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Sorting Out The Logjam On Defense When VGK Return To Health

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On Monday we reviewed some of the decisions the Golden Knights will face at center with the eventual returns of William Karlsson and Jack Eichel. Today, we’re shifting our attention to the back-end, where things will get sticky if Vegas does indeed return to health.

Currently, the Golden Knights are missing four defensemen due to injury; Shea Theodore, Ben Hutton, Daniil Miromanov, and Tobias Bjornfot are all expected to be back at some point this season. If they are all available at the same time it would mean 11 defensemen on the NHL roster. Quite simply, that’s too many, even after the trade deadline when the roster is expanded beyond 23.

What makes this tricky for the Golden Knights is that all but one of the 11 will be required to pass through waivers to play in the AHL. So, what’s the pecking order? Here’s how I see it shaking out.

Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague

No matter what happens with everyone else, all of these five defensemen have priority on everyone else and will be in the lineup every single night they are available to play.

Alec Martinez

Martinez remains a workhorse on the VGK defense corps and has outpaced all but Pietrangelo in average time on ice this season. So, when if he’s healthy, he’s in the lineup without question. However, the 36-year-old is a pending free agent that carries a fairly sizeable cap hit of $5.25 million. If the team feels comfortable with one of the defensemen listed next on this list, it’s not out of the question that the Golden Knights make a salary-related trade to send Martinez elsewhere. It remains unlikely, but far from out of the realm of possibility.

Ben Hutton

Before the injury, there was never even a consideration of Hutton being taken off the roster. In fact, he signed a contract extension this season which has him locked into Vegas through 2026. He’s the perfect 7th defenseman on any roster and likely will remain that for the Golden Knights for the next few years. But, Kaedan Korczak has stepped up in his absence, Tobias Bjornfot was added via waivers, and Daniil Miromanov offers more offensively. Hutton could be a waiver candidate if push comes to shove, but it’s certainly not expected.

Kaedan Korczak

The 23-year-old smooth-skating rookie is in the weirdest position of anyone in this group. Because of his lack of experience, he remains waiver-exempt, which means he’s the only one whom the Golden Knights would not be at risk of losing if they re-assign. That being said, Korczak has shown more than enough to prove not only is he an NHL-caliber player, but that he probably has a full-time position in the VGK lineup in the future. Simply out of asset management, he’s probably the first to go when the roster gets crunched, but he’s also the first to return when roster limits (at the deadline) and the salary cap (in the playoffs) are eliminated.

Tobias Bjornfot

Bjornfot played just two games for the Golden Knights before being injured and it’s unclear when he may return. When he was claimed, Vegas was down Theodore, Korczak, and Hutton, plus Whitecloud was fighting an illness. Because we saw so little of him, it’s tough to get a true read of how VGK feel about him. If everyone returns to health before the deadline, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Bjornfot placed back on waivers and returned to the Kings, indicating Vegas claimed him as a warm body in a time of need. However, it’s also not crazy to think Vegas is quite high on the former 1st round pick, and they robbed LA of an asset they really like. If that’s the case, they’ll probably look elsewhere for a waiver candidate as they know for sure they won’t get to keep Bjornfot if he’s re-assigned.

Daniil Miromanov

Time will tell if Miromanov has returned from the torn ACL to become the same player he was before the injury. If he is, there’s no question VGK will be extremely hesitant to put him through waivers. He has plenty of offensive upside and his defensive game was coming along nicely before the injury. Currently on a conditioning stint, Vegas could try to sneak him through waivers before he proves he’s returned to full health, but that’s risky. Instead, they are more likely to leave him in Henderson for as long as the conditioning stint will last and then squeeze him onto the NHL roster afterward.

Brayden Pachal

Throughout this entire year, the Golden Knights have clearly had some concerns that Pachal would be claimed if he were to be placed on waivers. He has played just 17 of Vegas’ 50 games and has been passed over by literally every other option at different points this season. If it has to come to it, VGK would probably not lose too much sleep putting Pachal and waivers and trying to get him back to Henderson, but they’re going to keep trying to avoid it if possible.

