On the night of May 15th, 2023, after the Golden Knights eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the 2023 NHL playoffs Jack Eichel and Leon Draisaitl walked into two very different locker rooms. Eichel was promptly drenched with celebratory champagne and puffed on Ashton Aged Maduro’s with his jubilant teammates. Draisaitl stepped into a locker room that was emotional, furious, and unsatisfied with how their season abruptly ended. In fact, it was in that moment Oilers captain Connor McDavid sternly stated that he and his teammates were on notice.
We’ve heard the story now from a few places, that he cleared all but the closest team staff out of the room and laid down the parameters for his franchise going forward. That the window for learning how to win was slamming shut, and the time for applying those lessons — and winning Stanley Cups — has officially begun. – Mark Spector on Sportsnet.ca
Now, both Pacific Division contenders are preparing for a new 82-game regular season with a mutual agreement on how that six-game series ended in mid-May. In Elliotte Friedman’s latest 32 Thoughts blog, Draisaitl noticed the difference of quality bench players on VGK’s side.
At the NHL/NHLPA media tour in Las Vegas, Jack Eichel said the difference between Edmonton and Vegas in that second-round series was depth. Leon Draisaitl conceded that, but added, “We couldn’t get to our top game…They didn’t make those little mistakes we made and that was the difference.” –Elliotte Friedman in 32 Thoughts
Just about every player to step on the ice for the Golden Knights this season will have already fulfilled their goal as a hockey player. Now, they are all working together to do it again. Individually though, there’s room for improvement for many players on the Vegas roster. With a few departures and an 82-game season in store, there will be opportunities for many Golden Knights, especially the younger ones, to take a step forward. Here are four candidates who could be in store for breakout seasons.
Howden’s career high in points in a season is just 23 and he scored only 13 for the Golden Knights last year. Of course, his contributions in the playoffs ramped up significantly after he found himself as the third wheel on a line with Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson. Howden scored five goals (including an OT GWG in the WCF) and added five assists for 10 points in 22 playoff games.
This year, he’ll likely start the season right back in that same spot on the second line and might even find his way onto a power play unit. Howden’s skill set clearly matched up well with Stone and Stephenson which should equate to a lot more playing time than he’s seen in the past. Last season he averaged just 13:04 per game. That number jumped by almost a minute per night to 13:59 in the playoffs. It’d be easy to project him to play closer to 15:00 a game this season as long as the chemistry holds with his linemates.
He’s never reached double-digit goals nor has he eclipsed 25 points in a season in his career. He has a great chance to do both, and potentially much more, this year.
This week NHL outlets compiled a team of the biggest bargains of the 2022-23 season. Unfortunately, zero Golden Knights players made the list, nor should they have. When Tage Thompson is the bargain bin’s top center, you can only imagine how skilled the rest of the lines and pairings are.
Sportsnet’s 2022-23 All-Bargain Team:
Brandon Hagel (TBL) — Tage Thompson (BUF) — Daniel Sprong (SEA) Michael Bunting (TOR) — David Krejci (BOS) — Gabriel Vilardi (LAK) Zach Parise (NYI) — Morgan Frost (PHI) — Taylor Raddysh (CHI) Stefan Noesen (CAR) — Thomas Novak (NSH) — Sonny Milano (WSH)
DEFENSE Erik Gustafsson (WSH/TOR) — Luke Schenn (VAN/TOR) Mark Giordano (TOR) — Rasmus Sandin (TOR/WSH) P.O. Joseph (PIT) — Sebastian Aho (NYI)
GOALIES Stuart Skinner (EDM) Filip Gustavsson (MIN)
So, maybe there wasn’t enough room for VGK’s valued players, but several deserve praise after their unexpected production during Vegas’ championship run.
Michael Amadio 16 Goals, 11 Assists, +2, 99 Shots On Goal, 2 Game-Winning Goals, 12:13 Average Time On Ice $762,500 Cap Hit
Amadio’s output was not only surprising in the regular season, but he continued to outperform expectations in the playoffs. In 16 games, the 27-year-old pitched in with five goals and five assists for the Stanley Cup-winning Golden Knights, including a big-time game-winning goal against Winnipeg in double overtime.
As for being a bargain, Amadio scored as many playoff goals (5) as Sebastian Aho ($8.4M AAV), Aleksander Barkov ($10M AAV), Auston Matthews ($11.6M AAV), and Tyler Seguin ($9.85M AAV) in roughly as many games. While Florida was paying Barkov $2M per goal, Vegas was shelling out $152,500 per goal scored by Amadio. Surely, to the everyday Joe, six figures to score a goal seems like a boatload but compared to others mentioned, the Golden Knights got themselves a significant discount.
Adin Hill 25 Starts, (16-7) Record, 61 Goals Allowed, .915 Save %, 2.45 Goals Allowed Average, 16 Quality Starts, $2,175,000 Cap Hit
We’ve gone over Hill’s Stanley Cup run dozens of times since June 15th. What else can we say? The third-string (or second depending on who you ask) goaltender was outstanding and unstoppable in the three series he suited up for. Hill led all qualified postseason goalies in save percentage, goals allowed average, losses and shutouts and made a fraction of what the rest of the playoff goalies make annually.
