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How The Deadline Will Clue Us In On Mark Stone’s Health And UFA Plans

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we wait anxiously to see what the Golden Knights will do at the deadline exactly a week from today, there will be so much more to the story than simply who Vegas brings in and what they are forced to give up.

The reason why the Trade Deadline is so exciting is because there’s a clock. Any time NHL GMs are put under the gun, they are forced to show their cards concerning where they see the team heading not only this year but in the future as well.

The defending champions have a lot of balls in the air that the front office is being forced to juggle. From inconsistent results to multiple injuries to crucial players to expiring contracts on a few of the team’s leading scorers, the Golden Knights have a lot to think about before the clock strikes midnight (technically it’s noon) on March 8th.

The first, and probably most important, piece of information we will be able to gather from the Golden Knights’ actions before the trade deadline is the status of Mark Stone. The latest reporting on Stone indicates he suffered a lacerated spleen that could take anywhere from six weeks to six months to heal. TSN’s Darren Dreger on yesterday’s edition of Insider Trading indicated Vegas expects Stone to be out through the regular season, but called him questionable for the playoffs.

Obviously, the Golden Knights have more information on Stone’s health than even the most plugged-in insiders, but given their history, they are highly unlikely to share it. But, what happens at the deadline will give us a sneak peek into their expectations.

If Vegas buys one or more players on expiring contracts (and doesn’t sign them to immediate extensions), it will give a strong indication that they expect Stone back before their postseason run is over. On the flip side, if the targets are those with term, it points towards an uncertainty of Stone’s return.

Why?

It’s impossible to replace Stone’s production and value to the team. Buying players on expiring contracts means they are only available for one playoff run. If that playoff run is expected to be Mark Stone-less, their value to the organization is minimized. However, if Stone is expected to play, that one playoff run will be expected to deliver Vegas its second Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, if the Golden Knights buy players with term, it guarantees additional playoff runs, and in turn, more chances to win the Cup with Vegas’ captain healthy.

The next tip we’ll get from the Golden Knights is their plans for the future of their five key pending UFAs, Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, Michael Amadio, William Carrier, and Alec Martinez.

Of course, deadlines spur action, so there’s a realistic possibility a contract is signed by one or more of these players. But, even if it isn’t, there will be clues.

It will be shown by how much future salary the Golden Knights take on for next season and beyond. As it currently stands, Vegas has about $21 million in expected cap space to fill the rest of their roster next season. There is a scenario that exists in which it’s enough to re-sign everyone, but the more salary they add at this deadline, the clearer it will become that one or more of those five are not in the plans.

The Golden Knights are going to be active between now and next Friday, that much we know. What else we’ll learn along the way? We’ll have to wait another 170 hours or so to find out.

Golden Knights Have Proven Success Without Stone In Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

On January 12th of last season, Golden Knights captain Mark Stone played in his last regular season game of 2022-23. Vegas’ roster battled through the schedule without their leader and secured the top playoff seed in the Western Conference.

We all know what transpired once the postseason began.

(Courtesy of TNT)

Without Stone in the second half of last season, the captain’s teammates went 23-9-7 to finish out the string of regular season games. It was a bit of a surprise but also a sign of what to expect in the postseason. The Stone-less lineup averaged 3.23 goals per game and allowed only 2.67 per contest. Coach Bruce Cassidy got his entire roster to buy in and finish off the season strong without their heart and soul.

January 14, 2023 to April 13, 2023 – Games Without Stone

  • Record: 23-9-7 (53 Points)
  • Points Percentage: .679
  • Goals Scored: 126
  • Goals Allowed: 104
  • Games with 4 or More Goals Scored: 20
  • Games with 5 or More Goals Scored: 9
  • Winning Streak of 4 Games or More: 3
  • Record vs. Playoff Teams: 12-6-4 (26 Points)
  • Shots Per Game: 30.5
  • Games Scoring First Goal: 22
  • Blocks Per Game: 17.74

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Second Half Schedule Allows Vegas To Enter The Playoffs Well Rested

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since January 27th, the Golden Knights have had 16 days off and suited up for only six periods of game action. It may not seem like much, but it allows for the reigning champions to heal, prepare, and most importantly rest up for their final 30 regular season games and their perennial deep postseason run.

The Golden Knights have played 156 games since October 11th, 2022, so any extra days off should be taken advantage of.

We haven’t (rested players) other than maybe late in the year. Would I do it in the middle of January? Probably not. First of all, players don’t want to come out of the lineup even when they’re hurt, so there’s dealing with that part of it. -Bruce Cassidy, September 2023

It goes without saying, playing an extended amount of hockey is what every fan and player dreams of when a new season begins. However, a deep run can interrupt a reigning champion’s repeat attempt.

When the Avalanche were eliminated in seven games to the Seattle Kraken last year, it was their 191st game played since October of 2021. Their short summer full of celebrating in ’22 was anything but that ten months later. With the spacing out of VGK’s final 30 contests, it’s possible rest can keep them off the golf course until mid-June.

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Golden Knights Going To The Best Area To Score Goals, Fueling 3 Game Win Streak

Want to win in the NHL? There’s one specific place on the ice where you must be better than your opponent.

These last three games for the Golden Knights, they’ve dominated there.

Early in the year, there were some games where we played well but we ran into a hot goalie. But the Winter Classic and some of the other recent ones I think we could have been better at generating offense with a little more will and second effort. Usually that requires an inside presence and that’s how we got back in the game, we got inside. -Bruce Cassidy

The Golden Knights erased a two-goal 3rd period deficit on Saturday night because they killed the Penguins directly in front of the goal. In fact, Vegas has been excellent in the low slot for the last three games, and it’s why despite the depleted roster, they’ve been winning.

