The Golden Knights have been to the playoffs every season they’ve been in existence. They’ve won the division two of the four seasons and tied for the crown in the most recent year. They’ve been to the conference finals every year but one.
But, none of it is good enough, and the front office’s actions have proven that time and time again.
From moving on from Gerard Gallant to shipping out lovable players like Nate Schmidt, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ryan Reaves to always being interested, and often landing, the biggest fish on the free agent market, the Golden Knights will stop at nothing to win the Stanley Cup.
In many ways, it’s everything a fan can ask for. Of course, it can be tough from time to time seeing all of the change surrounding the team, but in the end, the ultimate goal is to win and the Golden Knights are absolutely trying to do it.
From a player perspective, it should be the perfect scenario as well. Every player’s dream is to lift the Cup and see their name engraved on it immortalizing themselves in hockey history. It comes with a toll though.
Even though we’re watching Alex Pietrangelo suit up in a Golden Knights jersey day in and day out in camp, it’s still tough to see videos of Schmidt somewhere else. We always knew it would be the case, but Schmidt is already making an impact in Vancouver.
Vegas fans knew what Vancouver was getting when they acquired Schmidt this offseason. A reliable defender with the ability to pitch in offensively and a whale of a personality. The Canucks are seeing it in person and the reviews have been high.
The Canucks got better when the Golden Knights front office made the tough decision to move #88. Not only will Schmidt boost the blueline but he’ll add some veteran presence surrounding emerging star Quinn Hughes.
Not quite at Quinn Hughes level, not many are in terms of generating offense but this guy doesn’t miss an opportunity with his skating to jump up into the rush. He loves to be the trailer, loves to add another layer of attack. –Paterson, TSN Vancouver on TSN 1040
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.
The Golden Knights are likely headed for an offseason of change. It might be just a little if they can solve the goalie situation without breaking the bank or it might be a lot if they land the big fish in free agency. Either way, the possibility of moving one of Vegas’ top-six forwards and/or top-four defensemen is much higher this offseason than it was last summer.
Here’s a case for why they should trade each one of them, followed by a case against it. (Alex Tuch is substituted for Mark Stone due to Stone’s full no-movement clause.)
Max Pacioretty $7 million (3 seasons remaining)
Case for: You want cap relief, here it is. Shedding Pacioretty’s $7 million would basically allow for a one-for-one move to make the big-ticket free-agent splash. Pacioretty may not return nearly as much as you’d probably like after the dismal end to the playoffs, but he has a history of scoring and former captains aren’t easy to find. He’s likely on the declining side of his peak and his injury issues are concerning. If someone is willing to buck up a 2nd round pick and eat the entire $21 million in cap space over the next three years, Vegas absolutely has to listen.
Case against: The biggest problem the Golden Knights had in 2019-20, and especially in the playoffs, was scoring and the solution is to trade the team’s leading scorer? What world are we living in here? The guy is coming off a 32 goal pandemic shortened season and was clearly banged up during the playoffs. When he’s healthy, he’s the best scorer Vegas has. He’s also worked incredibly well with VGK’s most important forward, Mark Stone. I’ll repeat what I said before, if scoring is the issue, you do not trade your leading scorer.
Jonathan Marchessault $5 million (4 seasons remaining)
Case for: The case for trading Marchessault must start with his play in the postseason. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, he’s been known to take a penalty or two that he shouldn’t, and he isn’t exactly the physical specimen you look for in a hockey player, but all of that is overlooked because he can do the hardest thing to do in hockey, score. When he doesn’t, he has to be considered when thinking about change. The cap number would help free up some space for Vegas to make the splash they are hoping for in free agency and his production under DeBoer hasn’t matched what it was under Gallant which causes concern for the future. Plus, he’s played a lot less under DeBoer showing a lack of trust that Gallant had. This postseason Marchessault averaged 16:33 per game, in 2018 he averaged 19:25. The return would likely be worthwhile which could help in making something else happen down the line.
Since arriving in the bubble in Edmonton the Golden Knights have played in 36 regulation periods. They’ve allowed two or more goals in nine of them including three separate occasions to both the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks.
The response to those periods has been outstanding and is undoubtedly one of the largest factors in why Vegas is one win away from punching their ticket to the Western Conference Final.
When we have a tough period, when we have a 10-minute stretch where we’re in the box a lot, when we get back in (to the locker room) our guys aren’t happy with our performance and that shows, that shows in a positive way. -Nate Schmidt
In the period immediately following, the Golden Knights have outscored opponents 17-3. They’ve shut the opposing team out in six of the nine and have not allowed multiple goals in consecutive periods even once.
They’ve used these response periods to overcome deficits to win games on four different occasions, including last night.
Digging deeper, the Golden Knights have outshot teams in the period after allowing two goals 122-75. That’s a 47 shot difference and a 62% shot share. The shot attempt numbers are even more staggering. Vegas leads 234-129 in shot attempts in the following period, a 105 shot advantage, or nearly 12 shots per period!
But more than stats, it’s been the style of play.
Our group is really good at recognizing when we’re not getting everyone involved in the game. You look at how teams win and you’ve got to find ways some nights. You have to be able to find a way to get your guys amped up and get going. -Schmidt
If it’s penalty trouble, they cut back on the penalties. If they are turning the puck over too much, they ramp up the puck management. If they are allowing too many shots, they turn on the shot suppression machine. Or if like last night, it’s a combination of all of them, they just flat out flip the script and dominate the following 20 minutes.