Vegas’ backstop earned $4,780 per save, $197,727 per victory, and $1,087,500 per shutout in the postseason. Compared to the three other goaltenders to start 14 games or more, the Golden Knights barely opened their wallet for a postseason victory. The Panthers paid Sergei Bobrovsky $17,094 per save, $833,333 per win, and $10M per shutout. Seattle offered Phillipp Grubauer $15,485 per save and $842,857 per win. Western Conference Finals goalie Jake Oettinger played three more games than Hill and Dallas reimbursed him $8,510 per save, $400K per win, $4M per shutout. Looking back, Hill could be one of the biggest bargains in modern NHL history.
Yesterday, we went through the Golden Knights Top 6 goals of the postseason, today it’s time to pick some apples. We took a different approach when selecting six elite playoff assists. Many were picked because of their pure beauty not their impact. Others were a blended mix of spotlight skill and the game situation. So, let’s start dishing.
6. Stephenson and Howden Assist Stone’s Second Goal of Game 2 vs. Winnipeg
After a disappointing Game 1 loss to open the postseason, Vegas’ captain knew he needed to steer the ship. Mark Stone did just that in Game 2 of the opening round vs. Winnipeg. In the final period, Stone assisted on Chandler Stephenson’s tiebreaker and wrapped the game up with two goals. Brett Howden started the rush from the defensive zone and flipped it over to Stephenson on the wing, who found Stone for a perfect tap-in down low. Each forward touched the puck and it resulted in a point for the home team. Even though it’s a different sport, coach Norman Dale would’ve been proud.
Qualifying Offers – Howden^ ($1,500,000), Dorofeyev ($874,125), Patera^ ($787,500)
Expected LTIR – Lehner ($5,000,000)
**This is an inexact salary estimation designed to give a rough outline of how much cap space the Golden Knights have to operate with. For exact up-to-date salary cap information, visit PuckPedia.com.**
For the first 10+ games of this playoff run one of the most consistent parts of the Golden Knights’ game has been their 4th line. No matter what has been going on with the group ahead of them, the grinders on the 4th line have gotten the job done night in and night out.
The Western Conference Final started out that way as Teddy Blueger came up with the go-ahead goal in the 3rd period. In Game 2 the 4th line was the only group that had any consistent success at 5-on-5, out-attempting the Stars 10-3, out-chancing them 3-0, and managing multiple high-danger chances without allowing one.
From there though, and especially in the past two games, it’s headed in the wrong direction for the depth players in gold.
Our 4th line didn’t do what it typically does in terms of puck possession in the O-Zone and then they were forced to play and got outworked in the D-Zone. So that’s something I expect to change. Whether Howden’s on that line, Blueger, or Nic Roy, they have to do a better job against their 4th line. Give credit to that line for Dallas, they outplayed our guys. -Cassidy
The group of Radek Faksa, Fredrik Olafsson, and Luke Glendening dominated the Golden Knights’ 4th line in Game 5 including the massive goal that tied the game. That group posted a 92% expected goals share against the VGK 4th line and did not allow William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar, and Brett Howden anything near the front of the net.
In many ways, it set the tone for the rest of the team.
That was one part of the game where that slot battle comes into play and that urgency tilts the game in their favor. When our 4th line is going well like that, our game goes better. They did some good things but they have to get back to who they are and their identity. -Cassidy
Vegas had troubles in many areas of the ice last night, including giving the puck away 24 times, but the largest area of concern is directly in front of the net. After being basically even through two games, the Golden Knights now trail 63-48 in high-danger chances in the series. Even as good as Adin Hill has been, the Stars have scored five goals from high-danger chances in the past two games, they had just three in the first three.
That’s our group, next man up. We got contributions from everyone. I mean that’s a gutsy win being down a couple of guys and coming in here. I like our group and I wouldn’t bet against them. -Pete DeBoer
To turn this around and secure that final win, the Golden Knights must get back to getting contributions up and down the lineup. Vegas’ depth has made line matching difficult for opposing coaches, especially in road games. With Game 6 taking place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Vegas is going to need everyone to get back to playing the way they were.
Five years ago the Golden Knights got their first taste of the Winnipeg Whiteout in the Western Conference Finals. Among the 16,000 fans clad in white was a young hockey player dreaming of being out there himself one day.
Manitoba-born Brett Howden, fresh off of his final season with the Moose Jaw Warriors was with his family and friends watching on from the stands as the Golden Knights punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.
Fast forward to Game 4. Now, Howden’s parents, siblings, in-laws, and friends were all once again in the stands, but this time, the former 1st round pick was on the ice making game-deciding plays rather than watching them.
It’s pretty wild. It’s just amazing how things change down the road and I’m just super thankful to be here. And, I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty cool. -Brett Howden
Howden scored Vegas’ first goal, a crucial 1st period tally to tie the game at one, by using some of the skill he possessed which made his dream of playing on this stage much more of a possibility than the hundreds of other kids with the same dream in the building five years ago.