As we inch closer to the Golden Knights’ opening night, here’s a friendly reminder that time is running out on placing 2021 future odds. Ken picked sides on William Hill’s team point totals earlier in the month, now I’m attacking league leaders and player award odds.
In last year’s shortened season Max Pacioretty finished with a team-leading 32 regular season goals. The veteran’s total was good enough for 13th most in the NHL. This year, in an even shorter season, Pacioretty is 22-1 to lead all scorers in goals.
NHL’s Leading Scorer odds: Auston Matthews +500 Alex Ovechkin +600 Connor McDavid +850 Leon Draisaitl +850 Nathan MacKinnon +1000
Golden Knights to be NHL Leading Scorer odds: Max Pacioretty 22/1 William Karlsson 75/1 Mark Stone 100/1 Reilly Smith 125/1
It’s a tall order for any of the Golden Knights to outscore super offensive studs like McDavid, Ovechkin, and Matthews but it is a unique season and there may be value with a couple of Vegas forwards. It might seem like a long shot but dropping a sawbuck or two on Karlsson to lead the league in scoring would bring back a nice return. Remember Karlsson’s 43 goals scored in 2017-18 was done playing with Marchessault and Smith, who he is set to play with again this season.
The former Ranger star signed with the Capitals for a paltry $1.5 million against the cap this offseason. The only other NHL quality goalies, and it’s debatable in both cases, on the Washington roster currently are 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov and 28-year-old Pheonix Copley.
Clearly, the Caps felt they needed help at the position and shored it up by signing Lundqvist, but without him, one has to wonder if they are in the market for another goalie to hold down the fort.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights remain in a situation in which they are trying to unload a future hall-of-fame goalie and his $7 million cap hit. Could there be a potential match between the teams to kill two birds with one stone?
I was asked this question quite a bit following Lundqvist’s announcement and my initial thought was absolutely not. That was mainly based on the fact that the Capitals are pushing up against the cap and simply don’t have the space to take on half of Fleury’s salary, let alone all of it like Vegas would prefer. But, when I dug a bit more into the idea, if a third team were to step in and “broker” the deal, it could make sense for everyone.
So, what does that look like? Teams like New Jersey, Nashville, Columbus, Detroit, Los Angeles, Ottawa, and a few others could be potential options to step in as the third party to broker the swap. Let’s use Detroit as an example because I think they fit best based on their rebuild status and expected willingness to buy draft picks.
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.)
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.
The Golden Knights franchise is not new to working in new players, and more recently, new stars. Some have thrived immediately, others have taken some time. With Pietrangelo, he’s going to have to have it figured out pretty quickly or this team is going to struggle along with him. Dealing with the new environment, first time with a new team, and the pressure to perform having signed the mega-deal all add up to the new guy feeling some heat, but he’ll have plenty of built-in excuses plus $61 million to relieve a lot of it. Pressure Index: 5
The likely partner for Vegas’ newest superstar has been one of the steadiest players in Golden Knights history. It’s hard to believe anyone would be a bad match for Pietrangelo but any failures Alex has early will be blamed at least in part on his partner. Throw in the fact that as a pair they’ll be playing against the opposition’s best players every night and likely starting a majority of their shifts in the D-zone and it’s a tall task for anyone. Simply put, McNabb has to have a great season or his place as VGK’s most reliable defensemen will be lost quickly. Pressure Index: 6
No one has higher expectations for the 2020-21 season than Shea. After a masterful postseason most believe Theodore’s name should be in the mix for the Norris trophy this year. The statistical expectations most have for Theodore are probably unrealistic though. He was able to post 19 points in 20 games in the playoffs which leads many to believe he should be pushing 80 points in the regular season. His career-high is just 46 in 71 games. Maybe he can reach the insane numbers he’ll be projected for, but more than likely he’ll be looking at about a 50 point season with 10-15 goals. He needs to drive offense consistently for this team to succeed. There’s no reason to believe he won’t, but the weight of expectations will be heavy. Pressure Index: 8
The Golden Knights say they are ready to head into the 2020-21 season with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner on the roster. That was clearly not the plan prior to free agency and the Draft as rumors swirled constantly about Vegas’ willingness to unload Fleury’s contract.
As of right now, no one was interested in taking on the final two years of the contract, along with the future Hall of Fame goalie, for the price the Golden Knights were offering. It led to Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee being forced to trade Nate Schmidt to complete the Alex Pietrangelo signing.
However, there’s still time to trade Fleury as the season still does not have a start date. According to Pierre LeBrun that uncertainty may have been the reason why Vegas had such a hard time moving him, why they still do now, and why that may change at some point in the hopefully near future.
