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Latest NHL Power Rankings: VGK A Multimillion-Dollar World Of Imagination

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since the start of the new year the Golden Knights haven’t been at their best. Vegas is 1-2-2 in 2022 but still managed to add four points to their Pacific Division leading 23-14-2 record. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Golden Knights dominate opponents like they did throughout the month of December, which may have changed minds across the league. When in reality, Vegas picked up four points in five games without playing up to their potential and missing a myriad of starters.

Every so often we like to check in on NHL power rankings across the league. Vegas was a preseason Top 5 team but ever since the injuries piled up they’ve mostly been stuck in double digits. According to aggregate site Power Rankings Guru, this week the Golden Knights checked in at #11.

The consensus was, Vegas had an incredible month of December but took a step back once the calendar year ended. A little dramatic if you ask me.

Let’s start with the league’s site. Vegas rounded out the top ten for the second straight week on NHL.com. Up until they’re fully healthy expect Vegas to be ranked in bottom part of the top ten.

NHL.com – #10 (Previously #10)

The Golden Knights won an NHL record 14 straight regular-season games decided in overtime before losing 5-4 to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, the first time they lost in OT since Dec. 19, 2019 (5-4 at the Vancouver Canucks).

ESPN had a little fun by publishing a Disney themed NHL power rankings. Greg Wyshinski and crew went light on Vegas, only dropping them one position.

ESPN – #12 (Previously #11)

To honor this magical place, and with no small amount of corporate synergy, we’ve decided to use this week’s NHL power rankings to match all 32 teams with the Disney World attractions — rides, food, characters — that best fit their vibes.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. A multimillion-dollar world of imagination that offers thrilling rides, lasting memories and the unwavering feeling that it never goes quite as far as you’d like it to go. That weird feeling in your stomach about the Golden Knights in the playoffs is not because you drank too much blue milk …

Sportsnet has routinely had Vegas outside of the top ten. One of the reasons for the lower grade is the injuries to Jack Eichel, Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez. Once those three impact players return I’m sure SN will raise the local boys in their rankings.

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Eichel’s Debut Gets Closer This Week

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

It’s expected that Jack Eichel will make his arrival this week to officially join the organization. Since his successful neck surgery two months ago Eichel has been showing positive signs of rehabbing and doing light on-ice workouts. Now, it’s time for the Golden Knights training and coaching staff to prepare for his much anticipated Golden Knights debut.

Jack’s rehab has gone real well. We’re getting closer to two months since he’s been rehabbing. We’ll get him to Vegas sometime in January. Confident he will be in the lineup this season. -Kelly McCrimmon on ATTSN intermission on 1/2/22

While it’s impossible to predict where Eichel’s performance level will be, his presence alone will create more challenges for an opponent. We know the obvious reasons why Vegas’ front office made the trade; rare talent, center depth, adding another playmaker, improving the power play, but Eichel will help in dozens of ways. Here are three he will impact immediately.

Flexibility

With Eichel in the lineup, the Golden Knights will be considered one of the deepest teams down the middle. Rank them how you want but Vegas’ depth of William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, and Nic Roy to center the bottom three lines will frighten any postseason team.

I can write down all the line combinations and dream all the dreams I want to as a coach about what we could look like, and yet we know this game changes every day. It’s a bit of a fruitless exercise to try to (look ahead). -Pete DeBoer, VGK coach

Considering what we’ve seen from Stephenson this season, the coach will have no problems slotting him on as third-line center if necessary. With Stephenson anchoring the bottom six the Misfits would remain intact and allow DeBoer more options throughout his lineup. The addition of a highly-skilled center like Eichel might shift the lineup but it’ll undoubtedly improve it.

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Western Teams Getting Ready To Beef Up For Vegas

It’s possible several big names will be dealt on or before the NHL’s trade deadline day this year. One team we expect to be sitting this one out is the Golden Knights, unless they are sellers, but that’s for another day. The local club already made their deadline deal in November by trading for center Jack Eichel. When you consider they’ll also be getting Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez back from injury, you could argue Vegas already won the deadline.

