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Carp: An Appreciation Of Greatness

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

It has been an interesting week to say the least for the Golden Knights — both on and off the ice.

There was the celebration of a rival’s personal accomplishment. There was the clinching of a fourth consecutive playoff spot. There was an underwhelming response by the NHL and none from the team in the wake of the conviction of the police officer who murdered an unarmed African-American. And at the top of the list, a lengthy impromptu vent by a player to the league’s protocols as it pertains to COVID-19 that wound up going national.

Oh, and the team won a franchise-record ninth straight game Saturday.

But lost in all of that is the franchise’s most popular player inched closer to another milestone. And unless something crazy happens, we will see the spotlight once again shine upon Marc-Andre Fleury as he looks to continue his climb up the NHL’s all-time goaltender wins ladder.

Fleury currently has 487 wins and sits in fourth place on the career victories list. Roberto Luongo, who has 489 Ws and is No. 3, is in his sights. Fleury is scheduled to play Wednesday against Colorado, in what is a huge game for obvious reasons, and again Saturday at Arizona. He can tie Luongo with a pair of wins. That would leave only Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur ahead of Fleury — the two goalies he idolized as a kid growing up in Sorel, Quebec. Brodeur has 691 wins. It’s unlikely Fleury, or anyone else for that matter, catches him.

Roy? He has 551 victories. That number is within reach for Fleury if he can continue to play for a couple more years and have success.

The Knights have nine games left in this truncated 56-game season. Fleury will likely start in four of them, perhaps more if Peter DeBoer decides to use him in additional games. If he wins three of the four, he’ll have 490 going into next season, the final year of his VGK contract. He’ll be 37 on Nov. 28. But with Fleury, age is truly just a number. He is having one of the best seasons of his career this year and barring an unforeseen drop-off in performance, he can work his way to closing the gap between himself and Roy in half.

What would make the chase problematic for Fleury would be if the Knights chose not to resign him after 2022 and he went to a team which didn’t perform as well. He’d be 38 by then and who knows where his skill set will be at that point.

Right now, he’s in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. The joy has returned and when Fleury is having fun, he is tough to beat.

So we’re going to have to see what develops in the coming months. But this much we know: He’s had a remarkable career to date. He’s a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He owns three Stanley Cup rings and maybe he gets a fourth this year. He has been the face of the Golden Knights franchise from the day the team took him in the NHL expansion draft in June 2017. I will always remember the roar inside the Fortress when it was announced the team selected him and that love for Fleury has never abated.

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How Often Do Top 10 Picks See 3rd Season With AHL Appearance?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the 6th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and the first player ever drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights, Cody Glass was instantly thrust into the spotlight.

That light got even brighter after the other two first round selections by the Golden Knights were each traded in separate deals netting Vegas Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Glass was the only one left and with the success the team was having on the ice, he’s long represented the only real blue-chip prospect in the Vegas system.

The Golden Knights were purposely patient with Glass. He played his 20-year-old season in the WHL. Since, he’s spent the majority of time in the NHL, but a pair of recent demotions to the minors leaves his spot on the roster for this playoff run in question. This current trip to the AHL marks the third consecutive season the #6 overall pick has played in the minor leagues, which had me wondering, is this common?

To try and help answer that question, I went through every Top 10 selection from the 10 drafts prior to when Glass was picked. I wanted to see how many players played in the AHL at all, how many have made multiple trips back after reaching the NHL, and how many remained with their original team after a third stint in the AHL.

We’ll start with the likelihood a Top 10 pick plays in the AHL at all. Of the 100 players selected in the Top 10 between 2007 and 2016, 39 went straight to the NHL from their junior, college, or European teams while 61 saw AHL action. Of the 39, 26 of them were selected in the Top 5. So, that means 37 of the 50 players selected from picks #6 to #10 played in the AHL at some point.

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Cody Glass Opens Up About His Brief Return To The AHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At different points this season the Golden Knights have had to make difficult decisions due to the salary cap. When fully healthy, Vegas is within a couple hundred thousand dollars of the $81.5 million limit with just 19 players on the active roster.

Early in the year, they experimented with a lineup of 13 forwards and five defensemen. At other times they’ve taken advantage of the emergency exception rules in the CBA that allow a team to exceed the cap. But when every avenue has been exhaust and Vegas wants to ice a standard 12/6/2 lineup, it’s typically been Cody Glass as the odd-man-out.

There are multiple reasons for this, a big one not related to his play on the ice. Due to his age and contract status, Glass is the only forward on the Golden Knights’ normal roster that is waiver exempt. Thus, he can freely travel between the NHL, the taxi squad, and the AHL without ever being at risk of being claimed by another team. The same cannot be said for players like Keegan Kolesar, Nic Roy, William Carrier, Ryan Reaves, or Tomas Nosek.

