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Tag: Kevin Iole

Iole: Robin Lehner Holds The Keys To Ultimate Success

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: Ken Boehlke,

There is no more important player to the Golden Knights’ chances of capturing the Stanley Cup in a few months — not Jack Eichel, not Mark Stone, not Alex Pietrangelo — than Robin Lehner.

The Knights will be a Cup favorite if Lehner plays during the playoffs the way he played on Saturday in a 3-2 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.

Lehner was consistently excellent on Saturday and he actually out-dueled the great Andrei Vasilevskiy in the shootout.

Lehner has been one of the five best Golden Knights during the season, though to hear many fans grumble about him, they act as if he were the modern version of Roberto Romano (Look him up; it’s not pretty).

He’s not Marc-Andre Fleury, not in terms of personality, not in terms of athleticism nor in terms of lineage.

Fleury’s mistakes were often overlooked in both Las Vegas and Pittsburgh because of his mega-watt smile, his incredible humility, and his super-human athleticism.

Lehner isn’t a charismatic personality, but not a lot of hockey players are. As a group, their public personas fall somewhere between ultra-vanilla — “The guys played great in front of me” — to vomit-inducing. Have you ever listened to what Reilly Smith says during his interviews? And it doesn’t take Lieutenant Columbo to figure out that he’d rather be doing anything short of sticking needles in his eyes than appearing on an intermission interview or answering questions from the media.

Lehner, for some reason, has become the whipping boy for the VGK fans and it’s highly unfair and highly unsophisticated. Has he let in goals that he should have stopped? No question.

There are basically zero stand-up goalies in the NHL today, but at 6 feet 4, 255 pounds, Lehner is the one guy who could do it and be successful. He’s a smart goaltender and thinks the game well, and by playing his angles intelligently, he takes away most of that by standing up.

It’s when he gets moving that he gets into trouble. That hurt him Saturday against Tampa, when he was down and the puck went into the net off of him. It even happened in the shootout.

Lehner won the job from Fleury by merit in the bubble in 2020, Allan Walsh’s ridiculous stab-in-the-back picture notwithstanding. Lehner outplayed Fleury by a large margin and gave the Knights the kind of goaltending they needed to win the Cup. That had nothing to do with playing Lehner over Fleury and everything to do with forwards who in The Bubble suddenly couldn’t hit the ocean from the deck of the Titanic.

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Iole: Uninspiring Efforts Becoming Worrying Trend

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.

Pete DeBoer was correct, of course, even though he called Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago at T-Mobile Arena “just another mid-December game.” It’s a long season and a loss to a lesser team in January isn’t anything to get too worked up about in the grand scheme of things.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

I’m a lot more worked up about Keegan Kolesar’s lack of production and slowing development, and the lack of an identity for the fourth line, than I am about a loss to a weak team on home ice in the second week of January.

It’s how they lost that game that is troubling. It’s not as if the Blackhawks played an incredible game because they were fired up for Marc-Andre Fleury’s return and wanted to support their goaltender. Oh, the Blackhawks did defend hard in the final two periods in particular, and played solid hockey, but it was far from a Herculean effort by them.

The Golden Knights’ loss was more due to an uninspired effort which, if we’re being honest, has happened far too often this season for a team that fancies itself as a contender for the Stanley Cup.

On Saturday, the Knights badly missed William Carrier, who left seven minutes into the game with what the club later said was an upper-body injury. Carrier’s intensity can and often does have a trickle down effect. Without him, there were far too many passengers.

Nolan Patrick seemed out for a cruise. Kolesar’s big body is perfect for barreling over opponents and cruising to the net, but do you remember him doing that even once on Saturday? There was little urgency, or desire to win, from far too many players.

In an 82-game season, that’s going to happen, and DeBoer recognized that when he was dismissive of it.

But how could the Knights’ come out flat in a game against Fleury, a game surely they should badly want to win? Fleury was the second star, but that was mostly because no one else really stood out. Until a save on Evgenii Dadonov in the waning seconds, Fleury never made one of the five-star saves that have made him a surefire Hall of Famer. The Knights made it easy on him.

