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Points Aside, Vegas Could Use More Offensive Impact From Jack Eichel

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The season couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for the Golden Knights. They’re leading the West in points (14), the Pacific in goals allowed (16), and are top three in the conference goals scored (29). The Misfits are hot, goaltending has been consistent and captain Mark Stone looks like his old self. Most importantly, the team hasn’t suffered any significant injuries through nine games. All is well in Golden Knights world except for one slight concern, Jack Eichel.

In 156 minutes played, the $10 million center has eight points (3G/5A) in nine games for 0.88 points per game average. Not bad. In fact, Eichel’s eight points are tied for a team-best with Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson. So, why is Eichel’s production being brought up? Simple, he’s not doing enough when you consider his importance, salary, and talent. Especially, when you compare Eichel to other players in his tax bracket.

Points By Top Highest Paid Forwards

Connor McDavid: 15 Points (8 Goals, 7 Assists)
Artemi Panarin: 12 Points (4 Goals, 8 Assists)
Auston Matthews: 7 Points (2 Goals, 5 Assists)
John Tavares: 10 Points (3 Goals, 6 Assists)
Mitch Marner: 7 Points (2 Goals, 5 Assists)
Jonathan Toews: 5 Points (4 Goals, 1 Assist)
Aleksander Barkov: 5 Points (5 Assists)
Anze Kopitar: 7 Points (1 Goal, 6 Assists)
Jack Eichel: 8 Points (3 Goals, 5 Assists)
Tyler Seguin: 6 Points (2 Goals, 4 Assists)
Johnny Gaudreau: 8 Points (5 Points, 3 Assists)
Matthew Tkachuk: 9 Points (4 Goals, 5 Assists)

Eichel is right in the middle of his peers in points and assists but he’s on the lower end of goals and one statistic that many find a good evaluation of a player’s offensive impact. While primary assists tend to get lost in statistical blenders, they should be weighted heavier than a secondary helper. Eichel has the same amount of first assists (2) as Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud. Chandler Stephenson on the other hand has four assists and they are all primary. Let’s not forget he’s tied for the most points and second amount of minutes played for a forward. In a sense, Eichel’s stat line should look more like Stephenson’s.

Sure, it’s nit-picking, but compare Eichel’s first assists with the league leaders.

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Cassidy Explains What He Wants To See Out Of Reunited Misfit Line

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Coming into the season one item of Bruce Cassidy’s agenda with the Golden Knights was to try out a lineup that separated William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault.

He opened up the preseason with each of the three of them on three different lines before quickly putting Marchessault back with Karlsson to start the real games. Then, at the end of the sixth game of the year, needing a goal to tie the Avalanche, he went back to it, reuniting the Misfit Line.

The chemistry was instant and it carried over to each of the next two games against Toronto and San Jose.

They’re good hockey players and they’ve played together a lot. Last night they were good against Toronto and they just didn’t capitalize, maybe made one extra pass. They know where each other are all over the ice. I’ve told them that when you get spread out against a team that’s pressing up on you all over the ice it’s tougher to have success. So they started supporting each other better. -Cassidy

The Misfit Line was on the ice for a goal against in the 2nd period in San Jose which consisted of multiple defensive zone turnovers from the trio. It turned into a bad change and eventually a breakaway goal that gave the Sharks the lead.

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Power Play Variety Paying Off Early For Vegas

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Through three games the Golden Knights power play is averaging one goal per contest. A success rate that Vegas fans haven’t seen in several seasons. While it’s premature to celebrate, it’s better than shouting obscenities after failed man-advantages like fans had been used to.

You are running through different people including the more accomplished offensive defensemen here, so you may see more action from there. -Bruce Cassidy

We explained in-depth, VGK’s new look power play under coach Bruce Cassidy. One element of the strategy was getting everyone on the ice involved. The Golden Knights have three PP goals and all were scored by a different player. Not only that, seven separate players have a PP point. It’s been a cast of characters contributing on 5-on-4 situations.

VGK Power Play Points
Nic Roy (2 Assists)
Alex Pietrangelo (2 Assists)
William Karlsson (Goal)
Jonathan Marchessault (Goal)
Reilly Smith (Goal)
Jack Eichel (Assist)
Mark Stone (Assist)

Both of Cassidy’s power play units have had success, creating game-tying and go-ahead goals. Against LA, William Karlsson evened the score 3-3 midway through the 3rd period. Up in Seattle, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly stretched Vegas’ lead on man-advantage opportunities.

Another sign Cassidy’s directions are quickly catching on is the variety of ways each power play goal has been scored. Karlsson’s PPG was a deflection from a superb Alex Pietrangelo shot-pass. The sequence began with Karlsson winning the faceoff and ended with Pietrangelo using his offensive creativity.

