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

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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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Thompson’s All-Star Bid Demonstrates Respect Among The League

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On Thursday, the NHL named Golden Knights goaltender Logan Thompson a league All-Star. Thompson was publicly invited to the annual festivity spotlighting the NHL’s biggest stars and players on the rise. Vegas’ #1 goaltender is the seventh different VGK player to be elected to the All Star Game.

In 2018, former Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal were the Golden Knights’ first-ever representatives. In 2019, Fleury returned for the 4th time. A year later, Fleury passed and Max Pacioretty filled in participating in his 1st ASG. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to cancel the 2021 All-Star weekend, but it returned in 2022, hosted by the City of Las Vegas. The Golden Knights were deservedly awarded three spots on the Pacific’s roster. Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Pietrangelo, and Mark Stone were participants in the skills competition and the three-on-three tournament.

What does it mean to be selected? Well, most players always mention it as one of their goals when they reached the big leagues. Obviously, winning a Stanley Cup is the ultimate objective on their hockey bucket list. Thompson expressed his excitement on Friday.

I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I wasn’t really expecting it, but I’m happy to be mentioned and I’m looking forward to it. It’s definitely special but at the end of the day I think the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That’s my goal. -Thompson

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VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 3 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS 2 (17-6-1, 35 PTS)

The Golden Knights hit the road for a four-game road trip to the Eastern Conference starting in Columbus. Vegas took a 2-0 lead in the opening period, receiving goals from William Karlsson and William Carrier.

Columbus scored the only goal on the 2nd period, cutting Vegas’ lead in half.

The Golden Knights record improves to (17-6-1) defeating the Blue Jackets 3-2 in shootout. Vegas will travel to Pittsburgh for their second of the four-game road trip. Puck drop against the Penguins is scheduled for 4P PT. (Recap by Jason)

(Analysis/Tweets by Marc Savard)

Goalies Have Been Great, Defense Has Been Even Better

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Unproven. That was the buzzword coming into the season when it came to the Golden Knights’ plans in the net.

A 25-year-old undrafted rookie with 19 NHL starts under his belt, a 26-year-old who has bounced around a few franchises and never yet established himself as a starter, and a 29-year-old career backup. That’s the VGK goalie room.

On the outside looking in I think people automatically assumed it was going to be not good, and I get it on paper, but the game is not played on paper. -Bruce Cassidy

With Laurent Brossoit on the shelf, through 10 games, the tandem of Logan Thompson and Adin Hill leads the league in goals against per game and save percentage and has backstopped the Golden Knights to the top of the standings in the Western Conference.

Their .941 save percentage is 14 points higher than any other team in the league and  40 points better than the league average. The 17 goals allowed are three fewer than the next closest team, the Calgary Flames, who have only played seven games. Of teams that have played 10 games thus far, VGK is the only team to allow fewer than 30 goals.

Quite simply, you can’t ask for much more.

At the end of the day, I’m happy for them. They’ve both worked hard. They’ve both, when it was their turn, took the ball and ran with it. -Cassidy

But while the story of the season may seem to be about the goaltending, it’s been the play in front of them that’s the real reason for the incredibly hot start.

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VGK Players Undervalued In Fantasy Hockey Rankings

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It goes without saying fantasy sports are not an accurate measurement of how a player or a team will perform. Nonetheless, taking on the challenge of creating a winning lineup is an annual hobby for thousands of NHL fans. Right now, fantasy outlets are releasing their top player lists trying to accurately project the league’s point leaders for the 2022-23 season.

The same names lead the rankings as they have in previous years. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Cale Makar, and Nathan MacKinnon round out the top five best overall players according to NHL.com, ESPN.com, TSN.com, Sportsnet.com, and anyone else with eyes.

Locally, center Jack Eichel is the first name to appear for Vegas (44th) on NHL.com’s list of top 250 NHL players ranked. Mark Stone (45th), recovering from back surgery, is one behind his teammate. Defenseman Shea Theodore (99th) is the only other Golden Knight to be ranked in the top 100. While it may look like the fantasy experts are disrespecting some of VGK’s stars, others are being considered a sleeper pick for 2022-23.

With Robin Lehner on the shelf for the season, Vegas’ No. 1 job is ripe for the taking and at this point, it’s Logan Thompson’s to lose. In 19 appearances last year, 17 of which were starts, the 25-year-old posted a 10-5-3 record to go along with a 2.68 goals-against average, .914 save-percentage, and one shutout. –Nick Alberga, Sportsnet.ca

Although Sportsnet noted the position is officially up for grabs, they feel comfortable suggesting Thompson as VGK’s first goaltender to go in fantasy drafts around Canada and the United States. Of course, there needs to be a ‘buyer beware’ prompt for those interested in any of VGK’s netminders. Experts would tell you to wait until the later rounds.

