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Who’s To Blame For The Golden Knights Underachieving… Again

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It’s a sad moment for fans when a hockey season abruptly ends like it did last Thursday. Reality sets in when a Cup run is over and the 31st franchise will have to wait another year for a chance at the ultimate prize. Unfortunately, the truth is, this was another wasted season for the Golden Knights. For the second straight year, Vegas faced an inferior opponent and couldn’t find a way to force a game seven. Their leaders, coaches, and framers failed again and almost identically in back-to-back years.

Against Montreal, the Golden Knights outshot the Canadiens 193 to 165 yet had two fewer goals in the Semifinals. Keep in mind the Canadiens were the 15th lowest scoring team in the regular season and Vegas was 3rd highest. The Golden Knights fell down the same hole last postseason against the Dallas Stars. Like Montreal, Dallas was another low scoring team that found a way to outscore the Golden Knights in the conference finals. It was inexcusable in 2020, and even more so in 2021 after the organization retooled in the offseason.

So, who’s to blame?

Players

Let’s begin with the leadership group. Captain Mark Stone has built quite the portfolio in Vegas, however, his stock continues to plummet in the playoffs. For three straight seasons, Stone has provided very little offense for the Golden Knights when they needed him late in a series. Going without a single point in the entire Semifinals was rock bottom for Stone. His failure to produce in the backend of a playoff series was evident again against Minnesota, Colorado, and Montreal.

In all fairness to the captain, he owned up to it.

I can praise (the Canadiens) all I want but ultimately it falls down on myself and the top players on this team. We had some guys that produced night in and night out. As far as myself I got skunked this series. That can’t happen. I’m the captain of this team, the leader of this team, I take a lot of responsibility for what just occurred. -Mark Stone

Another concern was the continuous slow starts for Vegas. In six Semifinal games, the Golden Knights allowed the first goal four times, and were sluggish to begin the 1st period in several other postseason contests. In the final 12 games of the postseason, the Golden Knights trailed at some point in 11 of them.

Is it possible the team leaders for Vegas couldn’t motivate their teammates enough to kick off the game on time? It’s hard to comprehend why, but it’s fair to point fingers at the men with letters; Stone, Reilly Smith and Alex Pietrangelo.

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Vegas’ Salary Cap Management A Topic Around The League

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It hadn’t happened in 11 years, and it probably won’t happen for 11 more. The Golden Knights’ decision to only dress 15 skaters on Monday night in a critical game against the Colorado Avalanche was a bit of a shock. General Manager Kelly McCrimmon explained the situation and pointed towards unexpected injuries to several players at the same time. This left the organization without enough cap space to call up a player in time for Monday’s game. However, the explanation didn’t sit well with some in the hockey world.

Immediately after McCrimmon’s last minute Zoom conference, TSN’s Frank Seravalli challenged Vegas’ reasoning.

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George McPhee’s Has Stood Pat At Deadlines Before; How’d It Turn Out?

It’s trade deadline day, and in a few long hours, we’ll know the roster the Golden Knights will bring into the playoffs on their run for a Stanley Cup in year four of the franchise.

Deadline day is great because it’s one of the few days where hope truly springs eternal for all teams. Winning teams look for their clubs to add the final piece to the puzzle, middling teams hope for the blockbuster that changes the season, and the bottomfeeders wave the white flag and focus on a brighter future.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In Vegas, the deadline has been a day for celebration all three seasons. From Tomas Tatar to Mark Stone to Robin Lehner and Alec Martinez, the Golden Knights have swung for the fences each and every year.

Unfortunately, to this point, none of these trades have been that one missing element to help the Golden Knights lift the Cup, but that certainly doesn’t mean they haven’t had an impact on the team.

This year feels different though. This year the Golden Knights sit in a clear playoff position and have a reasonable argument to stake their claim amongst the league’s elites. They’ve raced out to an impressive 27-11-2 record, hardly ever lose at home, and they have a roster that on paper stacks up with anyone in the league. But, they are also so close to the salary cap that they can’t even afford to replace an injured player without placing him on LTIR. They’ve played multiple games shorthanded and understand that any trade must include money and players going out.

However, history tells us George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon aren’t exactly big fans of sitting on their hands at the deadline. In three seasons with Vegas, they’ve made eight trades either on or within a week of the deadline. They’ve been involved in a headline move four times and have sent away just two players off their every-day starting lineup.

That’s such a short history though, so we wanted to dig a little deeper. Current GM, McCrimmon, has only held this role in Vegas, so we have to focus on the current President of Hockey Operations, McPhee.

