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Unsavory But Not Illegal: Regarding Golden Knights’ Cap Circumvention

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Mark Stone returned to practice eight days before the playoffs, exactly the same number as last year when he went on to play in Game 1 of the playoffs and help lead the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup.

Considering what Vegas did last season and were able to do at the deadline due to his absence, it’s understandable that the hockey world is quite skeptical about Stone’s situation.

Much of what is being said about it is simply ignorant, especially those suggesting the injury was fictional. However, that’s not to say there isn’t a valid gripe from those questioning the legitimacy of what the Golden Knights are doing.

At the trade deadline GM Kelly McCrimmon suggested it was “impossible to know” the timeline on Stone’s return. On the same day, he also declared Stone out for the remainder of the regular season, or at least the next six weeks. This allowed the Golden Knights to add three players, Anthony Mantha, Noah Hanifin, and Tomas Hertl, worth about $11 million in cap space. They were only able to make these acquisitions because they knew Stone would not return to play before April 18th which gave them the freedom to use his $9.5 million in cap space that was placed on LTIR.

Now, with Stone nearly back to action, it is clear there was at least a remote chance Stone’s 10 week injury could have healed a few days quicker and thus allowed him to make it back in time for the regular season. However, now that they’ve made the additions, they cannot activate Stone from LTIR. This is the genesis of where cap circumvention allegations come into play as a possibility. While the Golden Knights never wanted Stone to get injured in the first place, once it happened, they needed the injury to be severe enough to keep him out through the remainder of the regular season to benefit from it. So that’s exactly what they need to happen now.

While no one can prove Stone would have been able to play prior to the regular season ending, it is absolutely fair to ask the question considering the proximity to the end of the season. If he could play in regular season Game 82 and doesn’t, that would be against the NHL’s rules and the Golden Knights would be skirting the salary cap. As of right now, there’s nothing to suggest that is the case, but the argument will gain credence if Stone does indeed play in Game 1 of the postseason, as he did a year ago.

In the end, the rule is written with ambiguity and allows for this situation to occur. Heck, the Golden Knights did the same thing last year with the same player and did something similar the year before, also including the same player. The NHL has opened this loophole and despite it being fair to criticize teams exploiting it, there’s no way for the league to enforce the rule as they intended it.

So, yes, the Golden Knights appear to have once again purposely taken advantage of it and are likely bending the rule in their favor for the third consecutive year. And yes, Mark Stone has helped them by accepting the fact that they’ve made moves ruling him out for the remainder of the regular season even when it was “impossible to know” if he could have made it back. And yes, it does come across as quite unsavory, dancing on top of the line between cheating and trying.

But, it is what it is, and there’s not much anyone can do about it, unless the league decides to fix the rule.

McCrimmon Says Trading 1st Round Pick Wasn’t Off The Table This Deadline

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

If there’s one thing you can always count on with the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ll be active at the trade deadline. And, to go along with that, they’re certainly not afraid to complete a blockbuster trade or two.

So, every time we approach this time of year the question of present vs. future makes its way into the discourse surrounding the team.

To this point, still with about 20 hours to go before the deadline officially passes, the Golden Knights have added three players while sending out a former 1st round prospect, a 3rd round pick, a 7th round pick, and their fourth-string goalie.

What they have not done is part ways with any of their premium picks for next year’s draft or beyond. While the Golden Knights only have one of the previous eight 1st round picks they have owned, they do still maintain control of all of their 1st round picks for the future.

That doesn’t mean moving a 1st round pick was completely off the table this year.

We prioritize our draft picks, our players in Henderson, our drafted players, we talk about all of that and we end up with what we call our untouchables, things we wouldn’t do. I can’t say that we wouldn’t have traded a 1st round pick. There’s a time for that depending on what the return is and depending on your ability to retain that player. -Kelly McCrimmon

The Golden Knights were rumored to be heavily involved in Timo Meier, who eventually went to the Devils for two 1st round picks along with a bevy of prospects. Vegas has spent 1st round picks in the past on players like Tomas Tatar and Jack Eichel, both players who came with contracts that extended well past the end of that season. This leads to the one situation the Golden Knights were absolutely not willing to do with their most valuable offseason asset.

We felt really strongly we wouldn’t trade a 1st round pick on a rental player this year. That might be different in another year. It wasn’t a situation where we approached the deadline saying under no circumstances would we trade a 1st round pick. If a deal was there that demanded or justified a 1st round pick that gave us more than just a short-term return we would have looked at it. -McCrimmon

With time still left on the clock, the Golden Knights theoretically could still find the perfect fit in which they’d move their 2023 1st round pick. But as for now, while it certainly could have happened, it appears the deadline will pass with Vegas’ 1st round pick still in tow.

George McPhee: “There Are Always Ways To Improve Your Team”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have a little more than two weeks to make any final adjustments to the roster they hope brings them back to the playoffs and on another long run.

If you’re looking at your team, if there’s someplace you can make that tweak and you can do it, you do it. If you don’t, you’re getting complacent because there are always ways you can improve your team. –George McPhee on Bob McCown Podcast

The former GM and current President of Hockey Operations have proven his belief in this concept over the first five seasons in Vegas. The Golden Knights have been active at every trade deadline, typically buying one of the most significant pieces on the market.

This year however, they sit in a bit of a different spot than they’ve ever been before, which will make life a little more difficult on McPhee and GM Kelly McCrimmon come March 3rd.

