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Vegas Likely To Move On From “Best Teammate, I’ve Ever Had”

From TNT broadcast

As the Golden Knights walked off the ice for the final time in the 2023-24 season, one of the last people to step off wearing gold was 36-year-old Alec Martinez.

The veteran defenseman heads into the offseason without a contract for next season which has spurred plenty of uncertainty not only for his future in Vegas but in the NHL.

Martinez has played 818 career regular season games and added another 131 playoff games. He’s won three Stanley Cups with two different franchises and has always been one of the most consistent, hard-working, determined defensemen in the league. Since 2013, Martinez has led the NHL in blocked shots, stepping in front of an asinine 1,644 shots, or 7.11 per 60 minutes.

He’s scored a couple of massive playoff overtime goals for the Los Angeles Kings and chipped in his fair share of offense in Vegas as well.

But if this truly is it for Martinez, those who played with him won’t remember his on-ice accolades nearly as much as they’ll remember who he was off it.

He’s had a phenomenal career, multiple Stanley Cups, been very successful but it’s the person that makes the player and coming to work with him everyday is a special thing. I don’t know what’s in store for him but there’s a lot of guys who enjoy his company and having him around. You’re not going to meet many people that are better than him. -Alex Pietrangelo

Having been around the locker room myself, and spoken to many players about Martinez over the years, just about every player who has played with him would likely echo this next quote from Pietrangelo.

He’s probably one of the best teammates, if not the best teammate, I’ve ever had. -Pietrangelo

For the Golden Knights, the roster is set up well to move forward without #23 as a part of it. The locker room, maybe not as much.

Because any locker room with Alec Martinez is better than one without him.

Alec Martinez’s Playoff Presence Stabilizing In Relief For Vegas

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

About a month ago veteran defenseman Alec Martinez was written off. Many were preparing his send off into retirement or jump to some team less desirable than Vegas. After adding Noah Hanifin and signing him to a long-term extension, it appeared Martinez was buried on the depth chart. That is up until his name was called for Game 2 in Dallas.

You rely on your experience. You know what playoff hockey is like. Maybe not a notch, maybe two or three notches above what the regular season is like. Seven game series, there’s a little more emotions, more physicality, more animosity built. I’m just excited to be a part of it. -Alec Martinez

There was no secret about it. When the lineup was fully intact, Martinez was the first one out. Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy sat the 3-time Stanley Cup champion nine times in the final 19 games. He held Martinez out of Game 1 against Dallas, only to activate him after Nic Hague’s latest injury. Now, it’s like nothing changed and the league’s premier shot blocker is back to shrinking shooting alleys in a playoff game.

Earlier in the series we highlighted the Golden Knights knack for shot blocking. In his three games, Martinez became the league leader in blocked shots per game this postseason. Along with teammate Brayden McNabb, Martinez has disrupted roughly nine shots per game. As the series goes deeper, Martinez ability to eat pucks will likely earn him more minutes. Heavy and hostile series tend to wear down the average player, but not for tested, workman type d-men like Martinez and McNabb.

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VGK’s Shot Blockers Back To Frustrating Playoff Opponents

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In case you needed one, the Golden Knights reminded us on Monday night that they really enjoy blocking shots. They finished 3rd in the NHL this season with 1,506 blocks and got right back to it in Game 1. 

Game 1 game-winning goal scorer Brayden McNabb nearly set a record for the most blocks by a Golden Knight in a playoff game with 8 (Alec Martinez had 9 in Game 6 vs COL). William Karlsson and Nic Roy lead all forwards with two blocks a piece and eight different Golden Knights registered at least one blocked shot.

