The NHL Trade Deadline is still 31 days away, but the Golden Knights have just 10 games before they have to make their decision on what to do.
Many of the question marks from the beginning of the season remain and a massive new one has popped up along the way. The health of Mark Stone will clearly be the most important determining factor as to the choices Vegas make at the deadline.
No matter where they are with Stone though, the Golden Knights’ place amongst the Western Conference will also play a part in the VGK front office’s decision-making. The numbers haven’t been pretty lately including 0-2-2 in the last four, 2-6-2 in the last 10, and 16-16-4 since the red-hot start. The Golden Knights currently sit in 2nd in the division and fourth in the conference, but are almost exactly as far from the playoff cut line as the top of the division in points percentage.
As was the case last year as the Golden Knights slipped down the standings around deadline day, there’s certainly an argument for the Golden Knights to hold or even sell before March 3rd. However, don’t expect that to happen.
It’s been eerily quiet since the Golden Knights season finale. There hasn’t been a peep from any of Vegas’ players, coaches, or executives since their postgame press conferences on Friday night. It’s almost as if The Creator and his staff are choosing the next Pope.
Without any knowledge of the conversations being held it’s impossible to guess which direction Vegas is heading. Whatever it may be, it was apparently obvious to many lineups across the NHL.
I had a few teams tell me today that Vegas was always a very together team. Through good and bad. This year was the first year they really saw them as a frustrated team. Doors slamming in games, players showing frustration or snapping at each other occasionally during games. I don’t want anyone to take that I think the Vegas Golden Knights all despise each other because I don’t know if that’s true. –Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast
It’s no secret, Golden Knights fans witnessed their team’s frustration almost weekly. That’ll happen with extensive injuries, poor performances, and a struggling power play. However, we can’t hear the doors slamming or snapping on the bench. Mark Stone and other team leaders keep their locker room tight but it’s hard to believe it felt the same without the captain for most of the year. Add in injuries to Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez and the chemistry had to have taken a hit.
When you’re losing and your season is slipping away that’s normal. Teams noticed it more this year. Was that just as frustration of the injuries and the season slipping away or is there any chance the fabric of this team has been changed and they have to address that. I don’t know. Teams noticed it this year, more than ever. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast
Friedman’s advice to the Golden Knights is to address the goaltending situation. Over the weekend, the Sportsnet reporter continued to stress that Robin Lehner’s frustration and season ending injuries were sensitive matters.
The number one thing they have to deal with is Lehner. People are telling me wait. This is not over. There’s still more to go here. What’s everyone going to say? This is going to take some skill and handling. There are the possibilities of aftershocks. Is this something that the league and the Players Association are going to have to get involved in? Depending on where all of this goes. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast
It doesn’t take a spyglass for an opposing team to hear or read about the tension between Lehner and the coaching staff down the stretch. It was on full display after Vegas’ late-season loss against the New Jersey Devils.
Is there a way to deal with this so that it can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction mentally, and physically, and emotionally without a series of aftershocks that further damage the franchise. If it’s not dealt with in a proper way it’s going to get worse before it gets better. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight, unfortunately without the Golden Knights. On the bright side, missing the cut allows Vegas more time in the offseason. A head start helps examine prospects, target free agents, trades or anything else they feel they need to get sorted out. The next few days will reveal what the organization’s plans are going forward. Lehner, DeBoer, slamming doors, and teammates snapping are areas that need immediate attention.
Last night the Golden Knights were officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Vegas failed in shootout for the third straight game, ending what was supposed to be a highly successful season. Over the past week, the team was desperate for points, and Logan Thompson, on no rest, gave them the best chance to succeed. It wasn’t ideal. Late season back-to-backs, four straight extended games, and endless pressure was one of the reasons the organization pleaded with Robin Lehner to play out the final few games.
He was unhappy with some of the criticism he was getting and being pulled. There were talks about how can we make this work, can you at least play through the season. Then he saw the doctors, he’s legitimately injured. They announced one surgery but I think there are two or three different injuries. –Elliotte Friedman, The Jeff Marek Show
Surely, had Lehner been available coach Pete DeBoer would have considered starting him against the Blackhawks. Or at the very least use him to support Thompson. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and the team was left with one option while Lehner prepares for season-ending surgery.
Lehner’s playing with two, possibly three really tough injuries. I just don’t know if it’s one thing or more than one thing. He’s left the team at times, he’s been injured at times. He’s tried to play through it, he’s competitive. It’s definitely effected his ability to be at his best. He’s not at his best but he’s competing. –Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast
Friedman reported the team had asked Lehner to finish out the season and fight through his injuries. I’m sure that’s a common conversation players have with coaches this time of year. In this case, Vegas’ goaltender was battling too many ailments to suit up. Playing through injuries and being publicly criticized must have annoyed and frustrated Lehner. Which shouldn’t surprise DeBoer or the front office.