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Four Prerequisites For The Golden Knights to Miss the Playoffs

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Yesterday we looked at the four prerequisites that had to happen for the Golden Knights to win the division. Today, we’re doing the opposite. Here’s what would have to happen for everything to go wrong for Vegas and see them miss the playoffs yet again.

Jack Eichel leads all centers in goals against per 60 at even-strength

Last year Eichel actually led the team with the fewest goals against per 60. Eichel finished slightly better than William Karlsson, and all of VGK’s other regular centers, while wearing a VGK uniform. However, the last seven games nearly saw Eichel blow the lead as he was on the ice for seven goals against down the stretch, mostly in games the Golden Knights lost.

If Eichel takes the step forward defensively that Bruce Cassidy and the entire VGK organization are hoping for, it’ll completely change the makeup of the way they can utilize their lines. Karlsson will no longer have to play the heaviest defensive minutes and Eichel could potentially pair up with Mark Stone on defensive zone draws against opposing top lines, something Cassidy will likely avoid early in the season.

This isn’t saying Eichel needs to turn into a Selke candidate, or anything close, but if he doesn’t become a reliable defensive option, the rest of the team will struggle to make up for the shortcoming.

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Wing Support Crucial To VGK Success

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The wing position in the NHL can be very grueling. More often than not a right or left wing is in the corner pushing and shoving to gain possession of the puck. It’s not as glamorous as snapping off ten pucks a night and hearing your name called by the great Bruce Cusick. Due to the proximity of the boards, wingers must play a more physical style. It’s just the nature of the game. Thankfully, Vegas has the skill on both sides to battle, possess, and ultimately score.

Over the years the Golden Knights have been well built on the wing. Mark Stone is one of the league’s best along the boards, using his stick to create a rush or a turnover. His ability and 6’4″ frame make it difficult for defenders to stop the Golden Knights captain from disrupting and attacking the offensive zone. It goes without saying how much Stone’s presence was missed in 2021-22.

Vegas’ other top RW plays differently than Stone but shares the same high hockey IQ every coaching staff desires. Plain and simple, Reilly Smith is dangerous in all situations. Since the inaugural season, Smith has registered 230 points, third only to his linemates William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Not only is Smith creative but he’s extremely reliable. Coach Bruce Cassidy is inheriting a player that skates top six minutes, facilitates on the power play, and is a major threat on a penalty kill.

Right Wing PK Points Since 2017
Reilly Smith 16 (321 Games)
Connor Brown 15 (355)
Cam Atkinson 12 (318)
Mitch Marner 10 (350)
Tom Wilson 9 (334)

The other bonafide top-six wing might be the most beloved Golden Knight on the roster. Maybe it’s his natural ability to score and pump up a crowd, or his emotions and sharp tongue, either way, Marchessault won over the fanbase from the jump. As the leading scorer in team history with 291 points, the LW always seems to come up big in the right moments. I know it’s tough to look back, but directly after the infamous major penalty in San Jose, Marchessault scored sending the game into a series-deciding overtime. Had the results been different, we are talking about one of the most memorable goals in franchise history. If Marchessault continues to net 27+ and tick off opposing players, then he’s doing his job.

If the trio can match season averages, the Golden Knights can pencil in 70 goals and 100 assists from Marchessault, Smith, and Stone. Obviously, Cassidy will come up with the best alignment as well as finding a fourth top wing. It could be a converted center, Phil Kessel, or an elevated forward from the bottom six. Injuries aside, expect all three top wings to be highly effective this season. The season will depend on the production of VGK’s top players and the core will undoubtedly accept the challenge.

College Football Metrics Point Vegas To The Playoffs

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Each year NFL and NCAA football experts publicly predict the fate of every franchise or program in the country. Many have made a living off their accuracy. I’m an enormous college football fan and found Phil Steele to be an incredibly knowledgeable analyst. Steele’s must-read annual season preview is jam-packed with valuable information. Historically, he’s been successful in forecasting whether teams will improve or decline from their previous season. Steele and his fellow prognosticators like to use certain formulas to lead them to their conclusions.

Some ways to project a team’s rise or fall is through certain factors, even unlucky factors. These can be costly turnovers, execution breakdowns, and yep, even injuries apply. For fun let’s use Steele’s formula to predict if the Golden Knights will improve next season.

The Turnover Battle

One fumble or interception can critically change a football game. Obviously, we cannot compare the severity of football turnovers to a giveaway in hockey. Sure, a giveaway (GvA) can lead to a scoring opportunity but NHL players aren’t benched for surrendering a puck to make a line change.

Last season Vegas turned the puck over 8.20 times per game. They were 16th in the league with a total of 681 giveaways in 2021-22. A stark difference from the previous season.

