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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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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Bruce Cassidy Details His Ideal Minute And Role Distribution Among Forward Lines

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Every coach at every level in the sport of hockey wants to balance minutes equally across the entire lineup. In a perfect world, the coach could just sit back and roll four lines keeping everyone fresh and ready to play at the highest level in their next shift.

But, the NHL is not a utopia and the divide between high-end players and everyone else often causes an imbalance of ice time.

I don’t know that you should have guys up in the 20’s (minutes) that are forwards. Are you getting maximum value out of them if they are over 20 every night for 82 games? We’ll see how that plays out and how the guys who are used to that manage that. If they can pull it off and give you maximum play then I’ll change the way I think. -Bruce Cassidy

Same goes on the flip side.

We shouldn’t have anybody under 10 minutes a night. If this team is functioning as we see it, I think that 4th line would be closer to 12 minutes because they are going to play against good people, get D-zone starts, and play on the PK. -Cassidy

Historically, VGK have used their 3rd and 4th lines in checking roles, but often would see their usage sheltered with offensive zone starts and/or favorable matchups. Cassidy wants his 3rd line of William Karlsson, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio to operate as a strong defensive line with the 4th line also taking some of the most difficult minutes.

That’s defending, that’s penalty kill, the hard minutes. We have to be careful with guys over the course of the year because of fatigue, injury, and maybe age. -Cassidy

The challenge for Cassidy though will be the abilities of the players in the bottom-six in regards to holding up to the rigors of what he called “stressful minutes.”

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Karlsson, Howden, Amadio Line Expected To Fill Defensive Role While Also Chipping In Offensively

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Since the first day of Training Camp the trio of William Karlsson, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio have been together as a line.

Wednesday night they got their first opportunity to play in a preseason game together and it went quite well. Karlsson and Amadio each scored goals, all three players posted a Corsi of at least 70%, and in a little more than 11 minutes of ice time together they did not allow a single shot on goal against.

I think they all have good hockey IQ and good offensive instincts. They are all centermen by nature so they probably speak the same language when they are talking about plays way from the puck. -Bruce Cassidy

Last year Karlsson, Amadio, and Howden played a total of 51 seconds together. However, there were two pairs including these three guys that did see significant action together. Howden and Amadio shared the ice for 127 minutes while Amadio and Karlsson played together for 172.

Now, with all three coming together, they’ll look to capture something new, and do it while filling a much more defensive role for the team.

They are going to need to be responsible if they are put in that role. We know Karlsson can do that but the other two guys that’s a bit of a challenge for younger guys. Here’s your role on the team, can you handle it? Can you check good players and still create offense? So we’ll see how that plays. -Cassidy

As Cassidy alluded to, Karlsson remains one of the better defensive centers in the NHL and will surely make any line he’s on competent enough in the defensive zone. But, if the Golden Knights want to get to where they intend on going, they will need Howden and Amadio to take strides defensively.

The goal of most third lines, and Cassidy doesn’t seem any different, is to steal minutes from the opposing top-six to free up favorable matchups for Vegas’ top two lines.

That means this group will be seeing consistent shifts against the likes of Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Anze Kopitar. And that’s just in October.

Karlsson has joked that he’s found a new group of Misfits with a pair of players who have been overlooked for good portions of their short NHL careers. It may sound a little funky and overly optimistic now, but one game in, they look the part.

Golden Knights Have What Darryl Sutter Says You Need To Win

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Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter has been around the NHL for a long time. He’s heading into his 22nd season as a head coach, has won multiple Stanley Cups, led four different teams to the playoffs, and posted a winning record with every franchise he’s been with.

The change he’s had on the Flames has been impressive seeing them go from missing the playoffs to posting 111 points last season before being dispatched in the second round by the Edmonton Oilers.

Sutter is an old-school head coach. He believes in many of the long-standing traditions in the game of hockey and his no-nonsense yet almost aloof-sounding attitude makes him one of a kind. There’s no questioning his knowledge of the sport and what it takes to win in today’s game though.

Lucky for us, he’s willing to share exactly what he thinks it takes. In an extended sit-down with Sportsnet’s “The Big Show” Sutter was asked a myriad of questions about the team he currently coaches. Many of them were about his new players and the wild offseason his team just went through, but along the way he mentioned three different aspects of the game he believes a team must have to win the Cup.

Bottom line is we were not good enough at center ice. It showed up in the playoffs. The top teams in this division are three centermen deep and it really exposed us. –Darryl Sutter to Sportsnet’s The Big Show

Sutter was speaking about the importance of his team adding Nazem Kadri to go along with Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund.

Since the addition of Jack Eichel, the Golden Knights are strong down the middle. William Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson will likely begin the season as the next two centers, but the option to use Nic Roy or Brett Howden gives the team even more flexibility.

Historically, center has been a bit of a weak spot for Vegas with Karlsson clearly filling the role as the team’s best. With him slotting down to 2nd or even 3rd best, VGK can go toe to toe with just about anyone. Also, the Golden Knights have a nice mix of players including an insanely talented scorer, a lockdown defender, and a speedster.

