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Bruce Cassidy Details His Ideal Minute And Role Distribution Among Forward Lines

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Every coach at every level in the sport of hockey wants to balance minutes equally across the entire lineup. In a perfect world, the coach could just sit back and roll four lines keeping everyone fresh and ready to play at the highest level in their next shift.

But, the NHL is not a utopia and the divide between high-end players and everyone else often causes an imbalance of ice time.

I don’t know that you should have guys up in the 20’s (minutes) that are forwards. Are you getting maximum value out of them if they are over 20 every night for 82 games? We’ll see how that plays out and how the guys who are used to that manage that. If they can pull it off and give you maximum play then I’ll change the way I think. -Bruce Cassidy

Same goes on the flip side.

We shouldn’t have anybody under 10 minutes a night. If this team is functioning as we see it, I think that 4th line would be closer to 12 minutes because they are going to play against good people, get D-zone starts, and play on the PK. -Cassidy

Historically, VGK have used their 3rd and 4th lines in checking roles, but often would see their usage sheltered with offensive zone starts and/or favorable matchups. Cassidy wants his 3rd line of William Karlsson, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio to operate as a strong defensive line with the 4th line also taking some of the most difficult minutes.

That’s defending, that’s penalty kill, the hard minutes. We have to be careful with guys over the course of the year because of fatigue, injury, and maybe age. -Cassidy

The challenge for Cassidy though will be the abilities of the players in the bottom-six in regards to holding up to the rigors of what he called “stressful minutes.”

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Karlsson, Howden, Amadio Line Expected To Fill Defensive Role While Also Chipping In Offensively

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Since the first day of Training Camp the trio of William Karlsson, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio have been together as a line.

Wednesday night they got their first opportunity to play in a preseason game together and it went quite well. Karlsson and Amadio each scored goals, all three players posted a Corsi of at least 70%, and in a little more than 11 minutes of ice time together they did not allow a single shot on goal against.

I think they all have good hockey IQ and good offensive instincts. They are all centermen by nature so they probably speak the same language when they are talking about plays way from the puck. -Bruce Cassidy

Last year Karlsson, Amadio, and Howden played a total of 51 seconds together. However, there were two pairs including these three guys that did see significant action together. Howden and Amadio shared the ice for 127 minutes while Amadio and Karlsson played together for 172.

Now, with all three coming together, they’ll look to capture something new, and do it while filling a much more defensive role for the team.

They are going to need to be responsible if they are put in that role. We know Karlsson can do that but the other two guys that’s a bit of a challenge for younger guys. Here’s your role on the team, can you handle it? Can you check good players and still create offense? So we’ll see how that plays. -Cassidy

As Cassidy alluded to, Karlsson remains one of the better defensive centers in the NHL and will surely make any line he’s on competent enough in the defensive zone. But, if the Golden Knights want to get to where they intend on going, they will need Howden and Amadio to take strides defensively.

The goal of most third lines, and Cassidy doesn’t seem any different, is to steal minutes from the opposing top-six to free up favorable matchups for Vegas’ top two lines.

That means this group will be seeing consistent shifts against the likes of Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Anze Kopitar. And that’s just in October.

Karlsson has joked that he’s found a new group of Misfits with a pair of players who have been overlooked for good portions of their short NHL careers. It may sound a little funky and overly optimistic now, but one game in, they look the part.

Four Prerequisites For VGK To Win The Pacific Division

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For the first time in a long time, the Golden Knights enter the season without a clear picture of exactly where they stand in the Pacific Division. There’s an easy argument to be made they remain among the top contenders but it’s also not hard to point to the offseason as a reason why they may not.

Let’s stay on the positive side today and take a look at what must happen for the Golden Knights to raise their third divisional banner in six years. If Vegas hit every one of these marks, they’ll not only stroll into the playoffs, but they’ll win the Pacific.

Brett Howden, Nic Roy, or someone else with fewer than 100 career points scores 60 points

One of the biggest questions for the Golden Knights this season is depth. While they have a host of NHL-quality players slotted to play in the bottom-six, there aren’t many proven scorers among the lot. Howden and Roy are the clear favorites to take the massive step forward, but names like Paul Cotter, Brendan Brisson, Sakari Manninen, Jonas Rondbjerg, or a few others could make the leap as well.

For the Golden Knights to truly operate as a dominant force in the division, they’ll need an unexpected boom in scoring from someone. It doesn’t matter where in the lineup it happens either. If the player does it on a line with Jack Eichel or Mark Stone, it will leave a more established scorer to bolster the third line. Or, if it happens on a third or fourth line, Vegas will be able to load up their top-six.

