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Bruce Cassidy Joins VGK’s List Of Coaching Candidates

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This week former Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy officially joined the available coaching class of 2022. With several other highly regarded head coaches on the market, you’d have to imagine the same suitors are reaching out to Cassidy, including the Golden Knights.

The 57-year old coach has strong ties to the Golden Knights organization. George McPhee hired Cassidy to his first NHL head coaching job in 2002. Subsequently, McPhee ended up firing the freshman coach after 110 games behind the bench. Cassidy was a young coach at the time and McPhee was known for his quick trigger finger. It was somewhat of a disaster.

Over the years the two matured and became successful NHL statesmen. However, both are still seeking their first championship.

It’s exhilarating to have that opportunity and that’s my goal to get my name on the Stanley Cup. –Bruce Cassidy on Zoom call with reporters

Some of the complaints McPhee dealt with in Washington were Cassidy’s inability to communicate with certain veterans and the amount of pressure he placed on young players. Both knocks followed him nearly two decades later to Boston. Thankfully, the Golden Knights are a roster full of desperate, hungry veterans.

However, Cassidy disputed the accusations that he’s hard on younger players in his recent Zoom chat with the Boston media.

When I came on board, we changed a lot of the players and we infused our team with a lot of young talent; Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, Pasta was still young, Grzelcyk, Carlo, McAvoy. And I think a lot of those guys have gone and had real nice careers. I’m very proud of my record with young guys. –Cassidy on Zoom call with reporters

20 years later things are much, much different. Cassidy has successfully built up a strong resume, coaching the Bruins to the playoffs six times in six seasons. Including, an appearance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals.

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Golden Knights In No Hurry To Hire Next Head Coach

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A big decision is coming for the Golden Knights as they look to hire their third head coach in six seasons. Most are focused on the “who” and that will clearly be the most important part of it all, but what about the “when.”

Going back through the history of the franchise, this is a unique situation for Vegas. Their first coach, Gerard Gallant, was hired in April of 2017, nearly 10 months after GM at the time George McPhee joined the team. The other coach hire happened simultaneously with the firing of Gallant. The Golden Knights didn’t even play a single game with an interim head coach. Gallant’s last game was on a Tuesday in Buffalo and Pete DeBoer was behind the bench in Ottawa on Thursday.

The Golden Knights announced they released DeBoer on Monday of last week. It was two weeks after their season officially came to a close and nearly five months until their next meaningful game.

It’ll be lengthier. That’s what the offseason allows you to do. We’ll be thorough. We’ll look at all the candidates we can identify. We’ll work with people in our organization that have past affiliations with coaches or ideas. We’ll solicit opinions from our pro staff and our amateur staff and people that are in the game at different levels. We’ll identify who the candidates are and go through an interview process. -Kelly McCrimmon

While McCrimmon is right that the offseason allows for plenty more patience in the search, there are still some time restraints based on the competitiveness of the coaching market and the NHL’s offseason calendar.

The biggest such date is the opening of the new league year on July 13th. It’s crucial because every contract set to expire this summer does so on that date. One would think the decisions on pending free agents in the Golden Knights’ system and ones soon to hit the open market from other teams would be something you’d want the new head coach in on.

Not important at all. You need to be reasonable. The person needs to move a family, the person needs to hire a staff and get set up. But in terms of preparation for the amateur draft or free agency, it’s not essential. It may well be (that we hire a coach before), but we’re not bound by any dates in the short term. -McCrimmon

So, buckle up, the Golden Knights could be coachless for a while.

Understanding Ownership’s Role In DeBoer Firing

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The Golden Knights have officially made their first big move of the offseason. Firing head coach Pete DeBoer is a clear sign that despite the consistent injury excuse Vegas found 2021-22 unacceptable.

Following the year, The Creator went on record saying he was going to be more vocal and proactive in helping his team regain their identity.

I’ve always been invited to all the meetings. They take my input, but I try and stand aside when everyone is convinced something needs to be done. This time, after all these years, I’ve got a few specific ideas of things that I believe need to be accomplished. If I’m being very transparent, I’m going to be active. –The Creator to LVRJ

In the same interview, he took one type of adjustment to the team off the table.

Foley said he met this past week with general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who will return for his fourth season in that role, and does not anticipate dramatic changes to the roster. –Dave Schoen, Las Vegas Review Journal

The biggest move a team can make from a non-player perspective is removing the head coach. Vegas did that, so naturally, it makes sense that it came from the big man himself. Those suspicions were confirmed in a recent article from The Athletic.

Several external sources suggested the main impetus for the coaching change came from owner Bill Foley. –Eric Duhatschek, The Athletic

But then there was the press conference with Kelly McCrimmon explaining the move. And in his words, it didn’t go that way at all.

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New VGK Coach Will Have A Chance To Win But Won’t Have Long

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Following the release of Pete DeBoer, the Golden Knights are set to hire their third coach in team history. DeBoer coached a total of 160 games with Vegas, won 98 of them, and amassed a .650 winning percentage. He was fired with a winning record like his predecessor Gerard Gallant. VGK’s first coach was behind the bench for 213 game, registered 118 victories, and a .601 win percentage. All in all, the average lifespan of a Golden Knights coach is 186.5 games or 2.2 seasons.