VGK Giveaways Per Game (NHL Rank)
2021-22: 8.20 GvA (16th)
2020-21: 5.51 GvA (2nd)
2019-20: 8.19 GvA (8th)
2018-17: 8.60 GvA (10th)
2017-18: 8.93 GvA (15th)

Although Vegas turned the puck over at a higher rate than half the league, it wasn’t a drastic change from franchise averages. In fact, the organization’s best team had more giveaways than last season’s non-playoff lineup. Overall, the Golden Knights are 10th in the league for the least amount of giveaways since 2017. That alone suggests improvement to Vegas’ puck protection problems.

Tight Game Outcomes

Another metric to project improvement is a club’s record in one-score games. The college football galaxy usually balances itself out and teams that lose close games go on to win more of them the following season. The same can happen in hockey, or at least with the Golden Knights. Last season Vegas lost the seventh most one-goal games and won the 12th most one-goal games. Roughly 30% of VGK’s season was decided by one score. Since 2017, the Golden Knights are fifth in the NHL with 89 one-goal victories. Historically, Vegas has won the majority of tight games. That should reappear.

Lost Players

It doesn’t matter which sport, unexpected injuries will topple any team. The Golden Knights had never been as depleted as they were last year. Injuries to Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, Alec Martinez, and others gutted the roster and were a huge reason for the team missing the playoffs. We should anticipate injuries but it’s safe to say it won’t be like last season. Based on their five-year history, Vegas fans can expect a healthier lineup in 2022-23.

 

No matter what formula you use or how ridiculous the exercise was to get the conclusion, all signs point towards the postseason for the Golden Knights. Fans should expect exciting and successful hockey. Vegas should have better outcomes in tight games and fewer injured players. If all comes to fruition, the Golden Knights will most certainly compete for a top seed in the Pacific Division. They may struggle to score but Vegas is talented enough to make a run. With a healthy Martinez, Smith, and Stone the Golden Knights are a much more intimidating team. It’s just too bad they can’t sign some of the blue-chip prospects from Alabama or Georgia.

Cassidy Plans To Break Up The Misfit Line

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On October 24th, 2017, eight games into the first season in franchise history, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith played their first game together as a line. From that moment on, they’ve been inseparable both on and off the ice.

I love playing with those guys. They are two great people and two great players. -Reilly Smith

The “Misfit Line” as they grew to become known through the years have suited up on a line together more than 300 times in the Golden Knights’ 439 games. On 52 different goals, the three have accounted for the goal and both assists. No other line has more than 20.

As a trio, they’ve become synonymous with Vegas hockey, and with all three under contract for Year 6, it would only make sense to continue.

Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to play with them a lot this upcoming season. They elevate my game and I think I do that for them as well. We’re a good line and we’re tough to play against when we are all on the same page and playing quick. -Smith

However, there was one significant change this offseason that may throw a wrench in those plans. For new head coach Bruce Cassidy, the Misfit Line has never played a game, never scored a goal, or never even taken a shift together.

I haven’t seen any of it. I have seen the line together against us and I’ve seen them watching playoff hockey over the years, so I’m fairly confident putting them together that they’ll find their chemistry. But is it the best fit for the team? You don’t just put a line together because it’s good for them. It’s got to be what’s best for the team. -Bruce Cassidy

In Cassidy’s mind, there’s only one way to truly find out what’s best for the team.

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2022 VGK Free Agency Tracker

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A roundup of all the signings, rumors, and rumbling surrounding the Vegas Golden Knights as free agency opens in advance of the 2022-23 season.

*This article will be updated throughout the day as more information rolls in.*

  • The Golden Knights have traded Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan to the Carolina Hurricanes for future considerations. (Source: @DarrenDreger & @PierreVLeBrun)
  • A handshake agreement is reportedly in place with Reilly Smith on an extension worth $5m AAV for three years. (Source: @frank_seravalli)
    • The deal is expected to be completed today. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
    • The deal is complete. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • The Golden Knights have extended qualifying offers to Nic Hague, Keegan Kolesar, Jake Leschyshyn, Brayden Pachal, Jonas Rondbjerg, and Nic Roy (Source: Golden Knights)
    • Roy and Kolesar are each arbitration-eligible. Both will likely file. Each can still sign extensions before their scheduled arbitration dates in August.
    • Jonas Rondbjerg has re-signed a three-year deal with an AAV of $766,666. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Brett Howden was not extended a qualifying offer by the Golden Knights, however, reports indicate a deal is being worked on to keep him in Vegas. (Source: @DarrenDreger)
    • Howden has extended with the Golden Knights for one-year at $1.5 million. (Source: @PuckPedia)
  • VGK did not extend qualifying offers to Ben Jones, Dylan Ferguson, or Jack Dugan. All become unrestricted free agents today.
  • Daniil Miromanov signed a two-year extension to remain with the Golden Knights with an AAV of $762,500. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • The Golden Knights have signed Sakari Manninen, a 30-year-old Finnish winger who has been playing in the KHL. He scored the game-winning goal at the World Champions and won a gold medal at the Olympics. (Source: @FriedgeHNIC)
  • VGK confirmed the signings on Manninen and Spencer Foo, each for $750,000. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • Sheldon Rempal has signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Golden Knights. (Source: @DarrenDreger)
    • The NHL AAV is $762,500. (Source: Golden Knights)
  • VGK have signed goalie Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, two-way contract. (Source: @PuckPedia)
  • Byron Froese has signed a two-year contract with an AAV of $762,500. (Source: Golden Knights)