We’re still not to the halfway point of the season, and it’s happened far, far too often. They were on cruise control in two of their last three games and that’s unacceptable. Nashville played great in a 3-2 win on Tuesday, but the Golden Knights basically didn’t make it hard on them.

Then, after a stirring effort in a 5-1 win over old friend Gerard Gallant and his New York Rangers, the VGK laid an egg again against Fleury.

There’s not much DeBoer can do to change this, either. He doesn’t have the threat of making moves or sending guys down to inspire more consistently intense play.

On the surface, a Kolesar for Jake Leschyshyn swap in the lineup would probably be good, but to send Kolesar to Henderson, he’d have to clear waivers. That would be risky because he’d almost certainly be claimed.

Guys who are 6-2, 230 pounds, and can skate like he doesn’t are rare commodities in today’s NHL. Kolesar’s a big guy and big men often take longer to develop than other players do. Kolesar seemed on a nice upward trajectory early and looked as if he’d turn into that rare third- or fourth-line big man who could skate, contribute 12-15 goals, play well defensively and create havoc with his physical presence.

The Knights are going to be fighting the salary cap for several years, and it makes little sense to give up now on a guy like Kolesar who has the ability to develop into that kind of player and who has a relatively low salary.

There were some fans pining for the VGK to sign Evander Kane to a one-year deal at the league minimum after his release from the Sharks. But while Kane, though smaller, is a much more effective big man, he brings far too much baggage, and his issue with gambling means Las Vegas is the last place he should play.

It’s not a no or a NO, it’s a “HELL NO, ARE YOU CRAZY?” type of pass on Kane.

Putting Leschyshyn in for Kolesar isn’t likely to happen because it would make the Knights more vulnerable to big, physical teams.

So they’re going to have to make do with what they have and figure out a way to overcome this disconcerting trait of coming out flat far too often.

This is a good team and you have to pick to find problems. They’re the kind of problems teams like Buffalo and Arizona and Seattle and Columbus would love to have.

But when your stated goal is the Stanley Cup, you have to be picky and you have to be ruthless. The kind of effort the Golden Knights gave on Saturday and have given too often this season is unacceptable, and the leadership group needs to impress that upon the players sooner rather than later.

You can’t give away games in the NHL when home-ice advantage will be so crucial against the Colorados and Tampas and Carolinas of the world. And these games in January count every bit as much in the standings as the ones in late March or April when the playoff position push is on.

**You can find all of Kevin’s tremendous boxing and MMA work at Yahoo Sports here.**

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: 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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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: 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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Iole: Draft Has Allowed VGK To Acquire Superstars, Now It Needs To Solidify Depth

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Today, Kevin wants the focus to shift off Jack Eichel, and on to another, cheaper center.

Drafting well is the best way to build a contender in the NHL and it’s the best way to remain one. Teams can’t build a championship team exclusively through free agency, though it is a tool. And teams aren’t going to trade their way to a title either, though, again, it’s a tool.

The Golden Knights have been outstanding traders, and their free agent moves have worked.

But it’s all been buoyed by a trait that is far underappreciated: Their ability to draft and develop well.

And yes, I’m serious.

Let’s look at it: Were it not for a smart draft pick in 2017, there’d be no Max Pacioretty. The Knights were able to land the prolific goal-scorer they needed on their first line because they did exceptionally well to draft Nick Suzuki at No. 13 in 2017.

There’s no Mark Stone without a few picks later the selection of Erik Brannstrom. He hasn’t turned out to be the player either the VGK or the Ottawa Senators thought he’d be yet, but he’s only 22 and players develop differently than others. In a draft that produced Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar at Nos. 3 & 4, plenty of teams felt the VGK got a steal grabbing Brannstrom at 15.

The Eichel Watch wouldn’t have ended in the VGK’s favor on Thursday were it not for the shrewd pick of Peyton Krebs, who dropped from No. 10 on the final ranking of North American skaters to the 17th overall choice because he was injured at the time.

