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ESPN Questions VGK’s Future After Standing Pat In Offseason

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights entered the All-Star break with the fifth best record in the Western Conference and sit in second place in the Pacific Division. Considering their obstacles the reigning Stanley Cup champions should feel good about where they stand through 50 games. However, the worldwide leader in sports has doubts that Vegas’ roster is built to repeat.

Vegas failed to add or change much in the offseason following its Stanley Cup victory. Now, standing pat looks like a questionable call. The Golden Knights have fizzled following a hot start, with predictable problems piling up for a team susceptible to fatigue. This is when a lack of fresh legs can become one major regret. –Kristen Shilton on ESPN.com

The Golden Knights were indeed relatively quiet in the offseason. They took care of their unsigned players and added outside depth to the organization. Michael Amadio, Ivan Barbashev, Adin Hill, Brett Howden, and others were offered summertime extensions. No NHL players of significance were signed off the open market. It’s unfair to grade any of the Golden Knights acquisitions at the moment due to injuries, juggled lineups, and on-the-fly chemistry.

The front office did make news by trading original misfit Reilly Smith to Pittsburgh for some cap relief. Overall, their offseason transactions weren’t notable enough to make ESPN’s bottom scroll but they were the necessary decisions coming off a championship run. Since the blueprint was to repeat with the same weapons, the organization didn’t need to look too far.

ESPN’s argument for fresh legs has some credence to it though. Right now Vegas could use healthy, impactful, and lesser worn-down players in their lineup instead of a slew of Silver Knights. Local fans have enjoyed seeing the pipeline grow but Vegas is a championship team built around veterans.

It’s reasonable for the Golden Knights to feel comfortable running out the same lineup to start the year. Their plan might have included a retool at the March deadline if needed. It’s looking like they will. A deadline option could be a way to get fresh legs and outside impact in the lineup.

(Sean) Monahan has enormous respect around the league for how much he’s come back from. This was a guy who a couple of years ago, people were thinking is he going to be able to continue playing. Not only is he playing, he’s thriving. –Elliotte Friedman on Hocey Night In Canada

Some names that are circulating are Anaheim’s Adam Henrique, Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel, and the aforementioned Sean Monahan. Is Vegas in desperate need of any of them? Likely not, but an extra weapon for a deep playoff run could boost up a tired team attempting to repeat as league champions.

Are the folks at ESPN right to question Vegas’ offseason inactivity? On the surface, sure. However, Vegas is still in a position of power. They’re looking like they’ll land in a desired playoff spot and will hopefully be fully healthy. And we all know how magical it can be when the Golden Knights have their full lineup.

“The Question Is Just When” VGK Will Make A Trade Deadline Add

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.

That Vegas thing, they are really struggling and I think they are going to do something, the question is just when. –Elliotte Friedman on 32 Thoughts Podcast

Friedman has thrown out a few names for Vegas but the two he’s keyed in on are a pair of forwards from the St. Louis Blues.

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VGK’s Frustration Visibly Noticeable To Opponents

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

Organization Requested Injured Lehner For Failed Stretch Run

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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.

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Pietrangelo Discusses Eichel’s Impact, VGK Depth And Post Hockey Career

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

Mr. Stephenson won the two big squares. He walked away, it was a good day for him let’s just say that. –Pietrangelo on 32 Thoughts Podcast

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.

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Timeline – Robin Lehner Speaks Out

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

  • Lehner also shows disappointment with the NHL Players union and their silence.

Saturday, October 2nd – Lehner tweets picture of ankle from his injuries in Buffalo

  • Lehner accuses Buffalo of screwing up his ankle and pushing pain killers.

https://twitter.com/robinlehner/status/1444348543330828290?s=21

Sunday, October 3rd – Lehner calls out Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault for his tactics handling injured players

  • Lehner labels Vigneault a dinosaur coach and calls for his firing.

  • Lehner accuses Vigneault, the Flyers and other organizations for irresponsibly handing players prescription drugs.

Monday, October 4th – SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman tweets the league is aware of Lehner’s accusations

  • The NHL would like to have a conversation with Vegas’ netminder.

  • 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.

Golden Knights Have Helped Keep The Integrity Of The Game

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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