From the start of the 3rd period, we were going to roll our lines over, try and keep up with us. That’s kind of the idea that our guys wanted. If you roll us over, roll us over, roll us over, it’s hard to play against. -Schmidt
Obviously, it would be best if the Golden Knights could go through games without having “off” periods. But, this is the real world, even though it’s trapped in a bubble, so when they inevitably happen, responding to them is the next best thing and the Golden Knights have passed that test with flying colors.
Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore both became Golden Knights at the Expansion Draft. They’ve each played more than 200 games as Golden Knights, but only three times have they ever been paired together to start a game.
173 regular season games have featured a lineup with both Schmidt and Theodore, yet at even-strength, the two have only been on the ice for 197 minutes.
Monday, late in the game, the dynamic offensive duo had a chance to play multiple shifts together as the Golden Knights attempted to recover from a 3-1 deficit. A little more than eight minutes of ice time later, Vegas stormed back into the game to tie it, eventually take the lead, and then seal their first win of the 2020 playoffs. The main reason that happened was the dominance the Golden Knights showed with 88 and 27 on the ice together.
Schmidt and Theodore were both on the ice for Vegas’ third and fourth goals (Nate scored the 3rd one) and they put in a 90-second shift in the final minutes to help seal the win.
The pair was nothing short of electric and they might just be the Golden Knights’ secret weapon when the team is trailing on the scoreboard. One that reminds the head coach of a duo from his past.
We had (Brent) Burns and (Erik) Karlsson in San Jose and we tried them together once in a while. We would stick them together if we were behind in games or on offensive zone draws, it’s a nice option to be able to throw those guys out there. -DeBoer
Schmidt and Theodore played a total of 8:46 together in the 3rd period where they held the Stars to just two shots, while posting an 82% Corsi, generating five scoring chances, and scoring the two goals.
Both guys are smart, they both move pucks and I think they both can drive offense. It’s always tough when you have two offensive guys playing together. The thing I like about Schmidtty and Theo is they both take pride in defending too. They’re not going to create offense by giving up a lot defensively or ignoring their defensive responsibilities which is a nice combination to have. -DeBoer
The pair was deployed for 11 shifts that began with a faceoff, just one was taken in the VGK defensive zone.
It doesn’t appear as though DeBoer is planning on leaning on the tandem of Schmidt and Theodore to start a game, but he certainly seems willing to give them significant time together when the Golden Knights need help offensively.
Pete DeBoer has had four months to scour over his roster and come up with the best combination of players in every situation. The forward lines and defensive pairs mostly match what we had seen in DeBoer’s time behind the bench before the pause, but the new power play groups have seen a bit of a shakeup.
Here’s how the Golden Knights ran out their power play units in practice on Friday, an early indication of what they’ll likely use when they get to the bubble in Edmonton.
Unit 1 Stastny-Stone-Pacioretty-Marchessault-Theodore
Unit 2 Karlsson-Smith-Tuch-Martinez-Schmidt
The first unit is absolutely loaded, which leads to a key question; are these equal time units, or is the first unit going to get closer to 90 seconds of the two minutes?
Stastny at center gives a good chance to win the faceoff, then he goes to the front of the net where he’s a terrific decision-maker. Marchesseault is stationed in the high-slot where he’s deadly when he gets the puck with a bit of time. Stone and Pacioretty present two excellent scoring options in the circles and both have shown tremendous vision to move the puck. And Theodore manning the blue line and driving the entries is VGK’s best PP QB.
There’s really nothing wrong with that unit at all, in fact, it might be the best collection of players the Golden Knights have ever had on the ice at the same time. The question is what it leaves the other unit.
DeBoer is abandoning the single defenseman setup on the second unit that he’s deploying on the first and has used most of his time in Vegas. The problem, in this case, is that neither defensemen is particularly proficient on the power play. Schmidt has just 26 power play points in his career and Martinez has only reached 15 in a season once. Both are good on at the blue line and each has the ability to laser a shot from distance, but as calling them elite weapons on the power play is a bit of a stretch.
That leaves much of the load to be shouldered by the three forwards.
We’re not going to name a captain before we go back. We will have one prior to the start of next season. -Pete DeBoer
Normally, we leave the oddsmaking up to the best sportsbook in the world, William Hill, but today, I’m going to take my shot at setting the odds on who will wear the “C” when the Golden Knights stitch it on a jersey for the first time.
Mark Stone -450
Stone is the massive betting favorite for a number of reasons. First, he’s the best player on the team and it’s not really all that close. That’s not always a prerequisite to be the captain, but it certainly helps. Next, DeBoer has lauded his leadership qualities since the moment he got to Vegas (Gallant did too when he first got Stone). He’s the right age, has an extended contract with the team, is clearly invested deeply in the team’s success as illustrated by his over-the-top celebrations, and he’s been an alternate captain during the entirety of the 2019-20 season.
If it’s anyone other than Stone, it’ll come as quite the surprise, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy candidates.
Nate Schmidt +500
Most Golden Knights fans know Nate Schmidt as the loud, goofy, jokester that he comes across as in interviews, commercials, and skits, but Schmidt is, and has been, a real leader on this team for a long time. He was named the Golden Knights Player’s Association representative, he’s been an alternate captain at times during each of the first three seasons, and whenever anyone mentions the leadership group of the team he’s included.
He’s incredibly talkative on the ice, both in serious and joking manners and he’s even more talkative when you stick a microphone in his face after the games. He’s not your quintessential captain, but he certainly represents the Golden Knights.