Once there’s a clear idea of what that looks like it may fuel further trade discussions around the league because I think there are some teams waiting to see what the heck next season is about before they decide to add to their payroll or go the other way. There are some teams saying ‘Listen, I’ve got to tell my owner why I did this and if we’re not even playing why did I add this?’ So we might be a little frozen right now until there’s some clarity on next season. –Pierre LeBrun on TSN 1040
In other words, good luck finding a team that’s going to take on Fleury’s contract and pay him when they aren’t even sure if the season is going to happen at all.
Assuming the league comes back, and there are fans allowed in the buildings, the compensation that comes with taking on Fleury may suddenly look more attractive to a team, especially one that could use some star power.
There’s still plenty of time for things to change, but at the moment the Golden Knights appear set to head into the 2020-21 season with a similar mindset as they did in 2019-20.
At the deadline of Year 2 the Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone and agreed to an enormous contract extension that was set to kick in the following season. Thus, in the offseason, they were forced to shed some salary in order to return to cap compliance. They did it by trading Erik Haula, Colin Miller, and Nikita Gusev and the only tangible piece they got in return was Nic Roy. Then, at the deadline, they packaged all of the draft picks they received a in the offseason to make splash trades bringing in Robin Lehner, Alec Martinez, and Nick Cousins. The idea was to use the players that needed to be sent out in the offseason to create capital that could be spent in a more effective way at the deadline.
This year, the Golden Knights may end up going down a similar path. As was the case with Cody Eakin last year, the clear player to move to create cap space this offseason was (and still is) Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas signed Lehner to a long-term deal relegating Fleury to the bench and making his $7 million cap hit a burden. But, instead of making that move, Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee opted to trade Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt instead. The return was a pair of mid-round draft picks, which can once again be used as capital to make more moves at the deadline.
The trouble is, this year the piece that must move out to clear cap space at the deadline will be much trickier to move than the one last year. Cody Eakin’s $3.85 million was clearly expendable in the offseason and if Vegas wanted to do anything significant they needed to move it at the deadline. They found a suitor in Winnipeg and turned it into a 4th round pick. That paved the way to use the picks from Haula, Miller, and Gusev to add a forward, defenseman, and a goalie.
Back in the days when the Golden Knights played games at T-Mobile Arena in front of 18,000 fans, the song “The Man” by the Killers would occasionally blare over the loudspeakers.
♪♪ I got skin in the game I got a household name I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man ♪♪
That man for the Golden Knights was Marc-Andre Fleury.
When he’d make an incredible sliding save, stop a breakaway, or steal a goal with a windmill glove save, you’d hear that song, usually accompanied by a shot of him smiling through his mask on the big screen.
Fleury was the man at the Expansion Draft. He was the man in training camp. He was the man in the playoffs and into the Stanley Cup Final. Since the moment the Golden Knights got him, Marc-Andre Fleury has been “The Man.”
Then, he wasn’t.
Marc-Andre is a guy that I look at and he’s one of the best humans, the biggest personalities, one of the greatest guys and it was hard to see what happened. But you have a chance with Robin and he’s a fantastic goalie as well so those things are difficult.It was tough for the room. –Nate Schmidt to Sportsnet 650
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In the next 50 years of the Golden Knights franchise, they’ll probably never have a guy as universally liked as Marc-Andre Fleury. So for his teammates to see him placed in an unenviable position was always going to be rough.
Plus, it wasn’t the only thing that was “tough for the room.” The firing of Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly was incredibly challenging for everyone as well. Throw in the pause in the season, the bubble, and the pandemic itself and it becomes fairly clear the Golden Knights were set up to fail.
Sometimes, change is necessary. The results may have indicated that with both the firing of Gallant and the switch from Fleury to Lehner. But in a league with as much parity as the NHL, a few percent increase on the ice may not be worth the ripple effect it causes off it.
The Golden Knights should know this as well as anyone in the history of the league. They rode the “Golden Misfits” label all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in a year that most believed their talent level should have had them staring at the NHL’s cellar rather than the mountain top.
The organization has gone to great lengths to make the team better, and it’s hardly in question that’s exactly what they’ve done. But there’s been an emotional toll along the way, none bigger than the fallout from the benching of Fleury.
There’s no way to prove the exact empirical effects but professional sports are a binary business. Either you win or you don’t. The Golden Knights didn’t and hearing a now-former player share how tough the Fleury situation was on the team, it’s hard to believe it didn’t at least contribute to how the season unfortunately ended.
The Golden Knights are on the verge of landing the biggest fish in NHL free agency, Alex Pietrangelo. The former Stanley Cup-winning captain of the St. Louis Blues is expected to make his decision at any moment and it would come as a shock to the entire hockey world if he ends up anywhere but Las Vegas.
Like they did with Robin Lehner, Mark Stone, and Tomas Tatar at the last three deadlines, or Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny in prior offseasons, the Golden Knights will have made a splash in the name of bringing Vegas one step closer to winning the Cup.