He has been in the head seat for 19 previous deadlines. He has made at least one trade in 16 of them. He’s made multiple trades in 12, and 10 of the last 13. However, it’s the other side of the coin we’re more interested in today, the years he stood pat.

He did that with the Washington Capitals three times in 16 seasons at the helm. Those seasons were 2011-12, 2008-09, and 1999-00. We’ll start with the most recent, in which McPhee was quoted after the deadline saying this…

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Cody Glass Opens Up About His Brief Return To The AHL

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

At different points this season the Golden Knights have had to make difficult decisions due to the salary cap. When fully healthy, Vegas is within a couple hundred thousand dollars of the $81.5 million limit with just 19 players on the active roster.

Early in the year, they experimented with a lineup of 13 forwards and five defensemen. At other times they’ve taken advantage of the emergency exception rules in the CBA that allow a team to exceed the cap. But when every avenue has been exhaust and Vegas wants to ice a standard 12/6/2 lineup, it’s typically been Cody Glass as the odd-man-out.

There are multiple reasons for this, a big one not related to his play on the ice. Due to his age and contract status, Glass is the only forward on the Golden Knights’ normal roster that is waiver exempt. Thus, he can freely travel between the NHL, the taxi squad, and the AHL without ever being at risk of being claimed by another team. The same cannot be said for players like Keegan Kolesar, Nic Roy, William Carrier, Ryan Reaves, or Tomas Nosek.

However, performance on the ice has played a factor in some of the decisions surrounding Glass. To put it bluntly, Glass simply hasn’t been good enough to force himself onto the roster at all times. That’s definitely not to say he’s been bad, or is even among the poorest performing players on the team (he’s definitely not), but when a decision has to be made, he hasn’t made enough of an impact to compel the front office to make a different choice.

This most recent instance was unlike any prior one though. When Alex Pietrangelo returned from LTIR, Vegas once again needed to clear space. Like before, Glass found himself on the outside looking in, however this time, instead of assigning him to the taxi squad, he was sent to the AHL… to actually play.

I just wanted to see him get a little more confidence 5-on-5. So we’d like him to go down there and play games, contribute and be an offensive player, come back and give us some juice when he returns. –Kelly McCrimmon to Las Vegas Sun

Unlike previous situations where he was assigned to the taxi squad and remained with the NHL team, this time they were looking for improvement. This time, they were sending a message about his play at the NHL level.

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Fleury To Former GM: “Get Me To Vegas”

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This past offseason most Golden Knights fans thought the face of the franchise would be traded. Based on reports, it almost happened. However, that face, Marc-Andre Fleury, made it known publicly that he desired to stay in Las Vegas and hadn’t asked to be moved. Luckily for the Golden Knights front office, a deal never materialized.

The front office that gifted the Golden Knights with the future Hall of Famer knew long before, that Fleury wanted to resume his career in Las Vegas.

I knew he had lots, lots left in him. In Fleury’s case, when he knew that he was the odd man out he came and met with me and said ‘if there’s any way you can get me to Las Vegas, that’s where I’d like to go.’ So, I made sure I made that happen. I felt like I owed that to him. –Jim Rutherford, former Penguins GM w/ Cam & Strick podcast

Long before his name was called by The Creator in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Fleury was focused on becoming the starting goaltender for the Golden Knights.

After being drafted by Vegas, the 33-year-old, at the time, went on to have one of the best seasons of his career. After losing his starting position in Pittsburgh, the “I’ll show them” motivation factor was high for Fleury. Sort of like what’s happening this season.

I’m emotionally connected to guys that I win a championship with. The Marc-Andre Fleury trade was the hardest one for me, because I love the guy. He’s a special, very special person. –Rutherford, former Penguins GM

Last night’s 1-0 defeat to Minnesota was only Fleury’s fourth of the season. In those four losses, the goaltender allowed eight goals combined. He’s second in the league with a 2.04 GAA in losses, and number one overall with a 1.57 GAA. Win or lose, the numbers show that Fleury keeps his team in the game more than any other goalie in the NHL.

Of course, they’ll be no way to prove it but the handwriting was on the wall for the goaltender and the new franchise. Pittsburgh knew they had to move on, Fleury was aware and the Golden Knights were opportunistic. It was the perfect second marriage, and both parties were excited to form a union of misfits.