Blocked Shots In Playoffs Since 2018

  1. Vegas: 1,637 (89 Games)
  2. Tampa: 1,600 (99 Games)
  3. Dallas: 1,192 (67 Games)
  4. Boston: 1,189 (76 Games)
  5. Colorado: 1,138 (71 Games)

Since the 2018 postseason, the Golden Knights lead all franchises in blocked shots and blocked shots per game. Reserve defenseman Alec Martinez is second in the NHL in playoff blocked shots (194) since the 2018 postseason. McNabb is just behind him (192) and will likely pass Martinez tonight in Game 2. Fellow blueliners Alex Pietrangelo is fifth (173) and rounding out the Top 15 is Shea Theodore (129) and Zach Whitecloud (124) since the 2018 playoffs. All have raised the Stanley Cup, multiple times for some.

Vegas even added to their historical team average in Monday’s 4-3 Game 1 victory.

Blocked Shots Per Playoff Game Since 2018

  1. Vegas: 17.76
  2. NYI: 17.58
  3. NAS: 17.26
  4. DAL: 17.02
  5. NYR: 16.48

Even though they know it’s coming, the Stars will likely struggle finding shooting lanes tonight. Plus, once frustration sets in, Pete DeBoer’s team won’t be able to stop themselves. Dallas will take inaccurate, ill advised shots down the wing and from the point allowing Vegas to simply absorb the puck and quickly exit the zone. This isn’t the first time we’ve followed a Pete DeBoer coached team.

When shots can’t make it through to the net, the more annoying it can get for an offensively gifted team that relies on creating havoc in front of the goal like the Stars.

Of course, blocking shots can lead to injuries, obstructed goaltenders, or unlucky bounces so there’s no guarantee it’ll go as swimmingly for VGK in Game 2 ad it did Game 1 (and most of last year’s WCF). But, that’s not going to stop the Golden Knights. It was a large part of the championship success last season and continues to be in 2024. After all, Stanley Cup winning Golden Knights declared last summer ‘It Hurts To Win.” We’re still waiting for the new slogan, but the old one isn’t going away any time soon.

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.

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Ben Hutton Signing Points To More Upcoming Movement On The Blue Line

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Christmas came early for Ben Hutton as the veteran defenseman signed a two-year contract extension to remain with the Golden Knights. The trusty 7th defenseman and locker room treasure signed for just over the league minimum and locked his place on what has become a bit of a crowded blue line in Vegas.

This season, the Golden Knights have used nine different defensemen and there’s a case for each of them to be a part of the plans for the future.

Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Whitecloud are locked into Vegas through the next three seasons. Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb are each under contract for this year and next, and Nic Hague, Brayden Pachal, and Kaedan Korczak as restricted free agents remain under VGK control for the foreseeable future.

With Hutton, that’s eight defensemen all expected to be in the NHL next season trying to help the Golden Knights win another Stanley Cup.

So, where does that leave three-time Cup winner Alec Martinez?

Martinez’s contract ends after this season and the 36-year-old is still playing on the top pair for one of the best teams in the league. He’s fought through multiple injuries this year but when he’s healthy and available, he’s seeing close to 19 minutes a night on the Vegas blue line. He’s one of the first guys over the boards on the penalty kill and if you ask any Golden Knight they’ll surely tell you life is more fun with Martinez around rather than without him.

The first question for Martinez is going to be whether or not he wants to continue his career. He’s achieved just about everything possible in the sport and the injuries have started to pile up a bit on him over the past few years. So, walking away at this point does make sense. But, if he wants to continue, there’s no doubt his services will continue to be in demand.

If he does want to soldier on, the Golden Knights are going to have to make a difficult decision, and probably sooner rather than later. Martinez’s $5.25 million contract is coming off the books next season one way or another. There’s certainly going to be space to re-sign him if the Golden Knights choose, but they also have to hand out new contracts to Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, and Michael Amadio which will likely eat up most, if not all, of the available cap space.

The challenge for Vegas is that they probably shouldn’t wait until the summer to fill in the final pieces on the blue line. If they simply wait it out, they will likely end up sacrificing at least one asset for nothing. Re-sign Martinez and it means either Korczak or Pachal (or both) will have to hit waivers. Or, stick with the younger guys, and a three-time Cup winner and locker room leader walks away.