However, performance on the ice has played a factor in some of the decisions surrounding Glass. To put it bluntly, Glass simply hasn’t been good enough to force himself onto the roster at all times. That’s definitely not to say he’s been bad, or is even among the poorest performing players on the team (he’s definitely not), but when a decision has to be made, he hasn’t made enough of an impact to compel the front office to make a different choice.

This most recent instance was unlike any prior one though. When Alex Pietrangelo returned from LTIR, Vegas once again needed to clear space. Like before, Glass found himself on the outside looking in, however this time, instead of assigning him to the taxi squad, he was sent to the AHL… to actually play.

I just wanted to see him get a little more confidence 5-on-5. So we’d like him to go down there and play games, contribute and be an offensive player, come back and give us some juice when he returns. –Kelly McCrimmon to Las Vegas Sun

Unlike previous situations where he was assigned to the taxi squad and remained with the NHL team, this time they were looking for improvement. This time, they were sending a message about his play at the NHL level.

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The Roster Juggle Rolls On

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights are so close to the cap that the first five games this season are the only in their 240 regular season game history in which they’ve gone without a single healthy scratch.

On top of the limited roster, each night they’ve had to decide which of three options they hate the least. Waive Keegan Kolesar and likely lose his rights to another team, bench Cody Glass, or dress a lineup with just five defensemen.

Through five games, they are in an excellent position with a 4-1-0 record, but one has to wonder how long will this charade continue, especially if it continues to look like it’s catching up with them as it did last night.

Clearly, benching Cody Glass is not in the best interest for either the Golden Knights or Glass. He needs to develop into the team’s 2nd best center or at least a high-end 3C before the trade deadline, otherwise, he’ll need to be replaced. Playing sparingly won’t help his development nor will it give the team enough data to draw the necessary conclusions this season.

Leaving Glass in the lineup leads to taking Nic Hague out and forcing the defense to play a man down. Game 5 of the season was the third time the Golden Knights have used the 13/5 lineup. Unsurprisingly, these are the three games in which the Golden Knights have struggled most defensively, especially in the 2nd period when it’s more challenging for defensemen to change.

Vegas has allowed five 2nd period goals when they have five defensemen and just two when they have six. Aside from goals, they’ve had more trouble breaking out, they’ve turned the puck over more often, there have been more odd-man rushes against, and just as a whole they haven’t been nearly as good.

It’s actually impacted their offense as well. In the two games with six defensemen, Vegas has seen three goals and five assists from blue liners, while the defensemen have chipped in just one goal and five assists over the three games with five on D.

It’s definitely different. You are rotating through partners and you can’t exactly get into the rhythm with one guy. -Shea Theodore

Theodore went on to say they can’t really use it as an excuse, but the eye test and the stats bore out that they are indeed better across the board with six defensemen rather than five, albeit in a tiny sample.

But really, there’s no way the Golden Knights can solve this issue with the current roster construction which should have all eyes focused on the front office. How long are they going to let this continue? What will it take to force a change?

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Why I’m In Favor Of Scratching Cody Glass To Save Keegan Kolesar From Waivers

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It should have happened for the first two games. Now it’s happening tonight.

I’m talking about the decision to send Cody Glass to the AHL/taxi squad, and thus take him out of the lineup, inserting Nic Hague into the defense, and keeping Keegan Kolesar on the active roster and away from waivers.

Due to the massive offseason move of signing Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights spent every day between the moment they lost to the Stars to Opening Night 2021 over the cap. We knew some “salary cap gymnastics” were going to be necessary to make the team compliant before the first game against the Ducks.

They came on the final day of Training Camp. The Golden Knights waived Nick Holden, risking losing him to another team for nothing, then released a peculiar looking roster of 13 forwards, five defensemen, and two goalies. Vegas went on to play two games voluntarily down a defenseman and pulled out a pair of wins to start the season.

Admittedly, the Golden Knights were not in love with the idea of playing short a d-man, but their willingness to do it proved they believed it was necessary.

Why? While we don’t have an answer to that question on the record, we have a pretty good educated guess. That guess is that the Golden Knights have knowledge that if they placed Keegan Kolesar on waivers he would get claimed by another team.

How do they know this? Again, another educated guess, but GM’s talk to each other often, and the Golden Knights were probably one of the most active teams this offseason trying to maneuver their roster after signing Pietrangelo. Somewhere in one of those conversations, there was likely a clue that another team coveted Kolesar. If someone’s willing to trade for a 23-year-old forward with limited NHL experience and a league minimum contract, they’ll certainly be willing to scoop him up for free if he hits waivers.