I can’t say I was surprised. Peter DeBoer is an excellent coach but things kind of went sideways down the stretch. It was more than just injuries. The way certain things were handled there was a lot of discussion about that. I actually felt that they might need to change the GM. It seemed unlikely they would be back together. -Brian Lawton on NHL Network

After Gallant was fired the organization expressed to fans that he was “basic” and “wasn’t the right fit.” Now, VGK enthusiasts are told the players “need of a new voice.” No wonder Golden Knights fans are apprehensive the same front office that hired and fired two head coaches, will get it right the third time around.

DeBoer’s firing is another example of the front office being impatient, indecisive, and masters of disguise. Twice now, after some adversity, the Golden Knights made the quick decision to find a replacement instead of standing behind their coach. The organization tried two different styles and despite “nothing but success” were unsatisfied with both. And without fail, the organization’s sleight of hand fooled fans into believing DeBoer was safe.

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McPhee Not Concerned About Lehner/DeBoer Relationship Because “People Get Over It”

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The saga at the end of the season between the pipes for the Golden Knights was, well, messy.

It started with Robin Lehner fighting reports of his injuries publicly and it ended with him serving as the backup in a must-win game when he had already decided his season was over and he’d undergo shoulder surgery.

In between, there were soft goals, scathing public comments about his play, a goalie pull during a tie game, a press release about a maintenance day, and a whole lot of speculation.

It’s the second time in three seasons with Pete DeBoer behind the VGK bench that drama about the goalie has marred the end of a season. At least this time there weren’t any graphic memes on Twitter.

So now, the focus turns to the simple question of “can Pete DeBoer and Robin Lehner coexist as head coach and starting goalie of this team?”

During his postseason media availability, DeBoer detailed his entire decision-making process during the final few weeks of the season and even went as far as to express regret that he used the term “healthy” about Lehner down the stretch. He then pointed to the situation as the main reason why it got so contentious.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s friction at the end of a tough season between coaches and players or even players and players. Everyone’s frustrated, everyone’s pushing, there’s lots of tough conversations that are had down the stretch in those situations and you are pushing people to max amount because we need it. This isn’t something that’s unique to us or our group or Robin Lehner. -DeBoer

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Ownership’s Decision To Take More Vocal Role Could Be Best Solution For Golden Knights Identity Problem

What was once the best story in professional sports has turned into arguably the NHL’s most loathed. From the subjects of a heart-warming documentary to the butt end of collective hatred from fans across North America, the Golden Knights have done a complete 180. Now, they enter an offseason in which they have to decide what’s next.

The Golden Knights are at a critical juncture regarding the state of the franchise as a whole. It goes much deeper than just missing the playoffs or finding themselves in the middle of a few eccentric situations over the course of the turbulent 2021-22 season.

This franchise must figure out what it was then, what it is now, and what it wants to be moving forward. And this offseason stands as the most important in team history as they attempt to do just that while untying the complicated salary cap knot they voluntarily stepped into.

From the outside looking in, it’s clear how different things have become. But from the inside speaking out, there appeared to be a bit of a murkier view.

Comments from the general manager, head coach, captain, and many key players indicated a bit of a woe-is-me-type atmosphere. For each question about what went wrong, the solution was always the same, better health. Or in other words, better luck, something beyond anyone’s control.

That was until The Creator stepped forward recently in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal’s David Schoen.

We’ve got to get better. And we will be better next year. We might have lost a little personality over the last few years with some of the things that have happened. Our goal is to get back to this identity of never giving up, never giving in, and being a team. I believe we did move away from that identity somewhat with all the changes that have been made and the constant machinations. –The Creator to LVRJ

The Golden Knights’ owner vowed to be much more hands-on in solving this problem.

I’d say we’re going to be a team now that we’re ‘Ready, aim, fire’ not ‘Ready, fire, aim.’ We’re going to be careful. That’s a big priority for me, and I’m going to be involved in it. I’ve got a few specific ideas of things that I believe need to be accomplished. If I’m being very transparent, I’m going to be active. –The Creator to LVRJ

It’s a stark contrast to the words of one of his top lieutenants, general manager Kelly McCrimmon.

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VGK’s Collective Failure Began In Early January

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Since January 1st, the Golden Knights were statistically one of the worst teams in the NHL. Over the last four months, Vegas finished in the bottom ten in; Wins, Regulation Wins, Goals For, Goals Per Game, 5-on-5 Shooting Percentage, Losses When Outshooting Opponents, Wins When Outshooting Opponents, Goals Scored in 1st Period, Goals Scored in 2nd Period, Power Play Percentage, Penalties Drawn, Hits, Shootout Win Percentage, and Wins When Trailing First.

Incredibly enough, they only finished a few points behind the final Wild Card spot.

