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Using Pairs To Formulate A Lineup Of Forwards When Winger Depth Lacks

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Early in the run to the Stanley Cup in 2023, Bruce Cassidy rolled out a forward lineup that looked a bit different than anything we’d ever seen in the past with the Golden Knights.

Rather than looking for the best combination of six forwards to play in the top-six, he went to a more balanced lineup including what he described as pairs. Each line had a strong center with an excellent winger on one side and a player typically not expected to play in the top-six on the other side. Jack Eichel’s partner was Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson’s was Mark Stone, and William Karlsson had his PowerKill buddy, Reilly Smith.

The three wingers to fill each of those lines were Ivan Barbashev, Michael Amadio, and Brett Howden. In each case, Cassidy explained that this “third” player on the line was to drive the net to create space for the other two.

It worked like a charm.

Barbashev, Amadio, and Howden contributed at least five goals and ten points a piece in the 22-game playoff run.

The lineup allowed the Golden Knights incredible flexibility both on the road and at home against every opponent they faced, consistently finding mismatches for their top players. In many ways, that lineup structure won Vegas the Stanley Cup.

Heading into the upcoming season, after allowing a bevy of talented forwards to leave in free agency, it appears VGK are looking to find a little bit of that magic again.

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Eichel & Draisaitl Agree Playoff Series Came Down To Depth

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

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

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4 Golden Knights Ready To Breakout

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

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.

Brett Howden

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.

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VGK’s Bargain Binners Significantly Over-Performed In Cup Run

(Photo Credit: @GoldenKnights on Twitter)

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:

FORWARDS

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.

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VGK’s Top 6 Stanley Cup Playoff Assists

(Photo Credit: @_jkarsh on Instagram)

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.

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2023 VGK Free Agency Tracker

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

A roundup of all the signings, rumors, and rumbling surrounding the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights as free agency opens in advance of the 2023-24 season.

*This article will be updated throughout the day as more information rolls in.*

  • Adin Hill has been re-signed to a two-year contract with $4.9 million AAV (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • Reilly Smith has been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a 2024 3rd round pick, VGK’s original selection (Source: @KevinWeekes)
  • Ivan Barbashev has agreed to a five-year contract extension with $5 million AAV (Source: Golden Knights)
  • The Golden Knights have tendered qualifying offers to RFAs, Brett Howden, Jiri Patera, and Pavel Dorofeyev (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Jonathan Quick is expected to sign with the New York Rangers. (Source: @KevinWeekes)
  • Silver Knights captain Brayden Pachal has signed a two-year two-way contract with an NHL salary of $775,000 AAV. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Teddy Blueger signed a one-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks worth $1.9 million. (Source: @Canucks)
  • Laurent Brossoit signed with the Winnipeg Jets for one-year at $1.75 million. (Source: @reporterchris)
  • VGK has signed defenseman Mason Geertsen to a two-year two-way contract with an NHL league minimum value. (Source: @PuckPedia)
  • Mason Morelli has signed a two-year two-way contract with the Golden Knights at the NHL league minimum. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Jiri Patera has signed a one-year two-way deal with VGK. (Source: @PuckPedia)
  • Gage Quinney has signed a two-year two-way contract to remain with the Golden/Silver Knights. (Source: @PuckPedia)

Former VGK players

  • Mattias Janmark has signed a one-year contract worth $1 million to remain in Edmonton. (Source: Edmonton Oilers)
  • Dylan Coghlan has been extended a qualifying offer by the Carolina Hurricanes. (Source: @WaltRuff)
  • Ryan Reaves is expected to sign a multi-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs (Source: @TheFourthPeriod)
    • Reaves has signed a three-year deal with $1.3 million AAV. (Source: @DarrenDreger)
  • Erik Brannstrom signed a one-year contract worth $2 million to remain with the Ottawa Senators. (Source: @Senators)
  • Evgenii Dadonov signed a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million with the Dallas Stars. (Source: @DallasStars)
  • Erik Haula re-signed in New Jersey for three years at $3.15 million AAV. (Source: @KevinWeekes)
  • Oscar Dansk returns to the Calgary Flames on a one-year two-way contract for the league minimum. (Source: @NHLFlames)
  • Colin Miller was traded to the New Jersey Devils for a 5th round pick. (Source: @NJDevils)
  • Max Pacioretty has signed with the Washington Capitals for one-year at $2 million plus $2 million in bonuses. (Source: @frank_seravalli)
  • Patrick Brown has signed with the Boston Bruins for two years at $800,000 AAV. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • Cody Glass has re-signed with the Predators for two years at $2.5 million (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • Malcolm Subban has signed a one-year two-way contract with St. Louis for the league minimum.
  • Ryan Carpenter has signed with the Sharks on a one-year two-way deal worth the league minimum.
  • Jimmy Schuldt has signed a one-year two-way contract with Seattle for the league minimum.

Simplified Salary Cap Tracker

  • VGK are approximately $3,576,683 UNDER the salary cap with a 19-man roster (11 F, 8 D, 2 G)
    • Eichel, Stone, Karlsson, Marchessault, Barbashev, Roy, Stephenson, Carrier, Kolesar, Cotter, Amadio – $45,487,500
    • Pietrangelo, Martinez, Theodore, McNabb, Whitecloud, Hague, Hutton, Pachal – $28,769,150
    • Hill, Thompson – $5,666,667
  • Qualifying Offers – Howden^ ($1,500,000), Dorofeyev ($874,125), Patera^ ($787,500)
  • Expected LTIR – Lehner ($5,000,000)

^Arbitration eligible

**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.**

Battle Of Depth Tilting Towards Dallas

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

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.

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