It’s hard to imagine the Golden Knights without defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. The alternate captain has only played in 88 games with Vegas but feels like he’s been a part of the organization for much longer. That’s one of the reasons why he’s here. Pietrangelo is an owner’s dream, the ultimate pro on and off the ice, and understands where to set life’s priorities.
The 14-year-career veteran joined 32 Thoughts: The Podcast and shared his thoughts on Jack Eichel’s debut, Vegas’ depth, being a family man, and Chandler Stephenson winning suitcases full cash on Super Bowl Sunday.
Last night Vegas fell 2-0 to the highly-skilled Colorado Avalanche. The loss I’m sure stung but quickly healed after watching Eichel skate 17+ minutes in a playoff-type game against the West’s top team. It was the first step for Eichel and Pietrangelo towards their ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Las Vegas.
A player like Jack with the amount of skill that he has and the way the game is played now, as soon as he starts feeling more comfortable with the physicality after what he went through the skill will take over, the hockey sense will takeover and off he’ll go. I don’t think any of us expect it to be too long. He’ll still be an impact player right away but we all understand it’s going to take a little bit of time for him. Even if he feels 75% of where he was a year ago that it’s pretty darn good. –Pietrangelo on 32 Thoughts Podcast
At this moment, and over the next five seasons, both are arguably the two most important figures in the organization. Future championships will be won or lost with Eichel and Pietrangelo on the ice. Their success will be tied to the hip.
You can really see the skill level. The movement with the puck. The puck skill at high speed. You look at the goals he’s scored, the highlight reel goals. He’s doing everything at full speed. It’s only a compliment when you have players like Patch on the side, especially for a guy that shoots the way he does. That’s only going to be a better thing for Patch. He’s excited. It’s been a long time. –Pietrangelo on 32 Thoughts Podcast
Most likely, Eichel will have his “A” stitched on a jersey, maybe even by next season. If all targets are reached by the time their contracts expire, we could be looking at two retired numbers. Among others.
The former St. Louis Blues captain understands the adjustments that Eichel made going from one franchise to another. Having to build a foundation in a new city and get comfortable with a new coach’s systems at the same time. We pointed out several times last season when Pietrangelo looked out of sorts and how it affected certain games. When it all came together he was the Golden Knights’ most reliable player.
Over the weekend the Golden Knights became the big story around the league and I’m sure it caught them off guard. It was probably even more unsettling as the club was bonding and preparing for the long season ahead up in Montana at owner Bill Foley’s ranch. The tweet storm might have made for some awkward moments at team breakfast.
Let’s rewind to earlier last week when outspoken goaltender Robin Lehner joined the boys at Spittin’ Chiclets to chat about an array of topics. As Vegas fans have learned in a little more than a year, Lehner’s honesty is refreshing.
Tuesday, September 28th – Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast Released
Lehner discussed his status in net and how he professionally handled the Marc-Andre Fleury goaltending controversy.
I respect what he did actually, he stuck up for his client. It screwed me a bit. It wasn’t the greatest time… It turned up the heat. It really did. This is probably the most pressured season I’ve had coming into this year. It’s fueled by the narrative of how everything was left and the whole (Fleury) trade.-Robin Lehner on Spittin’ Chiclets
Lehner also spoke about the Jack Eichel injury standoff with Buffalo and had heavy criticism for the Sabres organization.
I hate it. I know they put investments into us but I still think your body is your body. End of story. If Eichel wants to make his surgery and they are scared of protecting their investment, how hard could it be to have him sign a waiver? Is something goes wrong he doesn’t get paid. It bothers me because Jack Eichel is a world class talent. We didn’t always see eye to eye but I respect him as a person. Am I saying this to trash the Sabres? No I’m not. If I wanted to hurt the Sabres I would have but they destroyed my ankle that year.- Lehner on Spittin’ Chiclets
The Golden Knights goaltender suggested the NHL has stale “dinosaur” type executives and coaches that control the league and push their agenda’s even though sports and the world have changed.
We’re all robots. Everyone says the same thing. I understand 20 years ago but it’s 2021 now. Am I going to tell a player to be open and honest now? I know a lot of people have but yes they’re going to be punished.-Lehner on Spittin’ Chiclets
Wednesday, September 29th – Lehner plays first preseason game
Lehner suited up for his first start of the preseason getting some important ice time. The #1 starter stopped 20 of 22 shots.
Friday, October 1st – Lehner tweets his feelings about the Jack Eichel situation in Buffalo
Lehner stressed that it should be the players choice when it comes to their body.