So, while the trade deadline may be boring for VGK fans it could be very busy for other fanbases. Specifically, teams that’ll have to face Vegas in the postseason. Some of those teams have lofty goals as well but most likely they’re not getting to the finals without going through Vegas first.

Edmonton

The Oilers are in trouble. The club isn’t scoring and they’re rapidly dropping in the standings. Even before Connor McDavid tested positive for COVID, the Oilers went on a miserable stretch scoring six goals in five games with a goal differential of -14. Currently, they’re on a five-game dip and are having a hard time digging out of it. Scoring is one problem up in Edmonton but it’s not their biggest.

It’s a brutal mistake. What are you going to do? Call it what it is. We’re playing well, and it’s a brutal mistake. Our goaltending wasn’t very good, and we didn’t get enough pucks to the net to get back in the game. -Dave Tippett, Oilers coach

With McDavid and Leon Draisital, the goals will eventually come but stopping them is a bigger concern. Tippett’s frustrations came out poorly, pointing his finger directly at goalie Mikko Koskinen. Which wasn’t taken well.

It’s not nice for anybody to be thrown under the bus. But this is how it goes in this business. When the team loses, it’s either coach or goalie who gets sacrificed. I have to be better, but at the same time we scored seven goals in my last six losses. I can’t score goals. It’s not only about goaltending when it comes to winning and losing. -Koskinen, Oilers goaltender

It’s understandable why Koskinen was iritated by his coach’s comments and good for him for responding but he should’ve kept it shorter. Now there a speculations that the goaltender has lost Edmonton’s locker room. So on top of his bloated 3.19 goals allowed average he’s creating friction. Bottom line is the Oilers are in the market for a goaltender. And surprise, surprise the biggest name on the market is tonight’s opponents netminder.

Fleury — who has a 10-team no-trade list — might be the biggest netminder name out there if available and none of the above teams has as great a need, or as much urgency to address it, as the Oilers. If Fleury was open to going to Edmonton, finding the right price could be tricky. He’s a rental and, presumably, the Hawks would need to retain cap space on his $7 million tag, so that could add an asset. With the other needs in Edmonton’s lineup, paying up for a rental at any position may not be the chosen course. But if you want someone who you could feel good about making a difference now, Fleury is it. -Rory Boylen, Sportsnet

Elliott Friedman also wrote about Fleury being an option, if the right deal was in place. The former face of the Golden Knights knows the division and has won in the West. Since 2017, the first year Blackhawk is 43-21-7 against the Pacific division and an overall record of 83-16-9 against Western Conference clubs. Fleury’s presence alone would immediately improve the problems in net for the Oilers.

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McCrimmon Gives Update On Eichel, State Of The Team, During Sunday’s Game

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The start to the 2021-22 season didn’t go as planned for Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon. After beginning the season 1-4-0 and seeing their roster shrink due to injuries, the future looked uncertain for the Golden Knights.

It’s been a different season. I’ve often used the expression that every team runs it’s own race. You look at last year where we were relatively healthier than we’d been this year. We won a lot of hockey games and we were fighting for first place with Colorado the entire season. This year the injuries began early. -Kelly McCrimmon on ATTSN intermission show

Like most fans, Vegas’ GM had confidence that the group he assembled would turn it around. The roster made up of healthy Golden Knights, Silver Knights and free agents kept the team above water and in place for the stars to return.

The reinforcements healed at the right time for a poised Vegas run to first place.

Our first 20-22 games was really survival mode and I give credit to the coaches and players a lot of credit for scratching and clawing. I felt with the Calgary game earlier in December, from there we started really playing with identity and look more like we want the finished product to look. -McCrimmon on ATTSN intermission show

Instead of panicking the organization played through injuries and gathered enough information about their roster to prompt Vegas’ GM to make another franchise shifting move by acquiring center Jack Eichel.

