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.
Over their history, the Golden Knights have scored a total of 877 franchise goals, 738 in the regular season, 139 in the playoffs. In 238 regular season games, Vegas’ average comes out to 3.14 goals scored per game. In all three seasons, Vegas tallied more than the league average, and are ranked 8th in the NHL in goals since their inception.
The big offseason question was can the Golden Knights score enough in year four, and most importantly, in the playoffs?
2017-18: 268 Goals, 3.26 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs) 2018-19: 246 Goals, 3.00 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 25 Goals, 3.57 Goals Per Game (Playoffs) 2019-20: 224 goals, 3.15 Goals Per Game (Regular Season) 57 Goals, 2.85 Goals Per Game (Playoffs)
Coming into the Vancouver series, the Golden Knights were on a torrid offensive pace. Three round-robin games and a five-game whooping of the Blackhawks had Vegas scoring at a 3.75 goals per game clip. Then, it hit the skids. In 12 postseason games against Vancouver and Dallas, the #1 seed in the Western Conference averaged only 2.25 goals per game. In the last eight games, they scored just 12 goals or 1.5 per game.
After the season, it was mostly written off publicly by players, coaches, and the office as just a rough patch and a pair of hot goalies The offseason was centered around one major move, though one that should help the team offensively.
As the Golden Knights roster continues to churn, the balance of importance on that roster changes with it. Many guys who were once the most vital on the team are no longer here and other stars have stepped into their places.
So, when discussing which players are the most indispensable for the Golden Knights this season, the exercise is not as simple as it would seem. The great Kevin Iole, Jason, and I had a discussion about this very topic and realized the options are so plentiful that we had to bring it to the site. We each picked three and between us we came up with six different players.
3rd Most Indispensable Kevin – Cody Glass Jason – Robin Lehner Ken – Mark Stone
Kevin – The 2017 NHL Entry Draft was loaded at the top. Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Elias Pettersson are already elite NHL players. The Golden Knights’ thought Glass would be a player of that caliber and jumped on him when he was available at No. 6.
Now, Paul Stastny has been traded and they need someone to plug into that second line. The best way it could work out for the Golden Knights is if Glass could finally live up to his draft status. He showed glimpses last year, but wasn’t able to stay healthy and went long stretches while doing little.
If he comes up big and the Golden Knights can put Chandler Stephenson on a third line with Alex Tuch and Nic Roy, they can create a huge match-up problem with the third line while have two very strong top lines.
If Glass struggles, Stephenson moves up to center one of the top two and the third line suddenly isn’t as much of a scoring threat. Glass’ success will tell much about the kind of season the VGK will having in 2021.
Jason – Is this a trick question? Of course, it’s Lehner, without him the Golden Knights don’t have a goaltender. Sure, they have two now but by the time the season begins Fleury will be gone, leaving Lehner as the only starting goaltender in Vegas. I understand we were told by the Golden Knights that the plan on keeping both goalies but I don’t see that happening. In a shortened season, a condensed schedule may require a sturdy backup but how many nights do they plan on sitting Lehner? 10-15 games? The 29-year-old has started more than 34 games in the last four seasons, so it doesn’t make sense to relieve him with an expensive backup like Fleury?
Both sides have said the right thing over the past few months but in reality, keeping both isn’t good business. If the Golden Knights are seriously trying to win the Stanley Cup it won’t be by spending $12M in net. They’re too smart for that. And with that, Robin Lehner’s presence in the VGK lineup is paramount.
Ken – I originally had Lehner, for all the reasons Jason spelled out, plus the fact that losing him for any amount of time would further the lunacy of keeping them both. But, while both goalies are on the roster, I just couldn’t bring myself to rank Lehner above Mark Stone.
Stone has been the engine of the team since the moment he got here at the deadline in 2018-19. When he’s scoring or helping others score, the Golden Knights are basically unbeatable. Think back to the Sharks series. He drops 10 points in the first four games and VGK leads 3-1. Goes silent in Games 5 and 6 and they lose them both. (He had two points in Game 7, which still remains a win in my book.)
Yes, the Golden Knights have replacements, but no one can do what he can do. The season isn’t over if they lose Stone, but you can forget about winning the Cup if he’s not out there and dominating.
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
In his next contract, Robin Lehner put a high priority on stability.
He mentioned it over and over again in his Zoom meeting with the media following the signing of his new 5-year $25 million contract.
It’s clear he believes with the Vegas Golden Knights, he finally has it.
