Ever been somewhere new thought to yourself, wait a minute, I think I’ve been here before. That’s exactly how the Golden Knights feel heading into this season’s incredibly short training camp at City National Arena.
Back in July, the Golden Knights opened what was called Phase 3 Training Camp on the 12th with their first real game on August 3rd. This time, camp got underway on January 3rd with the regular season opener just 11 days away.
It’s not quite deja vu, mainly because that camp led directly into the playoffs, but there’s definitely a been there done that feeling to this shortened camp.
We’ve done this before with the bubble camp and we really like how that camp went and prepared us to go into the bubble for the playoffs. How we played early in the bubble our camp gave us an advantage in our start there being able to go undefeated in our start there. -Pete DeBoer
After two weeks of camp in Vegas the Golden Knights headed to Edmonton where they dominated a preseason game against the Coyotes, then ripped through the round-robin beating Dallas, St. Louis, and Colorado to earn them the #1 seed.
Vegas scored first in three of the four games and looked surprisingly sharp for being off the ice for a few months right before it.
Being at odds in the workplace can leave a person confused, hopeless, and stressed. That can go for million-dollar athletes as well. After the latest TSN report, it doesn’t take an insider to tell you Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault are feeling a little underappreciated right now. (And Fleury, but that started a while ago.)
Playing hockey is their job, a job they love, and most of us would too. However, it’s still work and at times an employee can feel like they’re on the outside looking in. We can all connect with that. It’s hard to imagine Marchessault and Pacioretty being thrilled with their names constantly mentioned in trade rumors.
Since early October, the two forwards have seen teammates traded all while wondering if they’re next.
The weight of expectations is often the determining factor of success and failure in professional sports. In Year 1, the Golden Knights had absolutely no expectations and they helped ride that wave of pressure-free hockey all the way to the Cup Final. The following year, the pressure ramped up a bit as they had to prove they weren’t a fluke. They did it, but it still ended sadly. Then, last year, the expectations were at an all-time high, with something close to a Cup-or-Bust mentality. They reached the Western Conference Final, a success for most teams, but it felt like a missed opportunity because of the preseason expectations.
Now, they are all in on the Cup, and the pressure has risen not only on the team as a whole, but on plenty of individuals. New titles, big contracts, elevated roles, and high expectations will have a lot of players feeling the heat coming into the Golden Knights’ fourth season.
To illustrate the pressure on each player I’ve ranked them from 1-10 with 10 being the most pressure and 1 being the least. First, we start with the forwards. Tomorrow we’ll complete the roster with the defensemen, goalies, coach, and GM.
With a full season between Stone and Pacioretty, it would be awfully difficult for Karlsson to be the problem. As long as he holds down the fort defensively and doesn’t get destroyed in the circle he’ll have the typical strong year we’ve come to expect from him. The contract is fair as long as he’s the only truly reliable center on the team. He has almost no pressure on him at all, but he is the #1 center on a team that doesn’t really have much behind him, so there’s got to be a little. Pressure Index: 3
Assuming he’s named captain, which we expect to happen near the beginning of camp, he’ll be under the most pressure of his career this season. He has to continue performing at a near point per game pace, he needs to be on the ice for 18+ minutes a night every single night, and if the going gets tough, he’s going to be the one they look at to pull them out. Team performance is where the pressure lies on Stone. If they are good, he’s in the clear, but if they aren’t that C might as well be a bullseye for where people point to the problems. Pressure Index: 9
Max is coming off a tremendous regular season on which he led the team in scoring, but then the injury bug hit and he disappeared at the biggest time in the playoffs. The pressure on him is simply to score. He needs to get to 30 goals (or the equivalent if the season is shortened), otherwise that $7 million cap hit is going to look like a major burden on a contending team. Pressure Index: 8
It’s not really, because he’s just 21-years-old, but it really feels like it’s now-or-never for Glass. The Golden Knights have moved out two useable centers in Paul Stastny and Erik Haula over the past two years and replaced them with virtually nothing leaving the job wide open for Glass. He’s going to get his chance. He has to stay healthy and he has to look like a bonafide #2 center in the NHL. If he doesn’t, he’ll fly down the depth chart, likely end up back on the wing, and will certainly look like a bust if Stephenson and Roy are clearly outperforming him. Pressure Index: 8
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.
The Golden Knights are likely headed for an offseason of change. It might be just a little if they can solve the goalie situation without breaking the bank or it might be a lot if they land the big fish in free agency. Either way, the possibility of moving one of Vegas’ top-six forwards and/or top-four defensemen is much higher this offseason than it was last summer.
Here’s a case for why they should trade each one of them, followed by a case against it. (Alex Tuch is substituted for Mark Stone due to Stone’s full no-movement clause.)
Max Pacioretty $7 million (3 seasons remaining)
Case for: You want cap relief, here it is. Shedding Pacioretty’s $7 million would basically allow for a one-for-one move to make the big-ticket free-agent splash. Pacioretty may not return nearly as much as you’d probably like after the dismal end to the playoffs, but he has a history of scoring and former captains aren’t easy to find. He’s likely on the declining side of his peak and his injury issues are concerning. If someone is willing to buck up a 2nd round pick and eat the entire $21 million in cap space over the next three years, Vegas absolutely has to listen.
Case against: The biggest problem the Golden Knights had in 2019-20, and especially in the playoffs, was scoring and the solution is to trade the team’s leading scorer? What world are we living in here? The guy is coming off a 32 goal pandemic shortened season and was clearly banged up during the playoffs. When he’s healthy, he’s the best scorer Vegas has. He’s also worked incredibly well with VGK’s most important forward, Mark Stone. I’ll repeat what I said before, if scoring is the issue, you do not trade your leading scorer.
