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Iole: On The Current State Of VGK

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.

There’s nothing golden so far, particularly in the 2022 portion of the season, about the Vegas Golden Knights. Given the way they’re going, they’re perhaps best referred to as the Vegas Mediocre Knights.

Vegas has played 22 games in 2022 and gone 9-9-4. As playoff races heat up, the Golden Knights are all of a sudden at least a teeny weeny tiny bit in the Shane Wright Sweepstakes.

Forget about Wright for the moment, because this franchise will be shaken to its foundation if it misses the playoffs. I dare say if that unlikely eventuality comes about, none of the threesome of George McPhee, Kelly McCrimmon, or Pete DeBoer will hold the same jobs at the start of next season.

With that said, here are a series of thoughts and observations about the Knights at this stage:

• The Knights can’t score. The injury-ravaged group of 12 forwards that DeBoer iced in Friday’s 5-4 win in Anaheim had combined to score 36 goals in 22 games in the calendar year 2022.

The nominal first line of Jack Eichel (2), Nic Roy (3), and Evgenii Dadonov (2) has seven, which includes the two Roy scored in the second period Friday to end a 15-game goal-less drought.

If you eliminate ‘The Misfit Line,’ which has 16 goals in 2022, the other nine forwards Vegas dressed have 20 in 22 games. That’s not good enough to get it done.

Dadonov is the worst culprit of all, because he’s being paid the staggering sum of $5 million to score, which he isn’t doing.

• McCrimmon has maneuvered himself into salary cap hell and won’t be able to do much at the deadline unless he makes dollar-for-dollar trades. But despite what I noted above, if we assumed that McCrimmon could make deals and wasn’t handicapped by the cap, my belief is that the team’s No. 1 need is a defensive defenseman.

Even when (if?) Alec Martinez comes back — and he’s so badly missed — this team’s makeup is such that a shot-blocker/penalty-killer type is still a huge need. Vegas’ defense needs another shutdown guy in the worst way.

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Iole: The Passion VGK Became Synonymous With Must Return, And Soon

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.

The writer Mark Twain popularized a saying in the 19th century that is still used frequently today: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I believe in advanced statistics, but I also believe in the eye test and the eye test says that there is something deeply wrong with these Golden Knights.

There is a passion lacking in their game that has been there for most of the four-plus years this franchise has been in existence. It’s an enormously talented team, and with elite players like Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Max Pacioretty, Shea Theodore, and others, of course, it’s one that should easily be in the Stanley Cup discussion.

But ask yourself this: Could you honestly see the team that couldn’t hold a two-goal 1st period lead on Friday at home against the divisional rival the Los Angeles Kings really winning the Stanley Cup? Could you see this team, which entered Friday’s game having been shut out back-to-back, really winning four games against, say, Calgary, Colorado, and Tampa Bay? Or winning four against Edmonton, Minnesota, and Carolina? Or winning four against Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh?

For as much talent as there is on the roster, there is no longer a spark. The team no longer plays with a passion, that joie de vivre that made it so fun to watch in the inaugural season. There wasn’t just a spark on the Original Misfits; they had fireworks just about every night. But try to get a spark out of these Golden Knights and it’s often not there.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In 2017-18, remember the way William Carrier recklessly threw his body around? How many times did the then-fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Carrier, and Ryan Reaves have extended zone time thanks to a big hit and then a good cycle? That had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team and is why Coach Pete DeBoer started Reaves, Carrier, and Tomas Nosek so often the previous two years. He knew what that meant.

If you want to look at statistics, then let’s look at goals. It’s a bleak picture, trust me. Mattias Janmark has zero goals in his last 13 games. Nic Roy — whom I absolutely love as a player and believe will be a big part of this franchise’s future if they re-sign him — has one goal in the last 15. Evgenii Dadonov, who is being paid $5 million to score goals, has no goals in his last 10 and has one measly power play point since Dec. 14.

Do you want more? William Karlsson has one goal in his last nine. Jonathan Marchessault is only slightly better, with two in his last 13. Chandler Stephenson has two goals in his last 15.

Keegan Kolesar’s job isn’t necessarily to score goals, but he only has two in his last 16. More troubling, though, is that he’s not doling out those massive hits that a guy with his thick 230-pound frame can, and has done in the past.

It’s an ugly picture.

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Iole: Front Office Focus Can’t Be Solely On Winning Now

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.

Over the next 40 or so days, George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon will spend most of their waking hours trying to figure how to ship out a highly paid player or three without destroying the Golden Knights’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

If Jack Eichel plays in the regular season, that means there are significant pieces of this team that won’t be part of a potential Cup run.

That’s life in a salary cap world.

But they’re also going to need to keep an eye on the future, because they know as well as anyone it is unsustainable trying to make a franchise a consistent Cup contender via trades and via agency.

It’s imperative that they mine the draft and land some impact players. Contrary to popular opinion, there are impact players chosen in nearly every draft after the first round and in a lot of cases, after the first three rounds.

(Photo Credit: Ken Boehlke, SinBin.vegas)

Two of the three Golden Knights’ representatives at the 2022 All-Star Game fit that criteria. Jonathan Marchessault was undrafted, while Mark Stone was picked in the sixth round in 2010 by Ottawa.

Stone was chosen higher than Dallas’ Joe Pavelski, though, who was a seventh-round pick by San Jose way back in 2003. Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and Anaheim’s Troy Terry were products of the fifth round of the 2015 draft. And Kaprizov’s Wild teammate, goalkeeper Cam Talbot, went undrafted.

If you go back, nearly every draft has impact players taken late.

The point of this is that if the Golden Knights are to remain an annual Cup contender, they’re going to have to replenish the system through the draft and hit on some players late. It’s the only way to compete when you’re paying top talents like Eichel, Stone, and Alex Pietrangelo.

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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, SinBin.vegas)

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: SinBin.vegas 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: 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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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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