(A trade) would have to make perfect sense because we’re looking at Stone and Thompson and what are the timelines, is it becoming clearer when we can get them back? So we’re trying to buy time to figure that out. LTI becomes a factor. If Mark’s coming back, we may not do anything because we were a pretty good team when everybody was in (the lineup). The injuries complicate things, but that’s life. –McPhee on Bob McCown Podcast

While the optimism around a potential Stone return in the regular season is fantastic, any chance of it happening certainly muddies the water for the upcoming deadline.

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“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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Team Meetings & GM Locker Room Visits, VGK Pulling Out The Stops To Turn The Tide

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the world of professional sports, there are a few telltale signs that concern is seeping into a team. The Golden Knights have seen two of them in the last few days.

First is the team meeting. We hear it all the time for teams heading in the wrong direction that following a big loss they lock the doors and hash things out. Typically the captain and a few others in the leadership group step forward and make it abundantly clear that the losing must stop.

With the captain sidelined for the Golden Knights, someone else had to do it.

Marchy stood up and spoke to everyone and said some powerful words. We all need to look in the mirror here. Here and there it’s okay to lose if the effort’s there but the effort wasn’t there. -Keegan Kolesar

Following the shutout loss at home to Dallas, one of the few remaining players from the inagural season stood up and had some choice words.

After the game I was super disappointed so I said my piece and now we’ll move on and see how we respond tonight. -Jonathan Marchessault

Marchessault’s message was simple.

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Patience Is The Right Way Forward For The Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Unpredictability, it’s what makes sports the best soap opera in the world. It’s also what makes the lives of the decision-makers so incredibly difficult. No matter what the data and history say, no one truly knows what is going to happen until the humans who put on the jerseys actually step onto the ice and compete.

From 100 points and competing for the Stanley Cup to barely hitting 80 and starting a rebuild and anywhere in between, opinions on what’s in store for the Golden Knights this season range wildly.

There are questions surrounding scoring, depth, health, goaltending, coaching, continuity, accountability, and more. And not a single person on the planet has even some of the answers, let alone all of them.

This volatility is why the Golden Knights must finish the offseason and enter the regular season with a patient approach.

It’s probably an oversimplified way to look at an extremely complex sport, but say you break the teams into a few different tiers. The tiers include bad, average, good, great, and elite. Teams in the bad and average tier will miss the playoffs, those in the good tier will fight for the final spots, while the great teams will compete with the Stanley Cup favorites, the elite.

As mentioned above, it’s not far-fetched to place Vegas in any of the five tiers. Reasonably though, they are likely to fall somewhere in the middle three, average, good, or great.

With the injury to Robin Lehner, Vegas suddenly have a bit more cap flexibility. Lehner’s $5 million can be stashed on LTIR, giving the Golden Knights room to add to the team. It’s possible with the perfect combination of moves, they could leap up one tier. With where we are in the calendar and the limitations of what $5 million can buy in today’s NHL, a two-tier leap is highly improbable. So, if they are average, they can become good. If they are good, they become great, but if they are average, they aren’t becoming great this season.

Here’s where the need for patience comes in.

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Ken’s Answers To The Athletic’s Fan Confidence Survey

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Every year The Athletic does a fan survey to learn more about the confidence of the fan base in different areas of the organization. The results of this year’s survey were published today and we highly recommend you read Jesse Granger’s article accompanying the results before you read the rest of this. Trust me, it’ll all make more sense if you do (and you’ll get to see the results, which I’m purposely not sharing here so you click that link).

Now, it’s time for my answers to the questions Jesse posed to the fan base.

With Vegas missing the playoffs for the first time, what is your confidence level in the direction of the organization? (5 being the highest level of confidence)

Ken’s Answer – 2

Despite the fact that it scares the crap out of me to think about, I really think the Golden Knights are headed for a pretty hefty rebuild that will start sometime between December of this year and the end of next season. The reason why I go with a 2 instead of a 1 here is that the roster is still good enough right now to make some noise. It’s going to take A LOT to go right (including health, unexpected players stepping forward, fortunate playoff matchups, etc) but I do see a path for this team to win the Cup this year, and I’m predicting them to make the playoffs. So, I can’t in good faith give them a 1, even though the “direction” is clearly heading in the wrong way from where it was a few years ago.

What do you expect out of the Golden Knights this coming season?

Ken’s Answer – First-round exit

If the Golden Knights stay healthy the entire season, I think they’ll win the division. I don’t see that happening though. In fact, I’d guess they are more likely to be closer to last season than they are 100% healthy, which is terrifying. Thus, my projection is that VGK will finish in 3rd or in a wild card spot. If it’s a WC, they are almost certainly going out in the 1st round. If they do get into 3rd, I could see them squeaking through a round.

What is your overall confidence level in Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee? (5 being the highest level of confidence)

Ken’s Answer – 1

For years every time I’ve begun to criticize the front office I had to remind myself these are the same people that built the team from the Expansion Draft. However, over the course of the past few summers, the front office has made a point of saying (both outright publicly and via their moves) that they found that team to be a fluke. So, I’m having a harder and harder time giving them credit for it as they continue to retool rosters that are getting worse and worse.

It’s important to note that all I care about is winning the Cup. I don’t want playoff berths, I don’t care how many rounds you win, I just want to win the Cup. I’ve completely lost faith that this front office knows how to do it. McPhee is 0 for 21 and McCrimmon is 0 for 5. It’s harsh, I know, but I’d be lying if I put any other number than 1.

Do you agree with the decisions to fire Pete DeBoer and hire Bruce Cassidy?

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