Jonathan Marchessault $5 million (4 seasons remaining)
Case for: The case for trading Marchessault must start with his play in the postseason. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, he’s been known to take a penalty or two that he shouldn’t, and he isn’t exactly the physical specimen you look for in a hockey player, but all of that is overlooked because he can do the hardest thing to do in hockey, score. When he doesn’t, he has to be considered when thinking about change. The cap number would help free up some space for Vegas to make the splash they are hoping for in free agency and his production under DeBoer hasn’t matched what it was under Gallant which causes concern for the future. Plus, he’s played a lot less under DeBoer showing a lack of trust that Gallant had. This postseason Marchessault averaged 16:33 per game, in 2018 he averaged 19:25. The return would likely be worthwhile which could help in making something else happen down the line.
One of the best quotes ever about the game of hockey comes from the great Jim McKenny. He said, “half of the game is mental, the other half is being mental.”
In 2020, playing hockey inside of a bubble, staying mentally sharp both on and off the ice is going to go a long way in determining which teams succeed and which fail.
You’ve got nothing else to do. You (only) think hockey. -Jonathan Machessault
Literally plucked away from their families, friends, and society as a whole, the NHL’s method of keeping players safe is working incredibly well, but it’s also bound to start taking a toll on the minds of the players involved.
It’s hard. You know, you talk to them every day and also as a parent you miss a lot of things. My one-year-old started walking and my two oldest have started school. So it’s really unfortunate to miss those. They are asking me every day how many days until they are going to see me but I mean it’s hard for me to give them an answer. -Marchessault
The Golden Knights have been in the “bubble” for 23 days and they aren’t even through the first round of the playoffs. If things go well, that number could reach north of 60.
The league’s plan at the beginning was to allow players’ families to join for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, but those plans remain “up in the air” according to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
The early going of any series is going to come with what is commonly referred to as a “feeling out process.” Teams usually play pretty close to the vest, not revealing their entire game plan for the series and it tends to lead to slow-moving hockey. It doesn’t always go that way, but there’s no better way to characterize the opening frame of Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Blackhawks.
Not only did neither team score in the 1st, there weren’t even many great chances. Between the two teams, there was a total of five-shot attempts from inside the “house” in the entire 1st period. Most chances came from far away and both teams did well to thwart the opposing team’s attack.
I thought they played hard and were pretty hard defensively. You could tell they were trying not to give up much either. -Pete DeBoer
As the game went on though, the Golden Knights took what was already a slow game and made it even slower. In the 1st period, they were looking to strike quickly when in the offensive zone, and with Chicago’s commitment to defend it led to short offensive possessions. In the 2nd, that started to change and the game did with it.
I think we did a better job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the 2nd period and on. They’re a rush team, so we don’t want to get into a track meet with them. Once we can get them to stop in the d-zone we can control the game a little bit more. It all came from offensive zone time and holding on to the puck behind the net. -Reilly Smith
Instead of playing the brand of fast transition hockey that helped carry the 2017-18 Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, these Golden Knights slowed the game down, controlling the puck with more purpose, and methodically broke down the Chicago defense.
All four Vegas lines followed the same pattern as the game went on, defaulting to more of a cycle game than we’re used to seeing. Where Chicago’s defense preferred to collapse into the dangerous ice in the 1st period, the controlled offense from the Golden Knights forced them to open up in the 2nd and 3rd. Playing from under the goal line drug Blackhawks defensemen to the puck opening up shot lanes from the point and half-wall.
Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.
Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.
Unit 1 Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty-Marchessault-Theodore
Unit 2 Karlsson-Smith-Tuch-Martinez-Schmidt
The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?
Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.
There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.
DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.
That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.
In years past, certain forward lines have taken the postseason by storm and helped their teams win the Stanley Cup. Affectionately known as the HBK line, Carl Hagelin (16 points), Nick Bonino (18 points) and Phill Kessel (22 points) surprisingly combined for 56 points en route to the Pittsburgh Penguins fourth championship in franchise history.
Years earlier the LA Kings were also lucky enough to have an acclaimed line of their own. Going by the nickname, That 70’s Line, Jeff Carter (25 points), Tyler Toffoli (14 points), and Tanner Pearson (12 points) caught fire in the regular season which continued into LA’s run to the cup. Each wearing a jersey number in the 70’s, the line totaled 51 points in 26 games.
Keep in mind both of these famed triplets were support lines, that massively overachieved. Without them, however, their clubs wouldn’t have been so dangerous. Good news for Golden Knights fans, Vegas had their own explosive line in last year’s postseason, and expectations are even higher in 2020.
In their seven-game series against the Sharks, Mark Stone (12 points), Max Pacioretty (11 points) and Paul Stastny (8 points) were offensively unstoppable. The trio combined for 31 points in the series loss, averaging a whopping 4.4 points per game. The veteran line made up for 44% of the Golden Knights offense against San Jose. Just silly when you think about it.
Can Vegas expect the same this postseason? And is it possible it can get better? I don’t see why not considering coach Pete DeBoer upgraded at center with William Karlsson in the middle.
All three players have the skill to excel in the postseason. Karlsson added 15 points in 20 games in 2018, and Pacioretty and Stone lived up to their billing in 2019. Combine their playoff averages together and the top line’s production will scare the bejesus out of an opponent.
We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer
Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.
Mark Stone -450
Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.
If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.
Nate Schmidt +500
Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.
He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.