Obviously, Alex Tuch was the key component in the deal that sent Jack Eichel and his injury neck to the Golden Knights, but ever since word leaked out that the Knights were interested, the word was that there was no deal if Krebs wasn’t involved.

In the end, the Knights sent Tuch, Krebs, a Top 10-protected 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick to Buffalo for Eichel and a 2023 third-round pick.

Now that the deal is done, there will probably be further casualties when — if — all are healthy to get the team salary cap compliant. Fairly and accurately grading this deal will take years.

But if the Knights don’t win the Stanley Cup with Eichel on the team during the term of his $10 million a year contract, then even if he turns into the next Connor McDavid, the deal will be a bust of epic proportions.

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Iole: Enough With The Eichel Talk, Go After Another Familiar Center

This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Today, Kevin wants the focus to shift off Jack Eichel, and on to another, cheaper center.

There is a balancing act that every NHL general manager must play, and trying to play it has to be causing Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon plenty of agita.

Jack Eichel, exactly the type of player the VGK have missed throughout its existence, is available on the trade market. When such a player was available in 2019, McCrimmon went out and landed Mark Stone.

When another such player was available as a free agent in 2020, McCrimmon opened owner Bill Foley’s wallet and signed Alex Pietrangelo.

Many websites, which are in the business of getting clicks and not necessarily reporting accurate news, have linked the VGK and Eichel. It’s obvious why, but it’s also just as obvious why it doesn’t make much sense for the Knights to do it.

The Knights would be responsible for a pro-rated portion of Eichel’s $10 million salary this year and then $10 million a year through the 2025-26 season. They already have Stone signed at $9.5 million, Pietrangelo at $8.8 million, Max Pacioretty at $7 million, William Karlsson at $5.9 million, Alec Martinez at $5.25 million, Shea Theodore at $5.2 million, Jonathan Marchessault, Evgeni Dadonov and Robin Lehner at $5 million apiece and Alex Tuch at $4.75 million for next season.

Even if the cap rises, and reports are it may jump minimally to $82.5 million, that would be $71.4 million with Eichel for next year for 11 players. So they’d have $11.1 million to spend on the rest of the group.

That becomes problematic because Zach Whitecloud’s $2.75 million extension kicks in and between Whitecloud, Nolan Patrick and backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, they will account for more than half of the extra, at $6.275 million combined.
On top of that, we haven’t exen discussed the acquisition cost, which will be enormous.

So it seems fanciful, at best, to write Eichel into the VGK’s lineup for the next four-plus years.

There is a player who is perfectly suited for the VGK, won’t cost nearly as much and who could give them that No. 1 center without breaking up the current roster that would make them a more solid Stanley Cup favorite.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Tomas Hertl would look fantastic between Stone and Pacioretty, and would allow Stephenson to slide down the lineup where, as Pete DeBoer noted after Friday’s up-and-down win over the Ducks, he gets favorable matchups.

Hertl is in the last year of a deal with the Sharks, and is making $5.625 million. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

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Iole: VGK Still A Cup Contender, But Problems Abound On the Ice And In The Stands

Sundays have always been a down day here at, but the last few years we’ve had regular Sunday columns during the regular season. We lost our regular columnist, but we never stop trying to deliver you content. This season, diehard VGK fan and legendary combat sports columnist Kevin Iole will be delivering columns a few times a month on Sundays. Today, we get his first, preaching patience.

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke,

Four games into an 82-game season, even with a third of the top nine forwards and two of the team’s better defensemen out, is not the time to panic. The Golden Knights have been awful the last nine periods, against the Kings, the Blues, and the Oilers, and they weren’t all that great against the Kraken in the season-opener in their only win.

This is a team, though, that is built for the long haul, and a strong run in April and May will make these frustrating early days of the 2021-22 season quickly forgotten.

The most worrisome thing about the early struggles is the fans’ reaction to it. Neither Wednesday’s game against the Blues nor the Friday game against the Oilers, was truly sold out. Both games were close late in the 3rd period, and hordes of people were leaving while the outcome hung in the balance. For all the talk about having the greatest fans in hockey, that’s concerning.