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What Does Brett Howden’s Shortened Last Season Say About What He May Do This Season?

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There are a few candidates who could take a massive step forward with the holes in the Golden Knights lineup left by Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Mattias Janmark. Maybe the most likely of those candidates for the Golden Knights is 24-year-old Brett Howden.

Last year Howden’s season was cut short by a nasty collision early in a March game against the Nashville Predators. Howden went head first into the boards and his neck snapped back in an awkward way. He was carried away on a stretcher and the injury was later compared to as if he had been in a bad car crash.

He never returned to practice but is expected to be completely healthy and ready to go for the 2022-23 season.

Before the injury, he was quietly putting together a fairly impressive season. He posted nine goals and added 11 assists in 47 games and was showing signs of improvement as the season continued. He was used mostly in a fourth line role but also got a bit of a runout as a penalty killer where he notched two shorthanded assists.

The shortened season skews the stats a bit which makes his future with the Golden Knights hard to predict. I tried to use a bunch of his stats and analytics to see which point to progression and which point to regression this season. We’ll do the good stuff first.

Arrow Pointing Up

Time On Ice

Howden averaged just 10:39 per game last year and hit the ice for fewer than 10 minutes in 19 of his 47 games. His largest minute load of the season was just 14:17 on 18 shifts. It’s going to be hard for these numbers not to increase, especially with the likelihood that he gets a look in the top-six for at least a short period. Just a minute a night more playing time should mean a 10% increase in numbers. It seems oversimplified, but don’t ever underestimate how much effect ice time has on offensive statistics.

Point Shares

While playing only 47 games, Howden was able to generate a decent 2.3 point shares. Even better, with the low TOI numbers, there’s room for improvement even if he doesn’t play all 82. 2.3 point shares in 47 games equates to 4.0 in 82 games. Plus, it’s distributed nicely between offense and defense with two-thirds on offense and the remaining third in his contributions defensively. These numbers definitely point to him being able to offer more in 2022-23.

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McCrimmon Shares Four Ways VGK Can Make Up For Lost Offense

When the Golden Knights pulled off the blockbuster trade to acquire Jack Eichel, it became clear they would have to do some serious work to on their salary cap. That work is now complete and it has resulted in the departures of Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Dylan Coghlan.

The trio of players shipped out accounted for 42 goals last season with Pacioretty missing more than half of the year due to injury. Also, while still unsigned, it’s possible Mattias Janmark and his nine goals exit Vegas as well. That’s more than 50 goals leaving the organization without a single new player being added to the fold (at least to this point).

So, how do they make up that offense?

That question was posed to GM Kelly McCrimmon at today’s press conference and his answer was essentially four-pronged. Let’s go through each of them.

“We anticipate a healthy lineup will put more offense into our lineup”

McCrimmon specifically singled out Stone, but the larger point is that without virtually every important player on the team missing significant time, as we saw last year, there will be an influx in scoring.

Stone, Eichel, Karlsson, and Smith will all likely generate more this coming year than they did last year. Between them, they scored 51 goals and tallied 128 points in 2021-22. The career averages of those four players calls for something closer to 98 goals and 245 points. Throw in Martinez, Howden, and Hague and there’s room for even more.

It’s pretty clear that if the team is significantly healthier, scoring will go up.

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2022 VGK Free Agency Tracker

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A roundup of all the signings, rumors, and rumbling surrounding the Vegas Golden Knights as free agency opens in advance of the 2022-23 season.