So, the Golden Knights avoided it. Now, two games in, they are still trying to avoid it, but the options remain limited.

They could continue with five defensemen, but through two games, the Golden Knights have the two league leaders in average time on ice per game and all five defensemen rank in the top 15 across the entire NHL. For now, that’s fine, but over the course of an entire season (especially one that is as tightly packed as this one), that’s not a viable long-term option.

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Can Vegas Put Postseason Scoring Drought Behind Them In 2021?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Over their history, the Golden Knights have scored a total of 877 franchise goals, 738 in the regular season, 139 in the playoffs. In 238 regular season games, Vegas’ average comes out to 3.14 goals scored per game. In all three seasons, Vegas tallied more than the league average, and are ranked 8th in the NHL in goals since their inception.

The big offseason question was can the Golden Knights score enough in year four, and most importantly, in the playoffs?

2017-18: 268 Goals, 3.26 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
2018-19: 246 Goals, 3.00 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 25 Goals, 3.57 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
2019-20: 224 goals, 3.15 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)

Coming into the Vancouver series, the Golden Knights were on a torrid offensive pace. Three round-robin games and a five-game whooping of the Blackhawks had Vegas scoring at a 3.75 goals per game clip. Then, it hit the skids. In 12 postseason games against Vancouver and Dallas, the #1 seed in the Western Conference averaged only 2.25 goals per game. In the last eight games, they scored just 12 goals or 1.5 per game.

After the season, it was mostly written off publicly by players, coaches, and the office as just a rough patch and a pair of hot goalies The offseason was centered around one major move, though one that should help the team offensively.

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Most Indispensable Golden Knights In 2020-21

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As the Golden Knights roster continues to churn, the balance of importance on that roster changes with it. Many guys who were once the most vital on the team are no longer here and other stars have stepped into their places.

So, when discussing which players are the most indispensable for the Golden Knights this season, the exercise is not as simple as it would seem. The great Kevin Iole, Jason, and I had a discussion about this very topic and realized the options are so plentiful that we had to bring it to the site. We each picked three and between us we came up with six different players.

3rd Most Indispensable
Kevin – Cody Glass
Jason – Robin Lehner
Ken – Mark Stone

Kevin – The 2017 NHL Entry Draft was loaded at the top. Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson are already elite NHL players. The Golden Knights’ thought Glass would be a player of that caliber and jumped on him when he was available at No. 6.

Now, Paul Stastny has been traded and they need someone to plug into that second line. The best way it could work out for the Golden Knights is if Glass could finally live up to his draft status. He showed glimpses last year, but wasn’t able to stay healthy and went long stretches while doing little.

If he comes up big and the Golden Knights can put Chandler Stephenson on a third line with Alex Tuch and Nic Roy, they can create a huge match-up problem with the third line while have two very strong top lines.

If Glass struggles, Stephenson moves up to center one of the top two and the third line suddenly isn’t as much of a scoring threat. Glass’ success will tell much about the kind of season the VGK will having in 2021.

Jason – Is this a trick question? Of course, it’s Lehner, without him the Golden Knights don’t have a goaltender. Sure, they have two now but by the time the season begins Fleury will be gone, leaving Lehner as the only starting goaltender in Vegas. I understand we were told by the Golden Knights that the plan on keeping both goalies but I don’t see that happening. In a shortened season, a condensed schedule may require a sturdy backup but how many nights do they plan on sitting Lehner? 10-15 games? The 29-year-old has started more than 34 games in the last four seasons, so it doesn’t make sense to relieve him with an expensive backup like Fleury?

Both sides have said the right thing over the past few months but in reality, keeping both isn’t good business. If the Golden Knights are seriously trying to win the Stanley Cup it won’t be by spending $12M in net. They’re too smart for that. And with that, Robin Lehner’s presence in the VGK lineup is paramount.

Ken – I originally had Lehner, for all the reasons Jason spelled out, plus the fact that losing him for any amount of time would further the lunacy of keeping them both. But, while both goalies are on the roster, I just couldn’t bring myself to rank Lehner above Mark Stone.

Stone has been the engine of the team since the moment he got here at the deadline in 2018-19. When he’s scoring or helping others score, the Golden Knights are basically unbeatable. Think back to the Sharks series. He drops 10 points in the first four games and VGK leads 3-1. Goes silent in Games 5 and 6 and they lose them both. (He had two points in Game 7, which still remains a win in my book.)

Yes, the Golden Knights have replacements, but no one can do what he can do. The season isn’t over if they lose Stone, but you can forget about winning the Cup if he’s not out there and dominating.

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