A six-game winning streak will bring them back and have them singing along with ‘Viva Las Vegas,’ and throwing flamingos onto the ice, but sustained mediocre play will guarantee plenty of empty seats.

The marketing department needs to address that, but the product on the ice isn’t doing its part to keep them until the end of the games. The scary part is, it’s unlikely the VGK will have its full team together until around the Olympics in February, when Alex Tuch is slated to return from offseason shoulder surgery.

Going into tonight’s game against the Islanders at The Fortress, Tuch will be joined in the press box by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Alec Martinez and, Zach Whitecloud.

If you’d have predicted the day before Tuch’s surgery became known that those five would represent the Golden Knights in the NHL All-Star Game at T-Mobile, it wouldn’t have been that outlandish of a prediction. No team can withstand having that kind of talent on the sidelines for any lengthy period and not have it make a negative impact.

More concerning than the lengthy injury list, though, is the impotent power play and the mind-boggling defensive lapses. During a 5-on-3 power play on Friday against the Oilers, the Golden Knights were repeatedly missing the net, making it far easier on the defense and a big part of the reason they’re now 0-for-27 with the man advantage dating back to the playoffs last year.

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Guest Post: VGK Upgraded, But Enough?

Today’s Guest Post comes from Kevin Iole. Kevin is a columnist for Yahoo Sports. He was a sportswriter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1990 until 2007. He covered the Las Vegas Thunder for the entirety of the team’s run in Las Vegas, and did a little bit of work covering the Las Vegas Wranglers. A lifelong hockey fan whose favorite players were Eddie Shack, Battleship Kelly, Steve Durbano, and Gary Rissling before Mario Lemieux came along, Iole was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was a diehard Penguins fan and a season ticket holder for about 10 seasons. He is a Vegas Golden Knights and Henderson Silver Knights season ticket holder along with his wife, Betsy. He became a Golden Knights fan early in the inaugural season and counts the Knights as his No. 1 team witih the Penguins No. 2. His ideal outcome would be the Knights winning the Cup 4-3 over the Penguins every year. Other than hockey, Iole loves Basset Hounds and owns about 40 VGK jerseys, many of which need new nameplates. 

For a franchise whose motto ought to be, “Stanley Cup or bust,” the Golden Knights only got marginally better this offseason.

Sure, the defense is better after essentially swapping Nate Schmidt for Alex Pietrangelo, as well as continued growth from Zach Whitecloud. This, though, is a team that lost in five games in the Western Conference finals and the only change in its forward lineup will be that its No. 2 center will be replaced by an injury prone and unproven 21-year-old.

But the forwards are worse and the goalies are the same, so will the difference from Schmidt to Pietrangelo mean that the Stanley Cup will be toted down Las Vegas Blvd in 2021?


Oh, I like the Knights’ chances of having a parade better than the Sabres or the Senators, and probably even better than the Penguins, Devils and Coyotes.

So much could go so wrong for this team.

It starts with William Karlsson, the only true elite (or close to elite) center on the roster. If he gets hurt and is out for any length of time, it’s a disaster of epic proportions.

The Golden Knights’ depth at center is nonexistent, and it could withstand a Pietrangelo absence far more than it could a prolonged Karlsson absence.

Peyton Krebs is a promising prospect, but relying on a 19-year-old in one of the most important spots on the team — and a 19-year-old who is less than two years removed from tearing his Achilles tendon, remember — is not the stuff of which Stanley Cup champions are made.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If Chandler Stephenson regresses and plays next season like he did in the first half of the season with Washington rather than the way he did after he was traded to the Golden Knights, it will seriously imperil their Cup chances.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

This team is close, though, and it has the ability to make a move that could, in fact, make it the Cup favorite. It won’t be popular, of course, but Kelly McCrimmon already told us that the popular moves aren’t always the wisest moves. But the path the Knights should take, and I’d argue must take, is clear:

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