Brandon Pirri was one of the best stories in the entire NHL this season. He went from being passed over in favor of Stefan Matteau, Tomas Hyka, Reid Duke, Paul Thompson, and Daniel Carr to becoming a fan favorite, scoring seven goals in his first eight games and nearly cracking the Golden Knights top 10 in goals scored in franchise history.
A player who has always been regarded as an offensive threat but a defensive liability got his call back to the NHL on December 18th, 2018. He would not play another AHL game the rest of the year, and would eventually draw into the Golden Knights lineup for the most important game of the year, Game 7 in San Jose.
Looking back I’m really proud of myself. I wasn’t supposed to be on this team. I think there were four or five forwards called up before me. I finally got the opportunity and I made the most of it. -Brandon Pirri
But now, Pirri is an unrestricted free agent, and he’s in a much better bargaining position than he was either of the previous two offseasons when he signed one-year league minimum deals with the Golden Knights.
Instead, he’s now a 12 goal scorer in 31 games. He proved he was able to force his way onto one of the best rosters in the NHL and into the lineup at the most crucial time. This offseason he’ll be viewed a potential diamond in the rough, rather than an AHLer with potential upside.
What is he looking for in his next contract? One very specific thing.
Opportunity, it’s all about opportunity. -Pirri
He wants a chance to play in the NHL for good.
I controlled what I can control this year and I did get an opportunity and I proved myself. I’m not going to be given anything, I’ve never been giving anything. -Pirri
Gallant says he absolutely considered using Gusev in the series but basically said in the end it came down to the fact that he didn't fully know the systems and it wasn't worth the risk. Opted for Pirri and he thought he played great in Game 7.
As we head towards the playoffs the composition of the Golden Knights “perfect” lineup is going to become a major topic of discussion. Assuming full health, and it appears the Golden Knights should have it barring any new injuries, the top six should be locked in as it was prior to Max Pacioretty’s injury. It looks like this:
That leaves six players to fill just three spots. Those players are Brandon Pirri, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, and Valentin Zykov.
To me, because there are two slots open on one line and only one on the other, the focus should be on creating the best fourth line possible and then using the leftover player to fill out what already should be a promising line of Eakin and Tuch.
Because the Golden Knights prefer to roster a fairly standard fourth line (meaning it’s much more of a checking/possession/don’t give up goals line) Pirri and Zykov aren’t great fits. They’ll come back into play when we consider the final piece on the third line.
Rather than give my opinion on how it should line up, I’d rather use numbers. So, using NaturalStatTrick.com’s “Line Tool,” I’ve gone through each potential option to see how they’ve performed as a trio when together.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, the buzz around the Golden Knights is almost squarely focused on the third line. It’s a line with only one stable piece, the center, Cody Eakin, and filled with imperfect wingers such as Brandon Pirri, Valentin Zykov, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter, and Oscar Lindberg.
Most, including all three who write on this website, believe for the Golden Knights to reach the top of the mountain, something needs to change with that line. Whether it’s an addition from within, a piece added at the deadline, or reinforcements from the current top six, here at SinBin.vegas, we see the third line as the primary weakness for the Golden Knights.
The head coach, who happens to be the reigning Jack Adams award winner, does not agree.
I want them to keep doing what they are doing. People make a big deal of it that supposedly they don’t score enough. I don’t. We’ve got guys who can put the puck in the back of the net. Those guys have to come out and play their roles. I love a lot about our hockey team, I’m not too concerned at all. -Gerard Gallant
When Brandon Pirri isn’t scoring what does Gerard Gallant and the Golden Knights organization do with him? Well, we got one answer last night when Gallant healthy scratched Pirri in Detroit, the first game he’s missed while on the active roster.
While filling in for injured top six forwards, Pirri was as hot as any player in the NHL, but that dried up in a hurry.
First 9 Games 10 Points (6 Goals, 4 Assists) 4-Game Point Streak (5Pts)12/20-12/27 5-Game Point Streak (8Pts) 12/30-1/11 2 Game-Winning Goals 2 Power Play Goals 29 Shots on Goal (3.22 per game) +10 Rating 9 Games Played Team Record 6-1-2
Last 9 Games 2 Points (1 Goal, 1 Assist) 0 Point Streaks 0 Game-Winning Goals 0 Power Play Goals 19 Shots (2.38 per game) 2 Games With No Shots on Goal -4 Rating 8 Games Played/1 Healthy Scratch Team Record 3-5-0 *Healthy Scratch 1-0-0
As you can see, the 27-year-old forward’s production has dipped significantly. If he’s not adding offense, he’s hard-pressed to find a place in the lineup. Neither the club or the player wants that. If Pirri continued his point pace, it solves a roster spot, adds desperately needed third line scoring, and the flexibility to pass on a possible rental at the deadline. But if he doesn’t, because he doesn’t kill penalties, he’s not used in a defensive role, and he often can’t be trusted to help protect a lead, George McPhee might be forced to find a replacement.