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Feisty Golden Knights Head Into Camp With Similar Misfit Energy

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last season the Golden Knights missed the playoffs. This offseason they traded away Max Pacioretty, Evgenii Dadonov, and Dylan Coghlan and watched Mattias Janmark leave in free agency. Then, they found out starting goalie Robin Lehner will be out for the season after undergoing double hip surgery.

The combination of all of this has many believing the team not only is no longer a true Cup contender, but wondering if they are even a playoff team at all anymore.

The Golden Knights captain has taken notice of these opinions.

That’s fine. People can think what they want. After spending the summer in Canada, you wouldn’t believe how often I was told how bad we were. It’s great. I like that. All of a sudden we’re David instead of Goliath. It’s alright. I believe in this team. I believe in the guys, I believe in the leadership. –Mark Stone to Gary Lawless on NHL.com

So has the presumptive starting goalie.

It was too long of an offseason for us, and I think we’re hungry. The whole hockey world is doubting us right now, so we’re looking forward to getting back at it and showing people wrong, proving people wrong. It’s similar to how my career is, everyone has always pushed me to the side. I like it for our group, like I said we’re going to come out hot and hopefully prove a lot of people wrong. –Logan Thompson to Fox 5 Las Vegas

Even Jack Eichel got in on the action, seeing himself listed at #41 on NHL Network’s top 100 players list.

Obviously, I haven’t put a lot on tape over the last two years so I’m not going to argue with that. Do I think I’m the 41st best player in the NHL? No, but I don’t care about their rankings. –Eichel to Gary Lawless on NHL.com

It appears the Golden Knights are officially past the woe-is-me stage and are into the fiesty, almost angry, prove-you-wrong phase many non-playoff teams go through.

Vegas isn’t used to missing the playoffs and they really aren’t used to entering a season anything other than the Pacific Division favorites and Stanley Cup favorites.

They are neither this year and it appears to have struck a nerve with the roster. To a degree, it’s similar to the first season when the team banded together under the Misfits moniker. That team had an axe to grind with every team in the NHL and they made it their mission to embarrass as many as they could. This team seems to have its anger more pointed towards the rest of the world, which could be even more powerful.

The Golden Knights are confident in themselves and they are confident enough to take on all those who challenge them head-on. Now they need to do what the Misfits did and transfer that energy to the ice.

McCrimmon Shares Details On Stone’s Health, Hague’s Contract, And Goalie Outlook

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Training Camp is right around the corner. Trust me, it actually is, the long wait is so close to being over. With it a number of questions will begin to be answered for the Golden Knights. From lineup to systems to personnel to health, much of the picture will start to clear up every day we get closer to October 11th.

Until then, we must rely on snippets of information from the most important people in the organization, and recently we got some from the general manager. Speaking on the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports Radio, Kelly McCrimmon dipped into the latest on Mark Stone’s health, contract negotiations with Nic Hague, and the goalie picture.

First, on Stone. A few days prior to Stone’s surgery at a press conference McCrimmon shared the news of what they expected the offseason to look like for the captain.

Mark Stone has been seeing consultants and meeting with doctors and it appears quite likely he’ll have back surgery on Wednesday. He would be available for Training Camp and rehab over that period of time. That’s not 100% for certain but it’s certainly the most likely outcome at this time. -McCrimmon on May 16th

Three days later, following the surgery, the team released this statement via Twitter.

Mark Stone underwent a successful lumbar discectomy with Dr. Robert Watkins, IV at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital. He is expected to be ready to play for the regular season. -Golden Knights Official Statement

McCrimmon has spoken a few times and reiterated the expected timeline of Stone returning to the team for the first game of the season. In the interview with Fox Sports Radio, McCrimmon continued along the same path.

No different than what we’ve been saying all along. Mark’s in town, he’s skating. Our expectation is that he’s going to be available for the opening of the season. What that means exactly with respect to training camp, we’ll see. When you have these offseason surgeries, Laurent Brossoit is another one, really you don’t have that definitive timeline until the players get here, they get with the medical team, you see how they respond to certain treatments to certain levels of intensity. There’s a reason that teams at times appear to be vague with respect to timelines on injuries because it’s hard to pinpoint. My answers I’m giving here today are exactly I think as what we’ve said throughout the offseason and that’s the information we’re working with and the expectations we have. So that’s how we’ll play it out and once we get on the ice and see how players react that are coming off injuries or surgeries or lengthy rehabs we’ll know more at that time. –McCrimmon on VGK Insider Show

So, it still appears Stone is on track to be in uniform with the team on October 11th, but his availability to start Training Camp on September 24th remains in doubt.

On to the next order of business, restricted free agent Nic Hague.

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