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

  • The Golden Knights have traded Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan to the Carolina Hurricanes for future considerations. (Source: @DarrenDreger & @PierreVLeBrun)
  • A handshake agreement is reportedly in place with Reilly Smith on an extension worth $5m AAV for three years. (Source: @frank_seravalli)
    • The deal is expected to be completed today. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
    • The deal is complete. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • The Golden Knights have extended qualifying offers to Nic Hague, Keegan Kolesar, Jake Leschyshyn, Brayden Pachal, Jonas Rondbjerg, and Nic Roy (Source: Golden Knights)
    • Roy and Kolesar are each arbitration-eligible. Both will likely file. Each can still sign extensions before their scheduled arbitration dates in August.
    • Jonas Rondbjerg has re-signed a three-year deal with an AAV of $766,666. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Brett Howden was not extended a qualifying offer by the Golden Knights, however, reports indicate a deal is being worked on to keep him in Vegas. (Source: @DarrenDreger)
    • Howden has extended with the Golden Knights for one-year at $1.5 million. (Source: @PuckPedia)
  • VGK did not extend qualifying offers to Ben Jones, Dylan Ferguson, or Jack Dugan. All become unrestricted free agents today.
  • Daniil Miromanov signed a two-year extension to remain with the Golden Knights with an AAV of $762,500. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • The Golden Knights have signed Sakari Manninen, a 30-year-old Finnish winger who has been playing in the KHL. He scored the game-winning goal at the World Champions and won a gold medal at the Olympics. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • VGK confirmed the signings on Manninen and Spencer Foo, each for $750,000. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Sheldon Rempal has signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Golden Knights. (Source: @DarrenDreger)
    • The NHL AAV is $762,500. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • VGK have signed goalie Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, two-way contract. (Source: @PuckPedia)
  • Byron Froese has signed a two-year contract with an AAV of $762,500. (Source: Golden Knights)

Simplified Salary Cap Tracker

  • VGK are approximately $6,452,500 UNDER the salary cap with a 17-man roster (10 F, 7 D, 2 G)
    • Eichel, Stone, Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stephenson, Carrier, Amadio, Patrick, Howden – $43,012,500
    • Pietrangelo, Martinez, Theodore, McNabb, Whitecloud, Hutton – $25,700,00
    • Lehner, Brossoit – $7,325,000

**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.**

Predicting The Golden Knights Offseason (Ken’s Picks)

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The Cup has been awarded which means the offseason has officially begun. The Golden Knights have already started shaping their roster, most notably with the news of a Reilly Smith extension, but they still have a lot of work to do.

This week we are going to go through a series of articles giving our thoughts on how we’d like the offseason to shake out and how we think it will ultimately go down for the Golden Knights.

Today we start with my (Ken) predicted roster. This is what I expect the Golden Knights to do this summer.

Nic Roy – Re-signed for 2 years at $2.75m AAV

As I detailed in a previous article, Roy is in line for a fairly significant raise. I expect him to file for arbitration but sign a contract prior to the hearing. The Golden Knights will utilize their excellent signing of Chandler Stephenson to set the market on Roy and eventually settle on the same number. It’s a nice bump for Roy, it keeps him in line to hit unrestricted free agency at the age of 27, and it doesn’t break the bank on VGK.

Keegan Kolesar – Re-signed for 1 year at $1.3m

Like Roy, Kolesar’s arbitration rights will earn him a bit more than he’s made in the past. However, I expect a short deal as the Golden Knights look to maintain some flexibility moving forward. Kolesar doesn’t have much to prove as it’s pretty clear the player he’s going to be, so he’ll look to cash in and $1.3 million is a decent payday for him.

Nic Hague – Re-signed for 1 year at $874,125

I truly believe Hague should refuse to sign the qualifying offer and hold out from training camp and ultimately regular season games in an effort to maximize his contract. But, I don’t think he’ll end up going down that road as the risk of the Golden Knights never blinking is far too real. (Read more about the situation here) So, I think he’ll take the qualifying offer and play one more year on a cheap deal before he looks to cash in next summer, which I believe he will to the tune of north of $3 million per year.

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Assessing The Situations Of The Non-Nic VGK RFA’s

We’ve been over the sticky situation in store for Nic Hague, we’ve explored the potential cost of Nic Roy, now it’s time to dig into those not named Nic who enter this summer as restricted free agents under Golden Knights control.

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Keegan Kolesar (Arbitration eligible)

As one of the most consistent performers over the course of the entire season for the Golden Knights, Kolesar heads into the offseason in a much better negotiating position than what may have been expected. His 24 points with the added value he brings as a physical presence on the ice do actually set him up nicely to cash in a little bit more than the league minimum which he has collected in his first three seasons in the NHL.

The most obvious comparable for Kolesar is commonly a linemate of his, William Carrier. In a similar situation two summers ago (Carrier was coming off a season in which he scored 19 points in 71 games), he was able to cash in $5.6 million over four seasons, or $1.4M AAV. His history in the NHL was incredibly similar to Kolesar’s both in production and style. It shouldn’t shock anyone if Kolesar’s next is structured exactly like Carrier’s.