I’ve worked very very hard for this. It’s been a long journey since I moved into the league. I’ve had my bumps and bruises, I’ve battled through a lot of things… I have a 5-year-old son that has five different hockey jerseys. We live a privileged life, but you want to give your family stability as well and I couldn’t find a better opportunity and a better setting than here in Vegas with a great community and fan base. -Robin Lehner
Lehner has bounced around a lot in the last few years of his career. After putting up good numbers on a struggling team in Buffalo, he was not extended a qualifying offer by the Sabres which saw him hit the unrestricted free agent market in the summer of 2018. He bet on himself, signing a one-year deal worth just $1.5 million. That season he turned in a Vezina quality year and appeared to be headed for a payday in the summer of 2019. But, while the pay raise came (he signed for $5 million) term did not. He accepted another one-year deal, this time in Chicago. He split time with Corey Crawford and then at the deadline found himself on a third team inside of two calendar years all while playing out the end of an expiring contract.
He’s about as open and honest a person as you’ll find in the NHL and he has not been shy in sharing his disappointment that he was unable to find a long-term home despite performing at a high level. That’s why when pen hit paper on the deal in Vegas, he was overjoyed to have finally found it.
It’s obviously been a pretty emotional day for me and my family. We are exteremly happy to be here and get this deal done. I have a lot of people to thank but it’s a big win for us. -Lehner
There’s just one problem that remains. Despite committing himself to the Golden Knights for the next five seasons, Lehner’s contract did not come with a full no-trade clause. Instead, he received a modified no-trade which allows him to veto eight teams in the first three seasons and then five in the final two.
That’s not exactly reassuring regarding stability considering this is an organization that signed another goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, to a similar contract in July 2018 which was scheduled to run through 2022. Vegas will likely cut ties with Fleury with two years still left on the deal and that contract actually had a larger no-trade clause than Lehner’s.
Lehner is well-aware of how the Golden Knights conduct business. He described it as a “no politics team,” clarifying to mean that the best players play no matter the situation. So when I posed the blunt question of, “how do you feel stable in an organization when you do not have a full no-trade clause?” he answered calmly, insightfully, and incredibly confidently.
"It was one of the oddities at the Expansion Draft that we asked ourselves 'who is our next goalie?'… We just never ever found that guy and this has given us the chance to solidify the position." -McCrimmon
"I understand how our fans feel about Marc-Andre Fleury. He's been the face of the franchise. It's really challenging as a manager you need to always be doing what's in the best interest of your team. That's what I've done." -McCrimmon
"As a manager you need to always be doing what's in the best interest of your team. That's what I've done. We have a ton of respect for Marc-Andre Fleury. We will try to make good decisions here as we move along…
"I know what I'm going to do. I know how I'm going to perform. And I think this stability will make me play even better. The cards are in my hand and it's up to me on how to play them. That's all I ask for." -Lehner on stability without a no-trade clause
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.
Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t new to the business side of the NHL. He knows what went down between the trade deadline and the end of the Golden Knights playoff run, he understands the Golden Knights salary cap situation, and he sees the writing on the wall. No matter what he says or does now, nothing is going to change what will happen in the coming weeks (or maybe months).
So, when placed in that situation, might as well say the right thing before the inevitable happens.
Marc said that he wants to stay in Vegas, and he’s not looking for or seeking a trade anywhere else. He’s perfectly happy to co-exist with Robin Lehner, if that’s what ultimately happens. To some extent the decision making is out of his hands. But he wanted everyone to know where he stands and that he loves Vegas. –Alan Walsh on TSN 690
Walsh, Fleury’s agent, backed up what his client said to The Athletic’s Jesse Granger last week. You should read that interview if you haven’t yet, but to sum it up, Fleury hasn’t and won’t asked to be traded, he hopes to retire in Vegas, and he’d be perfectly happy to share the goal with Robin Lehner in 2020.
It’s all true, but there’s a motive behind the message Fleury was trying to get out. Speaking optimistically about the uncertainty of his future was a tactic and a smart one at that.
By stating he isn’t asking for a trade, Fleury is wisely playing both sides of the fence. He’s showing his appreciation and fondness for the fan base and the city of Las Vegas, but the 35-year-old goaltender was also signaling if and probably when a trade happens, it’s on the organization, not him.
He has great connection to the community. He loves his teammates and he came on board as literally player number one and wants to finish the journey that he set out on when he went to Vegas. Ending with a winning cup. He’s not looking for a change or anything else. –Walsh on TSN 690