Where is the @nhlpa and all nhl players in all this attacks on our freedom of choice? Jack situation is crazy to me.. also people getting attacked by journalist that hides behind freedom of speech to trash peoples freedom of choice. When does the hypocrisy end? #lifeaftercareer
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reacts to Lehner’s tweets and suggested players shouldn’t be forced to tweet out internal information. Bettman also added that the league has services available to players.
We take his comments seriously and we’d like in short order to be in a conversation with him so we can hear his concerns directly and we’re going to follow up to see what merit there may be to his concerns. You don’t have to tweet to get our attention. We have an 800 number people can call. You can call us directly, we’re an open book. But if he has concerns we want to hear them and see how they need to be addressed.-Gary Bettman with SportsNet’s Jeff Marek
Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault responds to Lehner’s strong accusations.
I consider myself experienced. A dinosaur? You could say with experience you become a dinosaur maybe. But I do know I’ve been coaching a few years and I am tough, I am demanding but I care about my players. Through the years probably there are some guys who liked me and probably some a little less, but I’ve done it with the best intention (and) with respect.- Alain Vigneault, Flyers coach
Vigneault was confused and disappointed about the idea of him pushing prescription pills.
I was obviously very disappointed, as far as me pushing pills, I don’t need another income. I have no idea where that comes from. I don’t know what else to say. I have no idea.- Alain Vigneault, Flyers coach
Chances are the league and possibly the Golden Knights front office are scrambling to squash the accusations, but would also like to listen to Lehner’s concerns. Expect more developments to come down this week.
Before the announcement of the Golden Knights in 2016, professional sports seemed like a long shot in Las Vegas. Baseless theories of legal, local gambling influencing the outcome of games were used as excuses. When in reality, the thought of millionaire athletes risking their careers and future contracts to fix one game is, and was always, far-fetched.
Rewind five years, surprising to some the NHL took the risk and became the first league to crack the Las Vegas market. However, as revealed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman the NHL is still concerned with gambling and the integrity of the game but has nothing to do with Nevada. The league proved that last week when they harshly punished veteran official Tim Peel. The last thing the NHL could afford was a corrupt official like infamous NBA referee Tim Donaghy.
There were deep conversations about how damaging it is to your league during a crisis of consumer confidence. The CBA between the NHL and its officials now contains specific code-of-conduct references: ‘Each official agrees to abstain from habits of intemperance, gambling, immorality or other conduct likely to bring himself and/or the NHL and/or the game of Hockey into disrepute or which results in the impairment of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of NHL games or the integrity and good character of its officials.’ -Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts on Sportsnet
Last week the NHL quickly nipped a potential controversy in the bud when the official’s hot mic became a major story.
Initially, the story had absolutely nothing to do with gambling, but because of past issues in other sports, the NHL made a tough stand to ensure fans their product is genuine. Without transparency, gambling on hockey could be eliminated, and sadly to say, the interest in the sport would decrease significantly, not to mention millions in lost endorsement money for the league.
Last year it was Erik Haula, Colin Miller, and Nikita Gusev. This year it was Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt. Cap casualties. Players the Golden Knights had to give away for basically nothing in order to remain under the cap.
The Golden Knights have been toeing the salary cap line for the past few years and it looks like that dance is going to get even more difficult over the next half-decade.
If the players owe us more money than anybody imagined, the salary cap could well be flat or close to flat for the next five or six years, and players into the future will be repaying what we’re owed. –Gary Bettman at Sports Business Journal panel
It’s essentially a threat from Bettman to NHL players that if they aren’t willing to make some amendments to the agreement put in place a few months ago, the cap isn’t going up for the foreseeable future.
It sounds like a nightmare, but according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, many are already preparing for it.
I think that’s what people are expecting. I think teams have been preparing for that for a while and even the agents are preparing for that. That this cap isn’t going to move anywhere for a while. –Friedman on VGK Insider Show
The Golden Knights certainly do not appear to be one of those teams who have prepared for it. They just signed a 30-year old defenseman to a deal scheduled to pay him $8.8 million per year against the cap until he’s 38. Along with lengthy deals to Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Robin Lehner, the Golden Knights currently have nearly $40 million committed to just six players each of the next five seasons.
It’s clear the NHL is in a financial crunch. Unlike the other major pro sports leagues in North America, hockey is trying to scrounge up coins buried deep in couch cushions. The league and its players need to find ways to grow revenue and it needs to happen soon. Some have suggested the Seattle Kraken organization pay half of their entry fee now to help the league get through tough times. Others have suggested extending the postseason, but there’s one that stuck out as an easy, smart way to make a buck.