Around the league, a few other similar-style players have also been paid a bit more than the bottom dollar price. Zach Aston-Reese made $1.725 million on a one-year deal as an RFA in Pittsburgh, Garnet Hathaway got a four-year deal from Washington at $1.5 million per year as a UFA after scoring 19 points in 76 games in Calgary, and Jujhar Khaira was given $1.2 million per by the Oilers after posting similar numbers to each of the players listed above.

Reasonably, Kolesar should be aiming for as close to $2 million as possible and be comfortable settling in the $1.3-$1.7 range.

Brett Howden (Arbitration eligible)

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DeBoer Committed To Using Depth Forwards More On Penalty Kill

As the Golden Knights head into the 2021-22 season there’s not a lot they want to change. They’ve been to the conference finals in back-to-back seasons, they tied for the President’s Trophy last year, and they’ve been consistently one of the winningest teams in the NHL since their inception.

But, since they haven’t reached the mountaintop yet they know they can’t stand pat and expect things to be different this time around.

Speaking with the media on the first day of Training Camp, head coach Pete DeBoer clued us in to one such place he’s looking for change in his forward group.

What we saw last year was I felt we overplayed some of our top guys, especially penalty killing situations. When we talked in the summer about building this team out with Kelly and George, I’m a big believer that we’ve got to have at least a couple penalty killers in the depth of the lineup so that you’re not overtaxing the top guys, you can save them a little for offensive situations. -DeBoer

Last season, the Golden Knights’ primary penalty killers were William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Mark Stone, and Chandler Stephenson, all top-six players.

Regular Season PK TOI
Total (Per/game)

William Karlsson – 99:29 (1:47)
Reilly Smith – 91:02 (1:43)
Mark Stone – 74:12 (1:21)
Chandler Stephenson – 69:47 (1:22)
Tomas Nosek – 51:04 (1:21)
Alex Tuch – 41:24 (0:45)
Nic Roy – 41:14 (0:49)

Playoffs PK TOI
Total (Per/game)

William Karlsson – 24:21 (1:17)
Reilly Smith – 26:09 (1:23)
Mark Stone – 25:48 (1:21)
Chandler Stephenson – 23:14 (1:27)
Tomas Nosek -4:04 (0:41)
Alex Tuch – 11:36 (0:37)
Nic Roy – 10:16 (0:32)

With Tomas Nosek off to Detroit and Alex Tuch injured for the first few months, this concept of using depth players to penalty kill opens the door for a number of guys. The chief among them is newly acquired Brett Howden.

Howden has averaged 1:44 of penalty killing time per game over the past few seasons for the Rangers and has been reliable doing it. This could be a hint that Howden has an inside track into the Golden Knights’ lineup early in the season.

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Roster Battles Incredibly Limited At 2021 VGK Training Camp

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When you take a hard look at the Golden Knights roster you’ll quickly realize there aren’t many question marks when it comes to lineup construction. The top-six is all but guaranteed to remain intact, the entire blue line is locked in, and there’s no longer a goalie competition for either the starting role or the backup.

There are at least 15 players out of the allowed 20 that will dress on October 12th we can essentially write in with a Sharpie marker. There would actually be a 16th if Alex Tuch were healthy, but his injury leaves at least one more spot open for discussion.

Of course, the lines and pairs could shift, but here are the names that I’d be willing to go out on a limb and guarantee (if healthy) are in the lineup in 27 days at T-Mobile Arena.

Pacioretty-Stephenson-Stone
Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith
Janmark-(Open)-Dadonov
(Open)-(Open)-(Open)

Martinez-Pietrangelo
McNabb-Theodore
(Open)-Whitecloud

Lehner
Brossoit

Thus, there are reasonably five slots that could be interchangeable.

At forward, there are five players currently under one-way NHL contracts. William Carrier, Brett Howden, Keegan Kolesar, Nic Roy, and Patrick Brown. Then, there’s Nolan Patrick who is an RFA but will likely have a contract prior to Opening Night. Throw in the waiver-exempt Peyton Krebs, Jack Dugan, and Lucas Elvenes and we’re looking at a group of nine players with a chance of suiting up against the Seattle Kraken.

Roy is probably the closest player in this group to having a guaranteed spot in the lineup, especially considering his strong postseason and massive goal in Game 4 against the Canadiens.  The other three spots truly represent the only roster competition in VGK Training Camp.

Kolesar would seem to have the next strongest case considering he was protected against waivers for the entire 2020-21 season. His game certainly progressed over the year and there’s really no reason to believe they’d be willing to risk him on waivers this year when they were in an even tighter spot a year ago.

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