I feel like Nashville and Winnipeg will be the most aggressive. Then I would rank it Vegas next, Calgary, followed by San Jose. -Pierre LeBrun, TSN Winnipeg
Scoring goals has never been the knock on Brandon Pirri, he’s always been able to do that. Yet, since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 he’s played for five different teams, has cleared waivers twice, and was released from a PTO in Florida prior to last season which led him to Vegas (really, Chicago). The question is, why?
I think the knock on Brandon was he wasn’t a very good defensive player and his skating wasn’t that good. Both of those aren’t an issue right now. His skating has gotten better, he’s gotten stronger, he’s in good shape. –Gerard Gallant on Hockey Central
The first part isn’t anything new, he’s simply always been seen as a defensive liability, but it was the other portion that piqued my interest. It wasn’t just this interview either that Gallant mentioned skating, strength, and conditioning as factors in holding back Pirri. He’s said it in press conferences and in a few other one-on-ones.
So, I asked Pirri, what changed? He said, “everything.” He changed his trainer, he changed how he trained, and he put much more time and effort into “training smart.”
I just feel stronger on my skates, and that’s everything. I’m not a big guy so I can’t outmuscle guys, so I find myself anticipating and getting body position which works to my favor. -Brandon Pirri
He looks like a more confident player, his whole game has gotten better. I don’t know if he’s any stronger physically but he’s in good shape and he’s playing good hockey. -Gallant
Pirri has rapidly risen from fill-in to waiver yo-yo to a bonafide top-six forward for the Golden Knights and it’s all happened within a month. Gallant has even compared him to Jonathan Marchessault, who was a later bloomer himself, not getting his start in the NHL for good until he was 26.
Well, there wasn’t a transaction, so I don’t know where that’s coming from. Nothing happened yesterday and nothing has happened today. We’ll see where we are tomorrow but I would expect that he’ll be in the lineup. -McPhee
As you can see from the screenshot above, there were transactions. The only way for a transaction to appear on this page is if this form has been submitted to the NHL offices. Why the transaction was there and has since disappeared, I do not know.
Following the game, I asked Gerard Gallant about the transactions…
Can you offer any clarity to the Brandon Pirri situation that occured this afternoon? -SinBin.vegas
I worry about playing the players and transactions work themselves out. He’s on my roster, I’m playing him. -Gallant
We are going to continue to dig on this to see what else we can find.
Before tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks, the Golden Knights sent Brandon Pirri to the AHL and then recalled him within two hours. All along he remained in Las Vegas and eventually played in the night’s game.
The question is, why?
There were speculations of trades, belief that salary cap was involved, even the Chicago Wolves schedule came up as a point of conversation. But all along the transaction was simply made to exploit a tiny rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that effectively resets the waiver clock for Pirri.
Let’s start with the original rule that has been at the center of the Pirri waiver situation. First, here’s the actual rule from the CBA.
Subject to the provisions of this Article, the rights to the services of a Player may be Loaned to a club of another league, upon fulfillment of the following conditions, except when elsewhere expressly prohibited:
(a) Regular Waivers were requested and cleared during the Playing Season Waiver Period; and
(b) the Player has not played in ten (10) or more NHL Games cumulative since Regular Waivers on him were last cleared, and more than thirty (30) days cumulative on an NHL roster have not passed since Regular Waivers on him were last cleared. -NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement
What that says is if a player has cleared waivers, which Pirri did on 10/4/18, he can be recalled and play in up to nine games OR be on active roster for up to 29 days without having to once again re-clear waivers.
Brandon Pirri was recalled to the Golden Knights on 12/18/18. Prior to tonight has played in eight games since being recalled. He’s been the on the roster 19 days.
Thus, if he played in two more games OR was on the active roster for 11 more days he would once again be subject to waivers in the event the Golden Knights wanted to send him down to the AHL.
That brings us today. Due to injuries and illness, the Golden Knights only had 12 active and available forwards on the roster with Pirri. Reilly Smith, William Carrier, Erik Haula, and eventually we learned Cody Eakin, were all unavailable to play in tonight’s game. Thus, without Pirri, the Golden Knights would only have 11 available forwards.
Enter a different CBA provision called “the emergency recall.”
Through seven games and 97:22 of ice time, the Golden Knights have not allowed a goal with Brandon Pirri on the ice. In that same span, Vegas has a 64% Corsi For, created 67 scoring chances, and have scored 11 times.
In short, when Pirri is on the ice, good things happen.
That’s my role, that’s why I signed and that’s why they signed me here. I’ve got to stick to my strengths. Turk’s put me in a fantastic position to succeed, playing with two really skilled guys. Stas finds me and Tuchy creates space. -Brandon Pirri
That middle part interested me when I heard it, “put me in a fantastic position to succeed.” Pirri went on to mention his linemates, but the in-game situations he’s found himself in are even more telling than his linemates. Pirri has been on the ice for 83 faceoffs, only 17 of them have been taken inside of the Golden Knights zone.
That equates to a 74.4% offensive zone draw percentage (Offensive zone draws divided by Offensive+Defensive zone draws). The next closest player is Brad Hunt at 67.8%, then there’s not another player on the team at over 66%. Pirri’s linemates, Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny are at 65.1% and 54.0% respectively.
