By the time the Stanley Cup was handed over to Vegas captain Mark Stone, coaches and players league wide were scheming up ways to copy the Golden Knights championship formula. From defensive alignments, to deeper benches and undoubtedly goaltending efficiency. Some NHL teams have the right goaltender and not enough quality players. Whereas, others have the players but are unsure if they’re good enough in net.
“Look at Vegas. They used four goalies. Depth is an important part of success in this league. But depth in that position might be the most important for teams.”
This week Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan referenced the World Champion Golden Knights in his training camp opening press conference. It’s no surprise the two-time Cup winning coach mentioned Vegas because years back he had back-to-back Stanley Cup winning rosters. Like Vegas, the Penguins won using multiple capable goaltenders.
Vegas’ finals winning goalie Adin Hill went 11-4 in the postseason after injured starter Laurent Brossoit recorded five wins and two losses. The same smooth transition occurred with the back-to-back Stanley Cup winning Penguins. Old friend Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his second and third championship rings playing his role in a duel goalie tandem. Which clearly caught the attention of Sullivan and other coaches.
Exactly one month ago, February 9th, the Golden Knights were sitting as pretty as they have all season between the pipes. Logan Thompson was posting a strong game against the Minnesota Wild and played great in the games leading into the break, Adin Hill played well in the previous game, and Laurent Brossoit was healthy and performing in the AHL.
28 days later, Jonathan Quick is set to start tonight’s game for the Golden Knights in Tampa Bay, Jiri Patera will back him up, and AHL goalie coach Fred Brathwaite served as the backup for the Silver Knights last night.
And maybe the craziest part about it all is… this isn’t new for Vegas in its sixth season in the NHL.
Let’s hop in the time machine for a moment to remember the 10-game stretch back in early 2017 when the Golden Knights also lost not one, or two, but three goalies to injury inside of a month.
It all started when Marc-Andre Fleury took a nasty knee to the head in the Golden Knights’ fourth regular season game ever. The game would go down in history as the first defeat in franchise history, but the short-term effects were more on the mind at the time.
That thrust Malcolm Subban into action, a goalie who just days earlier was described as “not quite sure he’s ready for this level” by the team’s GM, George McPhee. Subban had recently been claimed on waivers from Boston which led to the trade of Expansion Draft selection Calvin Pickard. The Golden Knights acquired just a 6th round pick for what they expected to be an extraneous goalie. It turned out, he was far from that.
(Photo tweeted by Allan Walsh, Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent)
One of the common themes swirling around the Golden Knights for the past few seasons is the concept of loyalty. Actually, in VGK’s case, it’s a lack of loyalty, but you get the point.
In an unabashed quest to improve the team at all costs, the Golden Knights have had to make some difficult decisions along the way. It’s easy to applaud them for the gusto missing from many front offices around the league, but the bubbling undertone of crossing the unwritten line between hockey business and the mistreatment of people is becoming unmistakable.
Vegas treats you great until they don’t. They’ve gone from the team of opportunity, the ‘golden misfits’ or whatever, to the ‘evil empire.’ I think as long as they win they’ll avoid problems, but if they have a losing season, watch out. –Anonymous NHL agent to The Athletic
Unfortunately, the Golden Knights stopped winning last year and a not-so-anonymous agent thinks it could start to bite them moving forward.
In Vegas, no player is safe. Several players have made the comment now that no player is safe. At any time the rug can be pulled out from under you and if it’ll happen to Marc-Andre Fleury, trust me it can happen to anybody. Some players are going to ultimately decide to play in that environment and don’t care but other players are going to value being in a place where there is a sense of loyalty and stability and appreciation that goes both ways. –Allan Walsh on Agent Provocateur Podcast
Now that the Golden Knights have officially rid themselves of all Walsh clients, he’s not holding back on sharing his feelings publicly about the way Vegas operates.
Alright, so we’ve already shared with you what we think the Golden Knights will do this summer (Ken’s Picks, Jason’s Picks). Now, it’s time that we step into the hot seat and try our hand at playing the role of general manager. I (Ken) am going first, and I’m coming in hot!
You make me the GM, you are getting changes a plenty. In simple terms, I look at the current roster and cap situation and I think it will take a set of fortunate circumstances beyond what I believe to be realistic to win the Stanley Cup. Now, I’m not saying the roster is bad, at all, in fact, I believe it is in the Top 10 in the NHL, maybe even pushing Top 5. But, you hired me to win 16 playoff games, not 8, 9, or 10, and that’s what we plan on doing.
We’re here to take risks. We’re here to turn this thing into a true champion, and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen right away. My first order of business is to straighten up the most valuable asset in today’s NHL, the salary cap. Quite frankly, I look at the VGK cap and I see myself in a “you’re probably wondering how I got here” meme. Hell is far too polite a word for where the Golden Knights are salary cap-wise, so we need to straighten it out, and in a big way.
That means trades and lots of them. Buckle up, here we go.