Here’s a look at where each goal was scored from in the last three games against Nashville, New York, and Pittsburgh.

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Stone Hopes To Jumpstart VGK After Monday’s Offensive Explosion

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The last time Golden Knights fans saw Mark Stone explode offensively was the series-clinching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. The captain tied a bow on Vegas’ first-ever championship with three goals and two assists in a 9-3 blowout. Monday’s game was not nearly as important but Stone broke out again, solving Vegas’ scoring woes for one night.

I was just fortunate enough to be in shooting spots tonight. I’d be a fool to pass up the ones that I got. Those just come some days and other days they don’t, but we just need to keep finding ways to play those 60-minute games as a good team. -Mark Stone

Stone completed the three goal challenge for the 3rd time in a Golden Knights uniform, two coming in the postseason.

Mark Stone Hat Trick Highlights

  • 04/14/19 – 1st Round Game 3 vs SJ: 3 Goals, 2 Assists, 4 Shots on Goal, 18:24 Time On Ice, VGK wins 6-3
  • 06/13/23 – SCF Game 5 vs FLA: 3 Goals, 1 Shorthanded Goal, 3 Shots on Goal, 16:54 Time On Ice, VGK wins 9-3
  • 01/15/24 – Game 44 vs NAS: 3 Goals, 5 Shots On Net, 18:48 Time On Ice, VGK wins 4-1

Going into Monday’s matinee, the reigning Stanley Cup champions were averaging an insufficient 2.5 goals per game in the last 14 games. Without the laundry list of injured Golden Knights, healthy players must step up and score enough to win. It was no surprise that VGK’s leader was the one to break out for three of Vegas’ four goals. Hopefully, his performance solved the Golden Knights’ lack of offense going forward.

We have to be a better version of ourselves for longer if we expect to get points. We’ve even talked about that. We might even be doing that and still not get points because teams will just be playing better. We’ve witnessed some of that lately. -Bruce Cassidy

Several times this season after a slow night offensively, Stone aided his team to success by scoring in the next game. In early November, Vegas began the month with a paltry three goals in nine periods. In Vegas’ next match, the captain scored a game-winner late in the final frame. He also added two power play assists, giving the Golden Knights offense a much-needed shot in the arm.

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Cassidy Hoping Separating Eichel And Stone Will Bring More Balance To A Karlsson-less Lineup

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Being a coach in the NHL requires the ability to juggle. Not literally, though Bruce Cassidy has shown to be so good at the figurative kind it wouldn’t shock me if he could do it with balls or pucks as well.

This season for the Golden Knights there has been a constant struggle to remain healthy enough for long enough to keep a lineup intact from game to game. So, Cassidy has been forced to make a lot of decisions through his lineup to try and maximize the players he does have.

For the last 15 games, the same top line has been used and individually each of the three players has thrived. Since November 30th when Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Ivan Barbashev were put together they have combined for 19 goals and 50 points in 15 games. The team started hot with that group as the top line as well, going 7-1-1 in the first nine games.

But, the team has dropped five of the last six, all in regulation.

I look at them both as guys that drive lines. When they are on the same line it takes away from whatever line Stone comes from. You get extra with two drivers that seem to have really fed off one another but you are robbing Peter to pay Paul type of thing. -Cassidy

To make matters even more difficult, William Karlsson picked up an injury at the Winter Classic which will keep him out for each of the next two games. Cassidy says the loss of another key forward has essentially forced him to split apart Eichel and Stone.

We figured we may go back to (Stone with Stephenson and Eichel with Marchessault) and see if it balances us a little better. I consider Karlsson a driver of a line as well. We lose him in that sort of 3rd role so it’s going to be up to some younger guys to step up. -Cassidy

Balance was a key aspect of the Golden Knights’ success in the playoffs last year. They outscored opponents at 5-on-5 by 33 goals in 22 games. In the last nine games, with a more top-heavy lineup, Vegas is down 25-18 at 5-on-5

To turn things around, they need to get scoring from throughout the lineup rather than relying so much on the 1st line. Tomorrow against Florida will be the first look at a VGK lineup with Stone and Eichel on separate lines in over a month. It was a rough patch back then in late November that forced the move to put them together, now taking them back apart is the hopeful solution to get them out of the current skid.

Golden Knights Used Film Study To Score Tiebreaking Goal Against Ottawa

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There aren’t many better feelings in sports than preparing for a situation and then executing exactly what you prepared for during a game. The Golden Knights pulled this off last night in the 2nd period against the Ottawa penalty kill.

Before every game, the Golden Knights go through a few video sessions to get them ready for what they will see out of the next opponent. They go over things like neutral zone setups, faceoff plays, forecheck systems, and other generally unexciting concepts. Typically, these are more of review sessions than anything as most teams in the NHL run one of a few similar systems.

Every once in a while though, they’ll catch something they believe they can exploit.

We had a plan on the Nic Roy goal. We were watching video and they’ve given up a few of those breakaways to other teams so great play by that unit to capitalize on that. -Mark Stone

While studying the video, the Golden Knights recognized a weakness in the Senators penalty. In two of their last three games, they had allowed a player to get in behind the entire defense on a power play entry.

Watch.

In both instances, before Vegas pulled it off, the Ottawa defensemen on the blue line left a gap up the middle of the ice. If the puck carrier can get an angle around the first forechecker, there is potentially a lane for a teammate to head to that open area and be instantly sprung for a breakaway.

So we thought, well let’s take a shot at it and it worked out and we finished. Good play by Nic Roy. -Cassidy

As Ben Hutton carried the puck up the ice, they were presented with the exact same look they saw on video. Roy sprung into the open space and Hutton put the puck on his tape just barely beating Josh Norris’ defending stick.

The rest is history. (And now, so is the coach behind the Senators’ bench.)

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