Jack’s rehab has gone real well. We’re getting closer to two months since he’s been rehabbing. We’ll get him to Vegas sometime in January. Confident he will be in the lineup this season. -McCrimmon on ATTSN intermission show

Roughly two months after Eichel’s elected neck surgery the organization expects more positive progression to come later this month. Once he’s settled in Las Vegas, the front office should have better feel for when the 25-year-old will make his Golden Knights debut.

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Iole: Navigating The Upcoming Muddy Waters

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Kevin’s back today to take a look at a position of depth, one that’s been notoriously thin in years past.

After a disheartening 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights were 1-4-0, tied for 28th in the 32-team NHL and squarely in the Shane Wright Derby.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The magic seemed to be gone. Mark Stone was out indefinitely. Max Pacioretty was out indefinitely. Vegas had been outscored nearly 2-to-1 in those five games. The Edmonton Oilers were 5-0 and Connor McDavid looked like he was taking things to an even higher level.

When the calendar turned to 2022, things were vastly different. A 3-1 victory Friday over the Anaheim Ducks that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, left the VGK with 44 points, which leads the Western Conference and is third in the NHL.

After 34 games, there were 204 possible games played in the top-six forwards. Those players — Stone, Pacioretty, Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault, played in a combined 150.

That means the VGK’s top six forwards only played in 73.5 percent of the team’s games. The top four defensemen going into the year — Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, and Brayden McNabb — played in only 68.9 percent of the available games.

So, there is optimism that the recent hot streak should continue as the top players should be more available in the second half and, of course, Jack Eichel will debut sometime before the playoffs begin.

But getting cap compliant is going to be a massive chore and mark my words when I say that there will be plenty of pain yet to come in terms of roster subtractions to fit Eichel in.

The untouchables there are, obviously, Stone and Pietrangelo, since they’re not only among the best at their positions in the NHL, but because they had no-move protection.

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Who Is Vegas’ Most Indispensable Player?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

This week ESPN chose one player from each NHL team that they deemed indispensable, the “Worldwide Leader” made a surprising choice for the Golden Knights’ most vital performer.

Most indispensable: Chandler Stephenson

We may not have pegged Stephenson as the Golden Knights’ top-line center or leading goal scorer when the season started. But here he is, having a terrific year. He’s averaging a point per game and the most ice time of any Vegas forward. On a team that stumbled out of the gate, Stephenson has been an irreplaceable player helping to keep the Golden Knights afloat.- ESPN.com

It’s hard to argue Stephenson’s value this season. The seven-year veteran is having a career season, leading Vegas in points, shooting percentage (50 shot minimum), and faceoff wins. Overall, Stephenson has been essential to the team’s turnaround since their early 1-4 start.

As a point-per-game player, the highly productive center anchored the top six when Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlsson were on the mend. In the games that his two linemates were absent, Stephenson emerged as Vegas’ go-to for much-needed offense. Since the season began the Golden Knights are 7-3 when he scores.

As steady as Stephenson has been, ESPN is way off. Here are players more indispensable than Stephenson.

Alex Pietrangelo

Most Golden Knights fans are in agreement that Pietrangelo became Vegas’ most impactful player since last postseason. The former captain led his new team in postseason time on ice, shots, power play points, and is second in total points behind William Karlsson. In 31 appearances this season, the Golden Knights are 13-4 when the defenseman registers a point. Since the postseason, much of Vegas’ offense flows through the experienced defenseman.

To be fair to the critics, Pietrangelo is frequently on the ice for goals scored by the opposition, but it’s inevitable when he skates 25+ minutes per game. The alternate captain has been on the ice for 32 even-strengthened goals which is 9th worst in the NHL. However, Pietrangelo is 4th best in the league for being on the ice when his team scores. You know which Golden Knight follows Pietrangelo in those columns? You guessed it, Stephenson.