However, as Isaac Newton taught us, with every action comes an equal and opposite reaction.
I worry about the Vegas reputation now. They are trying to win, which is admirable, but if they are getting a reputation for being a place that talks you into coming, what do you think the free agents today that are watching these guys get shipped out are saying to themselves? ‘That can be me in two years if I go there.’ There’s a fine line between trying to win and having some organizational loyalty. –Brian Burke, former Stanley Cup winning NHL GM
That reputation might end up getting even stronger after the fallout from the Pietrangelo deal too.
Fair to say the core of Vegas @GoldenKnights is unnerved as the Pietrangelo Watch hits Day 4. They saw Paul Stastny shipped out. They've heard all of their names in play – Fleury, Schmidt, Smith, Pacioretty, Martinez and Marchessault – as they now wait for the other shoe to drop.
If there’s one thing we’re starting to learn to count on it’s that there will never be a shortage of comments from NHL agent Allan Walsh. While he’s seemingly done discussing his client Marc-Andre Fleury’s future (for now), Walsh explained a way a team like Vegas could entice a high-end free agent by paying them more later than now. It would allow a front office to go out big game hunting, potentially attracting a veteran free agent like Alex Pietrangelo.
I’ve never seen this kind of activity. The only time that compares to what’s happening right now was in 2005 when we were opening free agency after losing a whole season to the lockout… In 2005, teams had the ability to use two compliance buyouts and take money out of the system and that doesn’t exist right now. There’s a lot of teams right now that are bumping up against the top of the upper limit and still have a number of their own players to sign. Let alone look at the free agent market and see who they can be in on to bring on board and into their city. -Allan Walsh, NHL agent
The Golden Knights are one of those teams up against the cap but unlike other clubs, it won’t stop them from adding players they desire. Vegas is desperately trying to move certain players to free up cap space but the organization can get creative when talking about real salaries as their owner is never afraid to spend to make his team better, something many other owners are not.
While the hunt can’t begin until officially until tomorrow, Vegas has probably been sniffing out their competition. Sources have told SinBin.vegas that the Golden Knights intend on making a real effort to sign Pietrangelo. With the uncertainty of the cap, their internal budget, and the players’ demands, Walsh explained how a club like Vegas can entice an attractive UFA to ditch their old club for Sin City.
There’s an escrow cap this coming season in 2020-21 of twenty percent. There’s a ten percent deferral that will be deferred until three, four and five years from the coming season. If you can defer money, and by that I mean put the money into the outer three years of let’s say a six-year deal, the escrow cap in those years is six percent. That means you will get your negotiated face value of the contract up to six percent that you could lose to escrow. That’s a huge difference. -Walsh
The goaltender carousel has yet to start spinning, but when it does, the Golden Knights are likely to have a ticket on the ride. The probability of Vegas re-signing Robin Lehner and moving on from Marc-Andre Fleury remains incredibly high which means the Golden Knights would suddenly be in the market for either a backup to Lehner or at the very least an AHL starter if the job is handed to Oscar Dansk.
If indeed they are to keep Lehner, that would eliminate Vegas from the top names soon to be on the market like Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, and Darcy Kuemper but it would be an intriguing place for anyone willing to play for less money but a greater shot at a Stanley Cup.
Enter Henrik Lundqvist.
After being kicked to the curb during the season in favor of Igor Shesterkin, Lundqvist’s time in New York officially came to a close yesterday when he was bought out by the Rangers.
That makes him an unrestricted free agent who is still being paid by his previous organization. He’s made no indication whether or not he even wants to continue his NHL career, but if he does, there’s a connection to Vegas that could make sense.
I wonder about Vegas. If they move Fleury I would think that spot would be an interesting one because Lundqvist has known Robin Lehner since Lehner was 12-years-old and Lehner’s father was Lundqvist’s goalie coach and instructor in Sweden before he came to New York. I think the fit it the room would be there. –Larry Brooks, NY Post on VGK Insider Show
Brooks told the VGK Insider Show that he has not spoken to Lundqvist and thus he is speculating but he named Vegas without being prompted (though I’m sure he knew he was on a Vegas-based radio station).
Lundqvist was far from elite a year ago, but there’s no question there’s still some hockey left in his Hall of Fame career if he so chooses to continue it.
As a backup, the Golden Knights could certainly do much worse and his cost against the cap could be minimal considering he’s made almost $100 million in his career already and has still yet to win a Stanley Cup.
Maybe he sees Vegas as a place that could give him that one last chance. Maybe he’s tight enough with Lehner that it would make for the perfect drama-free duo. Or maybe this is all for naught and he closes up shop on an unbelievable career.
A lot is about to go down in the next seven to ten days, especially between the pipes. We’re fairly certain the Golden Knights are going to part ways with one future Hall of Famer, maybe they can save the day by bringing in another.