Next, Sutter pointed to the blue line.

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Call Me Crazy, But…

Everyone loves a good hot take, so I’m here to provide a few of them using a format I’m borrowing from NFL Network’s Fantasy Live show. First, I’ll give my four predictions, and then I’ll share some of the best ones we got from our Discord server. Then, I want to see some from you all in the comments.

Call me crazy, but Keegan Kolesar will score more goals than Phil Kessel this season

Despite converting at a dismal 7.4% shooting rate, Kolesar still found a way to notch seven goals in his 77 appearances with the Golden Knights last year. He was constantly around the net and showed on multiple occasions he has the talent to score difficult goals. At some point, the floodgates are going to open for him and he’ll start scoring at a much more “normal” rate for NHLers. That would mean somewhere closer to 10%. I’d honestly be a bit surprised if Kolesar doesn’t hit double-digits this year and 15 or so is not out of the question.

Which brings us to the other side of the coin, Kessel. It’s mostly about the situation I expect him to find himself in as the season progresses. I just can’t see a 35-year-old suddenly committing to defense, which will lead to a decrease in minutes for a team trying to win games. He’ll probably end up struggling to get to 10 minutes and night and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he draws out of the lineup from time to time after he breaks the ironman record. His passing will still be there, so I’d suspect he can reach 30 to 40 points, which Kolesar may not, but the goal scoring is not going to jump as much as many believe.

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Four Prerequisites For The Golden Knights to Miss the Playoffs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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Creating Lines After Breaking Up The Misfits

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

As we shared earlier in the week, Bruce Cassidy says he wants to break up the Misfit Line to see if he can find other combinations that can elevate the rest of the 12-man forward group.

The Golden Knights still have some work to do this offseason, which may well include the signing of a veteran forward, but for the sake of this article, let’s just use the group currently under contract or soon to be (Roy, Kolesar, Leschyshyn).

Here are five different options, including one in which each of Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith are on three separate lines.

Path of least resistance

Marchessault-Eichel-Stone
Manninen-Karlsson-Smith
Carrier-Stephenson-Amadio
Howden-Roy-Kolesar

The simplest path is to take Marchessault away from Smith and Karlsson and stick him on the other top line with Eichel and Stone. Then we need to find a replacement Misfit. Well, the Golden Knights just signed a little forward with a nasty shot who has been underestimated his whole career. His name is Sakari Manninen, and over the past few years, he’s done nothing but score massive goals. That leaves Stephenson to anchor a third line with a scorer on his right and a speed merchant on his left.

Eichel: The Misfit

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Cassidy Plans To Break Up The Misfit Line

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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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Buy, Sell, Or Hold? What To Do With VGK Assets

Well, you can probably tell where my mind is today. The stock and crypto markets are tumbling and like everyone with money invested I’m forced to decide if it’s best to buy more, sell what I have, or simply hold. I run a hockey website for a living and many people don’t even respect my opinions on sports, so I’m not even going to begin to give you any advice on what to do in this bear market. Instead, I’m going to try and spin this concept into the world of the Golden Knights.

So, here’s how it works. I’m taking four Golden Knights whose stock has risen or dropped over the course of the last 12 months and making a call on what a wise investor would do with the asset. Buy, sell, or hold!

Note: This is meant to be viewed completely independent of the Golden Knights’ salary cap situation.

Mark Stone

A Selke Finalist and thriving as a captain of a good team, Stone was making his $9.5 million contract look like a steal. After dominating in the Colorado series including netting an overtime game-winner in Game 5, Stone’s value was at an all-time high heading into the Conference Final against Montreal. Then, it started to descend.

Stone was shutout (or skunked as he called it) in the series with the Canadiens. He followed that up by missing a portion of the preseason due to a freak injury. Then, he suffered a non-contact back injury in the 2nd game of the season which plagued him all year. Through it, he managed to post 30 points in 37 games but when the moment was biggest, he just didn’t look himself. This offseason, he underwent a successful back surgery which has the skeptics out in force wondering if he’ll ever return to his dominant old self.

For me, based on the history of Mark Stone and the knowledge I’ve gained through Dr. Pinegar on the injury, this is an easy decision for me. Buy, buy, buy!!!

There’s obviously a risk that the injury could reoccur and he’ll have to undergo a series of back procedures, but most athletes that deal with these issues do return to form in between the surgeries. As long as he’s on the ice, and we expect him there on Opening Night 2022-23, he’s going to be awesome. Stone will regain his form at some point, probably soon, and the public perception will skyrocket on him when he does. There will be a time to sell, and it may not be that far away, but that time is definitely not now. Decision: BUY

Logan Thompson

The 25-year-old underdog story won the hearts of pretty much the entire Golden Knights fan base. From an undrafted goalie playing games in college in Canada to the AHL Goalie of the Year to stepping in as Vegas’ starter down the stretch of a playoff chase, Thompson’s rise has been meteoric.

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