**Stick tap to VGK prospect guru Jack Manning. His tweet about this topic spurred me to think about it and eventually write this article.**

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22 Comments

  1. VGK Fan

    whats the status of Shea? close to return?

    • Wish we had a good answer on that. He supposed to be skating during the break but it’s unclear when he’s supposed to get back to playing. Hopefully we get a bit more info when the team comes back.

  2. knights fan in minny

    good problem to have

  3. former season ticket holder

    whats going on our awol goalie, someone we threw away Fleury for, someone we could have traded off to keep Smith… this seems to be our black hole

    • Pistol Pete

      Lehner’s contract expires next year. Assuming they can keep him on LTIR to the end of his contract there is no cap space to be gained by trading him. I suppose they would move him if they could instead of risking he litigates being kept on LTIR.

      • PP – you’re talking about the “elite” goalie Vegas and fans couldn’t live without. He was a joke to begin with and Vegas got hook winked taking on some other teams’ problem. I recall him being labeled elite and just laughed at those posts.

        • ThG

          i doubt that the highly vaunted VGK FO
          was hood winked on anything, same ole FO Bashers here.

          nothing to see folks, just move on, remember RL bailed out MAF
          and didn’t complain about sharing playing time with spoiled MAF , who had his agent post a back stabbing cartoon of coach. A real team player move. Something that these posters forget, short term memory loss. Then when put on the trading block MAF said he would likely retire. Further reducing his trade value. Another real team player move. And the dumbshit fans here still support this guy ? SMH. Most unsophisticated fan base in history of NHL sport. Back east real hockey fans are laughing.

          RL was severely injured and had surgery on both hips, any other poster here who is a goalie have surgery on both hips ? If not, than STFU. moes.

          and joe biden, aka dementia joe is one train wreck after another after another. Another fake poll came out yesterday, the Q poll. Q is known as being an extreme left wing pollster, no credibility. None.

          • Henderson One

            I bet the Back East hockey fans are laughing about the VGK winning the Stanley Cup too.

        • Rob

          U do realize that during his playing time, until he got hurt then having surgery, he was pretty good.

          • ThG

            right on Rob, when you point out that the FO haters go into spin out mode “i bet back east fans are laughing, etc. ” when the topic is about their bashing of FO on RL trade.
            Spin out.

            now forgotten knowledge about human race

    • Jake

      Vegas wasn’t going to win a Cup with Fleury in goal.

      Vegas won a Cup.

  4. ThG

    does not seem much of an issue to dwell on

    better filler space would be what to call the vegas womens hockey team if city ever gets a team in that league

    crack head city hoes ?
    glitter girls?
    lap dancers?
    sin city strippers?
    no jock strap required ?
    lady nights only ?
    spearmint rhine hoe’s ?
    skaters without a blue line ?
    red liners?
    empty nesters?

  5. Pistol Pete

    The Canucks gave up a lot all for Lindholm and to a divisional competitor. Kuzmenko scored 39 goals last year. Just not sure Tocchet understood how to get the most out of him. Wonder if Cassidy could have.

    https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/39433326/vancouver-trades-calgary-center-elias-lindholm

    • Pistol Pete

      Kuzmenko scored the Canucks lone goal in the loss to Vegas earlier this season. McCrimmon acquiring Kuzmenko was probably just not in the cards though as I understand it he could have used him a lot more than Lindholm. Kuzmenko is a couple years younger too.

      • Pistol Pete

        Time will tell if trading for Lindholm was a boneheaded play but they sure gave up a lot for him. Kuzmenko, two 2024 picks including their first rounder plus two D prospects. All for a career .68 pts/gane center (only +21 lifetime). Their Cup winning trade?

        • Emmanuel

          The prospects are unsigned and the 4th rounder is conditional, so that played into it.

  6. Pistol Pete

    I’m sure McCrimmon would love to have had Kuzmenko on Karlsson’s line but he had nothing like Lindholm to anchor the deal and give someone up he could afford to. It’s possible Cassidy would have done better than Tocchet in developing Kuzmenko’s two way game but we’ll never know now.

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