On Ice Even-Strength Goals For

  1. Pietrangelo 38
  2. Stephenson 38
  3. Hague 37
  4. Theodore 31
  5. Smith 29

On Ice Even-Strength Goals Against

  1. Pietrangelo 32
  2. Stephenson 28
  3. Hague 28
  4. Smith 25
  5. Marchessault 25

I understand deep stats overwhelmingly disregard the 31-year-old’s impact so this comes down to a simple eye test. Pietrangelo is more indispensable.

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Taxi Squad FAQs As It Pertains To The Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With the NHL scheduled to resume activities tomorrow, the league has re-introduced the “Taxi Squad.” The idea of the taxi squad is to allow teams to travel with more than the standard 23 players allowed on an NHL roster so they have a better chance to field a full roster if they run into COVID complications while on the road.

The league’s current plan is to allow for taxi squads to exist from now until the final game prior to the All Star Break. For the Golden Knights, that would be a home game on February 1st against the Buffalo Sabres. Each team is permitted to assign a maximum of six players to their taxi squad, but no player can remain on the taxi squad for more than 20 days.

So, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions about the taxi squad and how it’ll affect the Golden Knights.

Who will be on the Golden Knights’ taxi squad?

Basically, any player who was not on the active roster as of December 22nd OR has played fewer than 16 of the teams last 20 games is eligible to be on the taxi squad. VGK will likely use a combination of rookies that have played in games earlier this season. Players like Jake Leschyshyn, Paul Cotter, Jonas Rondbjerg, Ben Jones and Daniil Miromanov.

Can this help the Golden Knights’ salary cap constraints?

It cannot, for multiple reasons. First off, the league has specifically stated in the CBA amendments that they will check every taxi squad transaction to ensure it is being used for its intended purpose and not for salary cap circumvention (as it was by many teams including the Golden Knights last season). But beyond that, the Golden Knights are currently using LTIR to remain cap compliant. While that is the case, they would not be able to bank extra cap space by shuttling players on and off the active roster as they have done in the past.

Does this change anything with Jack Eichel’s status?

Not really. Once Eichel is ready to return to practice, he is allowed to do so. He will remain on LTIR until he is ready to play in an NHL game. While he is on LTIR, the Golden Knights have plenty of cap space to operate. However, once he’s ready to play, Vegas will need to either replace his $10 million cap hit with other players on LTIR or trim their roster to operate under the salary cap.

Where it does help is that as long as the taxi squad exists it makes it easier to have just 20 players on the active roster as opposed to 23. Removing three players from the active roster will take at least $2.1 million off the salary cap. In normal times, that would mean VGK would not have any healthy scratches from games and would also not be allowed to have other healthy players practice with them. With the taxi squad, they can have up to six more players in practice and on the road with them and insert them into games if needed. The likelihood of having to play short players is greatly decreased, but it certainly still could happen.

If a taxi squad player plays in a game, do they have to clear waivers afterward?

It depends if the player is playing under a “roster emergency” circumstance or not. If the team is short players, the new rules allow them to use a player from the taxi squad and not have them count against the salary cap nor the active roster limit. Then, because that player was recalled due to an emergency, he is not required to pass through waivers.

**If you have any other questions about the taxi squad you would like answered, please post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.**

Flames Head Coach Darryl Sutter: “You’re Going To Have To Go Through Vegas” To Win The West

Apparently records don’t matter to the Calgary Flames. Even with a seven point lead, the Flames felt like the underdog in their 3-2 loss Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena. Currently, Calgary is in 1st place in the Pacific Division but are highly aware of how dangerous a healthy Golden Knights an be.

Well, they’re the best team on paper. They’re clearly the best team out West, maybe other than the team that owns the Stanley Cup, if you look at it.

