistry lesson…the games are won on the ice…and the fact he as free agent is still free should speak volumes!!!

  10. Sorvino

    Larry, because Kessel is a little chubby, balding funny looking guy who similes and we can relate to. It’s a good thing fans don’t make decisions. Kessel is useless on this team now. They did get better instantaneously with him on the bench. Seems like a great guy though so I hope he gets a job on another team.

    • THE hockey GOD

      he likes to eat hot dogs and jimmy d, there is NOTHING wrong with that !

  11. Jailbird

    Relax, we will be fine. Cotter and Pavo are ready to step up.

    • Jim

      exactly. you don’t mess with 3 good championship lines to tinker with one line that should be fine with the improving youngsters.

      the center is the key to the defensive prowess of the line, and Wild Bill will do that job since day fucking 1.

  12. Rick

    Nice peice Ken.

    I know Kessels game is flat, but play him with stone and Stevenson, keep the value he adds to the room. Howden to 4C and Roy to with Wild Bill and Amadio

  13. Pistol Pete

    Barbashev-Eichel-Marchessault
    Dorofeyev-Karlsson-Roy
    Amadio or Cotter–Stephenson-Stone
    Carrier-Howden-Kolesar

    or leave Roy where he is

    Barbashev-Eichel-Marchessault
    Dorofeyev-Karlsson-Amadio or Cotter
    Howden–Stephenson-Stone
    Carrier-Roy-Kolesar

  14. sb

    VGK’s gotta put a veteran player with Karlsson if Amadio is the other winger. Putting either Cotter or Dorofayev with Karlsson and Amadio is way to much inexperience and lack of defensive play. Karlsson can’t be expected to carry two younger, inexperienced wingers AND he deserves better players. No choice but to move Roy up with Karlsson and Amadio. The third line must produce points, kill penalties and be plus players. At $3 million (vs. Smith’s $5 million), Roy brings real value to Line 3. Now only one hole to fill – Line 4 center. VGK can’t keep every player. Decide between Cotter and Dorofeyev – move one to bring in the impact 4th line center.
    Then VGK has balanced line and is deep.

  15. JEFFREY S DWYER

    Your out of your mind. Theo is a great defenseman. His offensive prowess is incredible when it’s needed. He is great in shoot outs as well. Get rid of hom your nuts. Unfortunately Smith was the answer. We loved Smith just like the flower but GMs can’t build teams on their heart they have to make hard decisions and do what needs to be done to stay competitive and at the top.

  16. JEFFREY S DWYER

    When it comes to Phil used to be a thrill he is a great regular season guy still. He is always in the lineup and can still do some damage. He is the NHL iron man.

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