TRADE – Jack Eichel to New Jersey Devils for 2022 1st Round Pick (#2 overall), 2022 4th Round Pick, 2023 2nd Round Pick, and Miles Wood
Yep, we’re doing it. I love Jack Eichel and I think he’s a generational talent that is bound to score 100 points in a season soon. But, I can’t have him and his no-move clause on a roster that already has $9.5 million Mark Stone and $8.8 million Alex Pietrangelo each with no-move clauses of their own. So, I have to do the only thing I can, and that’s move Eichel before that NMC kicks in on July 13th.
Yes, I’m aware this package is not nearly as good as the one this franchise gave up to get him in the first place. If I could take that deal back right now, I would, but I highly doubt the Sabres are up for that so we have to look elsewhere. The key to this trade is obviously the #2 overall pick, which we would select either Juraj Slafkovsky or Shane Wright. (I’d prefer the former, so let’s say we get him.)
We also net an extra 2nd and 4th and a usable player that I’ve been high on for a long time in Miles Wood, which we would instantly sign for $3 million AAV on a short-term deal.
The original trade for Eichel would have been a great move for most franchises based on the price, but for this one it was a mistake. It’s not because of anything to do with Eichel, it’s simply due to the cap situation. It has to be corrected and now is the only time to do it.
TRADE – Max Pacioretty and 2023 2nd Round Pick to Carolina Hurricanes for Teuvo Teravainen and Ethan Bear
Let’s keep the blockbusters going. Pacioretty’s injury history concerns me. Plus, I’m not 100% sure I’m going to have a true Cup contender this year so I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m forced to make a tricky decision on him at the deadline (especially if he’s hurt). We acquire a player who has the ability to score but is also a much more defensive-minded forward. Also, we get Ethan Bear who the Hurricanes are looking to move on from. Bear has arbitration rights but he didn’t have a great year last year so it shouldn’t be too costly to get him under contract on a shorter-term deal (let’s call it $2.8m AAV)
Unfortunately in today’s climate, the country is split for many reasons that we won’t delve into. This unfortunate trend has become reality for Golden Knights fans as well. By now I’m sure you’ve seen the division in the fanbase. For some, it’s either you are a Robin Lehner supporter or you’re not. And of course, after Tuesday night’s debacle, the detractors were loud.
I think there are fans that have different reasons but it all comes down to this: his name is not Marc-Andre Fleury. His style is not Marc-Andre Fleury. And that’s what fans were used to since the team’s inception. Change is hard when it comes to goaltenders, especially when the face of the city is unceremoniously dumped for cap space.-Mike McKenna, Daily Faceoff
The chatter began to heat up after the Golden Knights defeated the Oilers 4-0 on Tuesday night. Backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit started the first game of a back-to-back situation and secured his first shutout of the season. After the game, many were calling for coach Pete DeBoer to elevate Brossoit as the permanent starter. This wasn’t the first time certain fans had pleaded for a swap in roles.
The Golden Knights coach could have started Lehner against Edmonton but he chose not to. Instead, DeBoer used his ace in what he considered an important game. This is what the head coach said in Calgary when asked about the status of captain Mark Stone.
This was an important game. He would’ve played if he could have. We’ll check him out when we get back to Vegas. -Pete DeBoer
That short statement should tell fans where the coaching staff stands. DeBoer dresses his best players (when available) in bigger games.
Getting back to the divide amongst the fanbase. It’s reasonable for fans to be concerned with Lehner’s overall performance this season. Fans expressing disappointment shouldn’t be charged as a hater. Most care about the team’s success, not one individual’s. So, it shouldn’t be considered trolling when pointing out that Lehner is below his career averages in Save % and Goals Allowed Average.
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.
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.
Though he’s no longer with the Golden Knights, Marc-Andre Fleury will forever be a massive part of Vegas hockey. Last night he won his 500th game in the NHL, a feat just two other goalies in NHL history have ever achieved.
117 of those wins came wearing a Golden Knights jersey and there’s no better day than today to relive the best of them. Here are my five favorites of the 500 wins in Marc-Andre’s illustrious career.
**Remember, playoff wins do not count in the 500, so we are sticking to just the regular season.**
February 22nd, 2021 – at Colorado
The Golden Knights were coming off an embarrassing loss at Lake Tahoe and were in danger of dropping their third game out of four to the Avs. But Fleury would have none of that. The Avalanche peppered the VGK goal early and often and Fleury kept them out time and time again. He ended up with a 34 save shutout and it was the moment he truly began his campaign for Vezina.
November 19th, 2019 – vs Toronto
This game is really all about one single moment. The diving save. Of course, Fleury was tremendous in the game as a whole, stopping 31 of 33 shots and leading the Golden Knights to a 4-2 victory, but his save on Nic Petan will forever live in VGK lore. Of all the iconic moments Fleury had while in Vegas, this is the one that will always be atop the list. Heck, they made statues of it and gave them away to fans.