It’s not even that close, to tell you the truth. -Darryl Sutter, Calgary coach

That’s high praise coming from a two-time Stanley Cup winning coach. Sutter won with teams that didn’t win their division, twice. In 2012 & 2014 the LA Kings finished 3rd in the Pacific Division yet went on to win two silver chalices. Sutter’s Kings were never considered Cup favorites but he believed they were as deep as any opponent they faced. In Sutter’s first Stanley Cup run, LA finished the season with 95 points and eliminated a 111 point Vancouver Canucks club in five games.

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Iole: Centers Of Attention

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Kevin’s back today to take a look at a position of depth, one that’s been notoriously thin in years past.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

LAS VEGAS — In that magical first season, the Golden Knights went with William Karlsson, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare 1-4 as their centers.

In this season’s playoffs, assuming Jack Eichel recovers, that group will be Eichel-Karlsson-Chandler Stevenson and Nicolas Roy, potentially with Nolan Patrick, Keegan Kolesar and Jake Leschyshyn in the hole. It’s quite an improvement and impressive depth.

That’s the center depth of a Stanley Cup champion, but don’t start scoping out spots for the parade just yet.

There is no guarantee that Eichel will return this year, or that he’ll be the impact player he is when healthy. He underwent a surgery shortly after the Knights acquired him from Buffalo that no NHL player has ever undergone.

UFC fighters Chris Weidman and Aljamain Sterling both had it and recommend it, but because it worked for them does not necessarily mean it will work for Eichel.

But if Eichel comes back and resembles the player he once was, this will be a deep and potentially dominant group because it will create matchup issues aplenty. Stevenson has raised his game this year as the team’s No. 1 center to this point, and if you drop him to No. 2 or No. 3 where his matchups are better, it figures he can maintain if not improve upon his start.

If Karlsson is the Knights’ No. 3 center, I would dare say there may not be a better No. 3 center in the NHL. And Roy has done far more than a credible job centering Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault while Karlsson has been out. Like Stevenson, he’d be a matchup issue for other teams’ No. 4 centers.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup are strong down the middle. When the Pittsburgh Penguins won back to back titles in 2016 and 2017, they did it on the backs of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But Nick Bonino was a quality third-line center for those Penguins with Phil Kessel on his line, and Matt Cullen was a smart, effective fourth liner.

The Lightning have won the last two Cups, with Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. When Washington defeated the VGK in 2018 for the Cup, they had Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov as their centers.

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Jack Eichel Downplays Idea Of Participating In Olympics

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Since the news of the blockbuster trade, everyone in Vegas is sitting on pins and needles waiting for the return, and debut, of Jack Eichel in a Golden Knights jersey.

With surgery scheduled for tomorrow in Colorado, Eichel’s timeline is expected to be around three months which would have him looking at a return to play sometime in February.

This year, however, the NHL’s February schedule is unique. The Golden Knights do not have a game between February 1st and the 25th. That’s due to the league taking a break for the All Star Game (which is in Las Vegas) and the Olympics.

Eichel is one of the best American-born players in the world and would be a shoo-in for Team USA if he were available to play. He has expressed interest in the past, but obviously, the injury throws a wrench in the works.

As recently as a few days before the trade, Eichel said in an interview with ESPN that it is a goal of his to make it back and play in the Olympics. Since the trade though, it seems to be a bit more of a longshot.

I would love to be there, I would love to represent our country. The organization in Vegas just made a commitment to me and I want to make that same commitment back, so I’m not going to rush anything. –Eichel on Spittin Chiclets

He reiterated that when being interviewed during the Golden Knights/Kraken game on ESPN.

Representing my country is something that I take great pride in. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity at some point, who knows? I just want to keep things short term at this point and take care of my health, get back to 100%. -Eichel on ESPN

This all must sound pretty good from a Golden Knights perspective. The last thing Vegas wants to see is Eichel playing in a different uniform and suffer another injury that would keep him off the ice any longer.

The Olympics will likely be littered with Golden Knights players, but it appears the newest one will not be among them.

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