If I was a player, I’d be talking about expanded playoffs and ads on jerseys. Bettman has said in the past the number has got to be worth it. Something small in a corner but enough that you know it’s there. No more of this it’s tradition… It’s time. –Elliotte Friedman on 31 Thoughts Podcast
I tend to lean more towards the traditional side of sports. I don’t want robot officials, I can’t stand visiting teams wearing their white sweaters and I hate advertisements on team jerseys. That’s up until now. The 2020-21 season is on the line and whatever the league can do to make it work, needs to happen.
It’s true jersey advertisements break tradition. They can potentially tarnish an already perfect team sweater by making it look cheap and commercialized. Overall it’s bad idea, but in this economy making money is all that counts. Especially if revenue from jersey sponsorships can get this NHL season off the ground. Using the NBA as an example, corporate ads can bring in bags full of cash.
So far, 19 of the 30 NBA teams have teamed up with an advertiser… The Warriors are getting $20 million a year for three years for the Rakuten ad on the upper left chest of their jerseys… –Steven Kutz, MarketWatch
The issue with business sponsorships on jerseys is finding the right fit, for the right cost. Most importantly, how to make sure they don’t become an on-ice eyesore.
It was the biggest signing of the offseason, changing the landscape of the NHL. When Alex Pietrangelo signed his seven-year deal with the Golden Knights the league wildly reacted to the deal and its effect on the franchise.
They don’t lack for boldness. The end of the road map for them, like every team is the Cup. Their path seems to be a lot more direct. I don’t know if it’s going to work. They’re dancing on a wire… The Stastny thing I guess opens the door for Cody Glass. If you take Stastny and Schmidt out of the lineup and just put in Pietrangelo, I don’t know how much better they are. I think Pietrangelo is really good, but you’re taking on two pretty important players. I really don’t know what to think of it.-Ray Ferraro, TSN on TSN1050
Another pundit, however, understood the mindset of the Golden Knights front office aggressive nature.
They’re a no nonsense franchise. They’re all about winning. That’s what Mr. Foley their owner is about. They make no bones about it. George McPhee is all about that. Kelly McCrimmon’s about that… They hate San Jose. They don’t dislike San Jose, they hate San Jose. When Pete DeBoer got fired by San Jose, the team they hated the most and probably the coach they hated the most they hired him because they thought he gave them the best chance to win. They’re about winning they don’t worry about all the other stuff, the window dressing. It’s not everybody gets a trophy in this league. They’re a hard edge organization.-Pierre McGuire, NBCSN to TSN1200
By this point Golden Knights fans are aware of the front office’s hard edge, win at all costs mentality. The massive commitment to Pietrangelo proved that, as well as the difficult decisions to trade Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny.
I heard the deal in Vegas was going to be 7x$8.5M. It came out 7x$8.8M. It’s got the no move protection. I’ve been told it has the protection that Pietrangelo wanted. The buyout protection later in the deal it’s there, in the form of a signing bonus. I heard it was a grind… I do think there were some other teams that wanted to get in on Pietrangelo but I don’t think Vegas was going to let that happen. No matter how grindy the negotiations got, he was their target, he was the guy they wanted. I think Vegas was always Pietrangelo’s first choice.-Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts Podcast
Friedman relayed some of the information he gathered surrounding Pietrangelo and gave detail to why certain players in the organization were irate hearing their names circling around the rumor mill.
Yesterday was a tough day for the NHL and their attempt to award a 2020 Stanley Cup champion. News broke that the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily shut down their facilities due to three players and two staff members testing positive for Covid-19. The anxiety escalated even more when it was reported that Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews tested positive as well. Leaving fans concerned for the players and their return to the ice.
Locally, it’s been quiet. According to GM Kelly McCrimmon, none of the Golden Knights players have contracted or been exposed to the coronavirus.
Since NHL clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19… All players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. The NHL will provide a weekly update on the numbers of tests administered to players and the results of those tests. The league will not be providing information on the identity of the players or their clubs. -NHL PR
With the latest news from around the league, the question around Las Vegas is how will this affect the Golden Knights and their preparations?
So far 11 NHL players have tested positive since June 8th. However, over 200 players have been tested multiple times and results came back negative. While the positive test news may sound grim, it doesn’t appear it will delay the opening of training camps scheduled to begin on July 10th. Even if more players fall ill, according to the league it won’t impact the Golden Knights groundwork.
The league had a conference call with all of the general managers tonight, and I think the word is ‘let’s see where this goes.’ I don’t think there’s any movement at this point in time of changing the opening of camps on July 10th. I think they’ve set it so the final day of the Stanley Cup Final, if it happens on schedule is October 5th. -Elliotte Friedman, SportsNet