Instead, the Golden Knights may look to make a move that helps both this season and next. If Martinez is not in the plans beyond this season, trading him at the upcoming deadline could make sense. His $5.25 million cap hit would create space to allow Vegas a chance to bring in a player who will be in the plans beyond this season.

The Golden Knights have never been afraid to make an unpopular cap-saving salary cap move. With Ben Hutton signed up for the next few years, that might be exactly what’s in store next.

Injuries Affecting Golden Knights Defensive Continuity

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Continuity is crucial when it comes to defending in the NHL. Playing with the same defensive partner for an extended period helps in every aspect. Last year, the Golden Knights had that luxury to start the season and in the playoffs. This year, they haven’t, and it’s starting to show.

Last year, Vegas used the same set of six defensemen for each of the first 20 of the first 21 games. Those six defensemen then went on to play 21 of the 22 playoff games with the exact partnerships from the beginning of the year. This season, Vegas has been forced to cobble together their lineup from Opening Night.

Before the season even began, both Zach Whitecloud and Alec Martinez were sidelined. By the time Martinez returned, Alex Pietrangelo had gone out. When Whitecloud returned, Hague was out. When Hague returned, Martinez went back out and then Theodore followed right behind him.

Vegas has used their preferred group of six defensemen just one time this season. This has led to a major shift in the minute load each player has had to take on.

(Thru 31 games)2023-24 Minutes2022-23 MinutesDifference
Pietrangelo628540+88
McNabb622627-5
Theodore467633-166
Hague434505-71
Hutton40066+334
Whitecloud313500-187
Martinez270619-349
Korczak2470+247
Pachal22314+209
Miromanov0103-103

The minutes that were being eaten up by Theodore, Martinez, Whitecloud, and Hague last season have gone to Ben Hutton, Kaedan Korczak, and Brayden Pachal this year.

In addition, it has meant a ton of different pairings. Last year over the 82-game regular season and 22-game postseason run, the Golden Knights used 19 different defense pairings. This year, through just 31 games, they are already at 15.

The Golden Knights have remained a strong defensive team through all of it, but it’s clearly been slipping a bit in the last few weeks.

NHL Edge Data Shows VGK’s Hardest Shot, Fastest Skater, And Most Distance Travelled

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

After years of teasing it, the NHL has finally released the advanced stats gathered from player and puck tracking data. All of the stats can be found at NHL.com/edge including team, skater, and goalie specific numbers.

One of the most interesting numbers tracked is distance travelled. Jack Eichel led all Golden Knights last season travelling the most distance in a single game. On March 3rd against New Jersey, Eichel skated almost four miles in his 23 minutes of ice time. He finished the game with a total distance of 3.89 miles travelled, almost a full mile more than the league average of 2.92 per game.

Eichel also led the team in distance travelled per 60 minutes played. Brett Howden was a close second and Paul Cotter leads the pack so far in 2023-24.

(Measured in miles)2022-232023-24
Eichel10.079.79
Howden9.909.97
Amadio9.899.66
Karlsson9.869.94
Stephenson9.709.84
Kolesar9.639.67
Barbashev9.549.96
Cotter9.5110.04
Roy9.519.75
Marchessault9.489.28
Dorofeyev9.49.34
Carrier9.289.55
Theodore8.959.13
Stone8.918.9
Hague8.578.23
Hutton8.328.61
Pietrangelo8.328.36
Whitecloud8.25N/A
McNabb8.027.99
Martinez7.967.70

Another good piece of data is the hardest shot. Sine the data has begun beign tracked in 2021-22, the Golden Knights have seen two shots recorded at over 100 mph. One by Alec Martinez last year, and one by Nic Hague against Anaheim this season. Eichel, Dorofeyev, and Amadio recorded the hardest shots by forwards last season.

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