Also, late in games, Gallant has decided not to use Pirri. In Pirri’s seven games, five of them have seen the score within one goal in the last 10 minutes of regulation. In those five games, Pirri has played in 84 shifts, only 10 of them have occurred in the final 10 minutes of the game, and only once did he play more than one regular shift (at least 40 seconds) at the end of a game.
Bellemare is a specialty in that situation. If we’re down a goal, Pirri will be on the ice. When we’re up a goal, you put four defensive guys out there and Bellemare and those type of players deserve to be on the ice at that time of the game. -Gerard Gallant
I asked specifically about the most recent game, a win over Los Angeles, in which Pirri played a total of :52 in the final eight minutes of action.
I mean we scored, made it one-nothing and they had a great chance right after that on the breakaway but you usually get down to six or seven minutes and I want certain guys on the ice and the guys know that so we shorten it a little bit and guys go out there and do their jobs. -Gallant
I looked through a number of games last season, and couldn’t find an example of Gallant removing one of his top six (Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Haula, Neal, Perron) at the end of a game as he has with Pirri. In fact, there’s almost the exact same scenario in a game on January 7th, 2018 against the Rangers as we saw on January 1st, 2019 against the Kings.
The emergence of scoring wizard Brandon Pirri, coupled with injuries to Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty, and the waiver claim of Valentin Zykov has left the Golden Knights in a roster pickle, with 25 players and only 23 available spots.
There are a few questions on just about every Golden Knights fan’s mind and we’ll attempt to answer every single one in this article. Read on.
As of this moment, the Golden Knights roster stands at 23 with Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty on IR.
Pacioretty skated with the team in practice yesterday, is expected to do so again, and will likely play either tomorrow or Sunday. Miller skated before practice yesterday, will likely do so again today, and shouldn’t be much more than a week or so away from making his return to the Golden Knights lineup.
Valentin Zykov was claimed on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Per NHL rules, if the Golden Knights want to keep Zykov, he must remain on the NHL roster for the remainder of the season.
Brandon Pirri has scored six goals in seven games with the Golden Knights and has played on the 2nd line with Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny in all seven games. Per NHL rules, Pirri is allowed to be sent back to the AHL without clearing waivers if he does not play in 10 games OR is on the active roster for fewer than 30 days. Thus, if he plays three more games or is on the roster for another 15 days, he would have to once again clear waivers to be sent back to the AHL.
Through 43 games, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard-Bellemare, Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves are the only forwards on the roster to have been scratched by Gerard Gallant without being on IR. Reaves, Pacioretty, and Bellemare were each scratched once and they all are believed to be injury or family/medical related. Carpenter has been scratched three times, Nosek has been scratched four times, and Lindberg has been scratched 23 times. However, in the past six games that Gallant has had to choose two of those three, he has scratched each one of them two times. The most recent player to be scratched was Nosek.
Reading Into It
I was specifically warned against doing this, but what’s the point of the Internet if not to do things people tell you not to and make them angry (Sorry, I’m not sorry Turk).
Let’s start with Zykov as he’s the biggest unknown of all of this. The Golden Knights could instantly clear one spot on their roster by immediately putting Zykov back on waivers. That would allow either Pacioretty or Miller to come off IR and the roster remain at 23.
However, Gallant made a comment in a recent press conference that he started watching film on Zykov “the first time he went on waivers” which indicates that Vegas may have wanted him originally. They did not have priority so he went to Edmonton, then when he hit waivers again, Vegas claimed him and got him. Thus, it makes sense that this is not a short-term rental that won’t be given a chance, but instead that McPhee/Gallant see something they like and they want to give him a shot.
He’s expected to finally make it into the country today after having some immigration issues. He’ll probably practice a few times with the team before getting in a game, but if he remains on the roster when Pacioretty comes back, it should be expected that he gets at least some game action with the Golden Knights.
So, let’s say we expect him to stay, at least for a little while. When Pacioretty comes off IR someone is going to have to be taken off the roster to comply to the 23 man limit.
The easiest option would be for another injured player to be placed on IR. At the moment, the Golden Knights do not have any other players we believe to be injured. In January of last season, when VGK was in a similar bind, Jon Merrill was placed on IR with what was described as an “undisclosed injury,” to make room for Luca Sbisa who came off IR. Clearly, it is against the rules to declare a player that is not injured, injured, however, don’t be completely stunned if there’s a surprise injury that we were unaware of that leads to an IR stint which opens a roster spot for Pacioretty.
If that were not to happen, then McPhee would have to choose one player to be sent back to Chicago. The most likely options are the three forwards previously mentioned (Carpenter, Lindberg, or Nosek), one of the commonly scratched defensemen (Merrill or Hunt) or Brandon Pirri. Before we move on, let’s address Pirri.
Can you really send Pirri back to the AHL?
The short answer is yes, they absolutely can, and the reason is not that he’s not good enough to be on this team. The main reason is that if he doesn’t hit that 10th game, he’s the only guy on the roster (aside from Tuch and we know that’s not happening) that can go to the AHL without risk of being lost on waivers.