I make a lot of trades, I’m not going to get them all right. When I don’t get one right I’m not afraid to say it. I move on. –Rutherford, former Penguins GM

It was set up to be a storybook ending for Fleury in Vegas, but questionable decisions seemed to derail that path, until now. He told Rutherford in 2017, and Golden Knights fans in 2020, the goaltender wanted to be in Vegas and didn’t want to leave Vegas. His performance this season is showing that.

Oh, and make no doubts about it, Fleury has a little motivation to prove them wrong. He didn’t need to but he does nightly.

The Creator Opens Up On His Involvement In Trades, Coaching Changes, And More On A St. Louis Based Podcast

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The Golden Knights are fortunate when it comes to ownership. Unlike many NHL cities (see Arizona), the owner in Vegas wants to win and he’ll spare no expense in a pursuit to make it happen.

He said he wanted to make the playoffs by year three and win the Stanley Cup by year six and he’s committed to making that second part happen, seemingly by any means necessary.

He’s constantly around. Watching over practices, sitting in his suite at the games, or hanging out in his office on his fancy computer scouting players on other teams.

The first couple of years I really just listened because I didn’t know the business. Now I’ve learned a little bit more so I’m a little more involved. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast

Appearing on a podcast out of St. Louis, hosted by former NHLer Cam Janssen and local media guy Andy Strickland, The Creator went fairly in-depth not only on his involvement in the Golden Knights but also in his other businesses.

My office is next to Kelly, it’s one down from George. I go to almost all of the amateur scout meetings and all of the pro scout meetings. I’m there for the four or five days before the trade deadline. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast

He continued explaining how his input really ramps up when it comes to trades.

They come to me with their proposals on who to trade, what to do, what we’re going to get, what we’re not going to get. But I try and let the guys in charge, they’ve been delegated the authority and the responsibility to make the decisions. It’s only on maybe trades that I start having some input and I try to be careful about it. If I particularly don’t like one of their ideas I say, ‘I don’t think I can do that, I just don’t know that works for me.’ That’s how I get involved on the hockey side. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast

The Nate Schmidt trade was one he took particularly hard.

I was really worried about (how it would affect the locker room). That was a very difficult decision. Kelly and George convinced me that Petro was going to be a difference-maker for us on our team. Schmidty ended up being the odd-man-out, which really bothered me. –The Creator on Cam & Strick Podcast

Another place he said he’s involved is with the decision on coaching. When asked about the firing of Gerard Gallant, he let out a few interesting nuggets.

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COVID Protocols Continue To Lack Consistency

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It’s been a season of trial and error, which was expected. After news broke that the Golden Knights were notified during Tuesday’s game that Tomas Nosek tested positive for COVID-19, many wondered how the league would handle Vegas’ latest case. Also, how and why the results were delivered so late allowing for an infected player to dress and play. Would Vegas have to shut down and delay operations or carry on without their fourth-line center?

Tomorrow night’s game in Las Vegas between the Golden Knights and Ducks remains scheduled to be played at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. Rapid PCR Point of Care tests will be administered to all Players and staff on both teams in advance of that game (in addition to the daily lab-based PCR testing) and any decision regarding potential postponement will be made by the League’s, NHLPA’s and Clubs’ medical officials, following all COVID Protocols and local and federal regulations.-NHL

Up until now, a player being pulled from a game had only happened in the AHL, one played right here in Vegas. So, I’m sure the NHL’s judgment had to surprise even the Golden Knights organization.

Earlier this month, Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon was asked about that exact situation, and you can’t blame him for not really having an answer. His only frame of reference was a similar situation that occurred when a player from the San Jose Barracuda tested positive during a contest against the Henderson Silver Knights.

I don’t know what type of testing they were using. The NHL protocols are PCR testing everyday. I don’t know what exactly San Jose was doing, I can’t speak to any of that. So, I really don’t know the answer to that question. The situation you referred to, to my knowledge hasn’t happened at the National League level. I’m not 100% sure about that but I haven’t heard if it has.-Kelly McCrimmon on February 1st, 2021

One of the uncertainties the league should address is testing on gamedays. As we watched on Tuesday night, Nosek played two periods before the team was alerted. The 28-year-old center’s last shift was the final 10 seconds to close out the 2nd period. It was clear neither Nosek or the coaching staff were aware of the situation brewing behind the scenes.

As it turns out, gameday testing results aren’t delivered in a timely manner. According to McCrimmon, results are returned later to the team and the league that same day. Now we come to realize the outcome could come as late as 9 PM PT.

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Why I’m In Favor Of Scratching Cody Glass To Save Keegan Kolesar From Waivers

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It should have happened for the first two games. Now it’s happening tonight.