We got to camp and we were never at full health. You’re tired of hearing it, I’m tired of talking about it for as much as we have but clearly it’s the overarching issue that dominated our season. -McCrimmon

The numbers not only show Vegas was a below-average team in the second half of the season but struggled in a myriad of offensive statistics. Leading the way was the Golden Knights’ now notorious inadequate power play. Yet the organization is looking beyond the numbers.

I have great faith in the coaching. I’m not absolving responsibility on us as coaches either. We’re going to look at everything and I think we showed that in what we did during the season. We changed responsibilities, we had different voices, different looks. We’re going to keep looking at this until we get it right and I’m confident we will. -Pete DeBoer

Of course, it was an unfortunate, injury-plaqued season but it’s fair to ask if coach Pete DeBoer and his assistants adjusted enough in the final four months. Did the staff design or tweak enough to help generate more offense in the first 40 minutes of games? Unfortunately, it felt like DeBoer stuck with having “great faith” in what most would consider status quo.

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Injuries Aren’t An Excuse, They Were The Plan (And The Plan Failed)

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When the Golden Knights step up to the podium at 9:30am Tuesday to address the media in what is known as “locker-cleanout day,” the most common words that will be used are “injuries” and “health.”

In an attempt to excuse away the worst underachieving season of VGK’s first five, players, coaches, management, and the owner (if he chooses to speak), will point to the enormous number of “man-games lost” by the Golden Knights this season.

On its face, it’s true, the number is monstrous. By my count, the Golden Knights lost 508 games due to injury this season. A number rivaled only by some of the worst teams in the league, Montreal, Arizona, Philadelphia, and Buffalo.

However, that 508 number bothers me, because it’s self-serving. It acts as an excuse for a team that purposely positioned itself to rack up such an insane number.

When the Golden Knights entered the 2021-22 season, they did so with a roster that was nearly $5 million over the salary cap. They were allowed to do this because they came into the year with multiple players unable to play the very first game of the season. Alex Tuch, William Carrier, Nic Roy, and Brett Howden were all unavailable due to injury. In fact, Tuch’s injury dates back to May 2021 and it was well-known throughout the offseason that he would miss at least the first 30 games of the year.

Vegas saw this as an opportunity, not a pitfall. They knew that under the current rules of the CBA they could stash players on long-term injured reserve in order to bolster the roster beyond the allowable $81.5 million salary cap. So, that’s what they did to start the year.

Then, when Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty were sidelined early in the season, they sought out a trade for Jack Eichel, who was injured himself. Once again, in no way could, or would, the Golden Knights ever be able to field a legal roster with what the players they currently had under contract plus Eichel, but with multiple players on the shelf, the opportunity was ripe to continue utilizing LTIR to reinforce the roster.

The trade brought hopes and dreams that one day a roster of Eichel, Stone, Pacioretty, Alex Pietrangelo, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Robin Lehner, and the rest of the Golden Knights would see the ice togehter and take the NHL by storm. But, it was never possible, or legal, in the regular season. The only way to keep that fantasy alive was to rack up massive numbers of man-games lost.

In many ways, the 508 man-games lost are the only reason the Golden Knights were considered a Cup contender in the first place. Without them, they would have had to trade away nearly $12 million worth of assets, completely shredding the deep roster that had everyone so excited in the first place.

I wanted to find a way to illustrate this concept to show exactly how many man-games the Golden Knights purposely lost based on their willingness to venture deep into the pits of LTIR. And I did it, coming up with a number of 202.

Here’s how I went about the calculations.

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Iole: VGK Offseason Agenda

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Today is the last column for the season from Kevin. We cannot thank Kevin enough for contributing to the site all year.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Trying to forecast what the Golden Knights’ will be like in the 2022-23 season is all but impossible. We don’t know who is going to manage the team, who will coach it, and if several of the key players on it will ever be the same physically.

From owner Bill Foley on down, VGK management has to be praying that Mark Stone’s back injury that kept him out of 46 games this year and left him a shell of himself when he did return for the final, ultimately futile, playoff run is healed and just a sad memory when next season begins.

That’s no guarantee, though, and without a healthy and productive Stone, it’s all but impossible to take this team seriously as a contender no matter what else they do in the offseason.

There are a number of free agents, though none more important than Reilly Smith. But with the Knights up against the salary cap, will they be able to find the money to bring him back? And even if they can, will he want to return?

The answers to those questions will play out in the next several months. But I’ve identified six areas whoever is running this team will need to solidify in the offseason if it is to have a reasonable hope of fulfilling Foley’s dream of a Stanley Cup title by Year 6.

Get younger and faster

The Knights were the third-oldest team in the league in the 2021-22 season, and at times it looked like they didn’t have the jump they needed. They certainly didn’t play with the pace of a championship team.

When the Misfits went to the Stanley Cup final in 2018, they forechecked ferociously and took time and space away from the opposition on virtually every shift.

The inordinate number of injuries they suffered through played a role in that, but they need to infuse the lineup with both young, hungry players and speed.

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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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