Simplified Salary Cap Tracker

  • VGK are approximately $6,452,500 UNDER the salary cap with a 17-man roster (10 F, 7 D, 2 G)
    • Eichel, Stone, Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stephenson, Carrier, Amadio, Patrick, Howden – $43,012,500
    • Pietrangelo, Martinez, Theodore, McNabb, Whitecloud, Hutton – $25,700,00
    • Lehner, Brossoit – $7,325,000

**This is an inexact salary estimation designed to give a rough outline of how much cap space the Golden Knights have to operate with. For exact up-to-date salary cap information, visit PuckPedia.com.**

With Or Without You Standings: Which Players Absence Hurts VGK Most?

The great modern-day philosopher Bono once wrote, and then subsequently sang like 100,000 times, “I can’t live, with or without you.”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Unfortunately, for the Golden Knights, they haven’t had that option. 62 games into the season, not a single player has played in every game on the schedule, and just six have missed fewer than six games. They’ve been doing a lot of “living without you.”

Whose absence has hurt the most though?

For that, we go to the WOWY (with or without you) standings to find out the answer is clearly Keegan Kolesar. But seriously, it’s been Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb, and Mark Stone.

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Analyzing Usage Changes With Jack Eichel In VGK’s Lineup

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As expected, the moment Jack Eichel stepped into the Golden Knights lineup, certain things would change.

The most obvious was his role as top-line center which left Chandler Stephenson in need of a new position. At first, that was on Eichel’s left wing, but the last two games it’s been as 3C.

The next spot was on the power play. Eichel stepped right in on the half-wall to the goalie’s right on Vegas’ #1 unit. He’s played with a few different groups of players, and it appears they have found the right mix after Eichel’s game-winning snipe with 5.2 seconds left on the clock last night.

But one spot that may go under-recognized is the shift in usage that Eichel’s introduction to the lineup has caused. In his nine games as a Golden Knight, Eichel has seen just 30.3% of his shifts begin in the defensive zone. He’s taken 29 of his 115 faceoffs in the defensive zone, which has led to an increase in defensive responsibility for others.

The main group of “others” who have been shouldering that load has been The Misfits, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault.

Karlsson leads the team with 65 defensive zone draws taken since the Colorado game on February 16th, Eichel’s first. In fact, no one else is even close to Karlsson as Eichel, Stephenson, and Nic Roy, the next three in line, have combined for 81.

Prior to Eichel’s arrival, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith each started about 54% of their shifts in the offensive zone. With it, they each posted a Corsi right around 55%. In the nine games with Eichel, The Misfits are all under 45% offensive zone starts (Karlsson’s is 43%), with their Corsi numbers staying about the same as a group.

Simply put, they’ve been asked to take on the brunt of the defensive work and they’ve still been able to thrive offensively, especially in the second game against Colorado, the two against San Jose and one in Anaheim.

It’s also heavily affected Alex Pietrangelo’s usage. Instead of spending most of his time playing with the top-six as he did prior to Eichel’s arrival, he’s seeing more time with the depth group. To this point, it has had a pretty significant effect on his production as he’s been on the ice for just five goals in the previous nine games, which equates to 1.85 per 60 minutes. In the 46 games before Eichel, Pietrangelo was on the ice for 2.69 goals per 60 minutes, nearly a full goal more.

Eichel and Pietrangelo have shared the ice for 47:43 in the nine games they’ve played together and the Golden Knights have yet to score or be scored against with the pair out there. In Eichel’s 83:48 without Pietrangelo though, he’s been on the ice for six goals for and just two against.

In the time they’ve played together, they’ve taken 24 offensive zone draws compared to just 11 defensive, yet they have been outshot significantly (23-15), have allowed eight high-danger chances while creating just three, and have a 41% expected goals share. All of these numbers are better for both Eichel and Pietrangelo when they’ve been away from each other.

Obviously, it’s only been nine games, so the sample sizes are limited across the board. But the early returns have shown that Pete DeBoer has taken an approach of lessening Eichel’s defensive responsibilities early on in exchange for upping the pressure in different areas on Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, and Pietrangelo.

It’s worked for some, it hasn’t for others.

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