I’m talking about the decision to send Cody Glass to the AHL/taxi squad, and thus take him out of the lineup, inserting Nic Hague into the defense, and keeping Keegan Kolesar on the active roster and away from waivers.

Due to the massive offseason move of signing Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights spent every day between the moment they lost to the Stars to Opening Night 2021 over the cap. We knew some “salary cap gymnastics” were going to be necessary to make the team compliant before the first game against the Ducks.

They came on the final day of Training Camp. The Golden Knights waived Nick Holden, risking losing him to another team for nothing, then released a peculiar looking roster of 13 forwards, five defensemen, and two goalies. Vegas went on to play two games voluntarily down a defenseman and pulled out a pair of wins to start the season.

Admittedly, the Golden Knights were not in love with the idea of playing short a d-man, but their willingness to do it proved they believed it was necessary.

Why? While we don’t have an answer to that question on the record, we have a pretty good educated guess. That guess is that the Golden Knights have knowledge that if they placed Keegan Kolesar on waivers he would get claimed by another team.

How do they know this? Again, another educated guess, but GM’s talk to each other often, and the Golden Knights were probably one of the most active teams this offseason trying to maneuver their roster after signing Pietrangelo. Somewhere in one of those conversations, there was likely a clue that another team coveted Kolesar. If someone’s willing to trade for a 23-year-old forward with limited NHL experience and a league minimum contract, they’ll certainly be willing to scoop him up for free if he hits waivers.

So, the Golden Knights avoided it. Now, two games in, they are still trying to avoid it, but the options remain limited.

They could continue with five defensemen, but through two games, the Golden Knights have the two league leaders in average time on ice per game and all five defensemen rank in the top 15 across the entire NHL. For now, that’s fine, but over the course of an entire season (especially one that is as tightly packed as this one), that’s not a viable long-term option.

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Continuous Trade Rumors Bound To Impact Performance

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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.)

https://twitter.com/tsnhockey/status/1336650364012154880?s=12

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.

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Golden Knights Post-Expansion Draft Trade Grades

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The Golden Knights have never failed to keep things interesting when it comes to the trade market. From the offseason to the deadline, Vegas is always looking to get in on the action. Since the Expansion Draft (where they made 15 trades), George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon have made 17 NHL level trades.

I went back and put three grades on every single one of them. The first grade is the short-term grade which is intended to judge just the season in which that deal was made. Mid-term grade looks two to three years into the future, and long-term grade is four years and beyond. Here are the grades.

October 6th, 2017
Calvin Pickard for Tobias Lindberg and 6th round pick (Peter Diliberatore)

Short-term grade: F
Mid-term grade: D
Long-term grade: B
Salary Cap Driven: NO

Literally a week after the deal went down, Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion and the Golden Knights had to turn to a goalie they had just declared “not ready to play in the NHL” in Malcolm Subban. Then he and Oscar Dansk got hurt and suddenly the net was Max Lagace’s with 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson as the backup. This is on a team that would eventually win the division and reach the Cup Final. The goalie injuries could have derailed the season and Vegas had traded a useable NHLer for peanuts just weeks earlier. Luckily it didn’t, and the pick they got out of it might actually turn into a useable player in Diliberatore, but boy was this a bad trade in the moment.

February 23rd, 2018
Tobias Lindberg and $2 million retained salary (Derick Brassard) for Ryan Reaves and 4th round pick (Slava Demin)

Short-term grade: B
Mid-term grade: C
Long-term grade: D
Salary Cap Driven: NO

It’s well-documented my feelings for the player the Golden Knights acquired in this trade, which is why the grades are so low. If the deal is never made, do they ever sign him to the ludicrous $2.75 million deal? He did score a game-winning goal in the Western Conference Final and then another goal in the Cup Final which makes that short-term grade look good.

February 26th, 2018
Brendan Leipsic for Philip Holm

Short-term grade: F
Mid-term grade: C
Long-term grade: C
Salary Cap Driven: NO

Our sources say this trade was a precursor to an Erik Karlsson deadline trade that fell through. Once it didn’t happen though, Vegas had given away a useable player for an unusable one on a team headed to the playoffs. The only saving grace on this trade is that Leipsic ended up having some off-ice stuff that occurred on Washington’s watch instead of Vegas’.

February 26th, 2018
1st round pick (Joseph Veleno), 2nd round pick (Robert Mastrosimone), 2021 3rd round pick for Tomas Tatar

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