I was sitting in a restaurant Monday night in my Summerlin neighborhood watching the Golden Knights-Flames game. A couple of feet away was a gentleman and his daughter.
He was decked out in a William Karlsson jersey. The daughter, who I’m guessing was five or six, was busy wolfing down her dinner of Mac and Cheese while also doing some coloring. She was the smart one as she wasn’t paying attention to what was unfolding on the flat screen TV above her.
They lasted two periods of what would be a 7-2 debacle. As the Flames scored goal after goal, the dad looked on grimly, occasionally shaking his head.
As they got up to leave, I asked him, “So, what do you think is wrong?”
His response? “I don’t know.”
It’s a fair answer.
If everyone knew what to do to fix the Golden Knights, they would have addressed it and done it by now. But the reality is there is no one thing that if you fix it, all will be right in the VGK world.
One thing I do know — this team has been consistently inconsistent from opening night. They can’t seem to get on a positive run. Key players are underachieving. Role players are not contributing.
Frankly, the Golden Knights do not look like a playoff team.
Thanksgiving is Thursday and regardless of the outcome tonight in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes, the Knights will sit down to dinner with a sub-.500 record, which does not bode well when it comes to history as far as postseason appearances are concerned.
If you’re on the outside looking in for the playoffs come Thanksgiving, you’re not likely to be there in the end and get in.
Since the Salary Cap Era began in 2005-06, roughly 78 percent of the teams that had accrued enough points by Thanksgiving ultimately made the playoffs. That’s 13 of the 16 spots.
Vegas is currently not one of the 16. However, they are just three points behind Vancouver for third place in the Pacific Division and five points out of the wild card.
So that’s not to say the Knights can’t turn their season around. After all, three-quarters of the schedule remains to be played. But if this team is going to have a reversal of fortune, it’s going to require a collective effort, some tweaking by the coaching staff, maybe a move or two by the general manager.
Monday night notwithstanding, this slow start hasn’t been about effort. It has been about executing. Or, in this case, a lack of execution. Sloppy play in the defensive zone. Missed shots on goal. Unnecessary penalties in the offensive zone. No one has been immune.
Many believed the return of defenseman Nate Schmidt to the lineup would get things kick-started in the right direction, and that appeared to be the case Sunday in Edmonton. But Monday’s no-show at the Saddledome can’t be pinned on a single player. This was a systemic fail of epic proportions, the worst performance in franchise history, and I include the 8-2 drubbing in Edmonton last year when I say that.
And if you’re going to bring up injuries, save your breath. We’re long past that regarding Paul Stastny and Erik Haula. You’re not going to see Stastny for another month. Haula? I don’t know if he even returns this season.
Every team in the NHL has injuries. Toronto’s best player, Auston Matthews, has been out for three weeks with a shoulder injury. The Maple Leafs seem to be managing things in his absence.
Cody Eakin has stepped his game with Haula out. He has delivered. When Brad Hunt has been called upon, he has played well, particularly on the Knights’ anemic power play. Ryan Reaves has elevated his overall game this year. Will Carrier has three times as many goals as he did all of last year.
The reality is this team, as envisioned by general manager George McPhee, is unlikely to ever be whole this season. The time has come to adjust.
Ken has been calling for blowing things up and call up some players from the Chicago Wolves. Radio host Brian Blessing says sit some of the stars and send a message. Others want trades made.
If what I heard is true out of assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon’s mouth Monday on the Flames’ pregame show that there’s not going to be any panic, then don’t expect much from GMGM.
He’s already called up Tomas Hyka and the results have been negligible at best. Hyka is playing third-line minutes, averaging just under 12 minutes in 16 games, has one goal and three assists and has taken just 22 shots.
To Ken’s point — do you bring up Brandon Pirri or Daniel Carr or Brooks Macek? Is it time for Erik Brannstrom on the VGK blue line? Will they actually make a significant impact? Or are we talking change for the sake of change?
And supposing you do call up Macek or Carr, who are you sitting? Ryan Carpenter? Tomas Nosek? Oscar Lindberg? Does that give you long-term success?
And what if you do the drastic thing and tell Max Pacioretty or Reilly Smith to have a seat up in the press box as Blessing suggests? Does that really serve as a wake-up call for them or the team?
Remember, Gerard Gallant has the unenviable task of dealing with 23-plus different personalities and egos in that locker room. It’s a delicate situation for a head coach.
Don’t believe me? We’re a quarter into the NHL season and Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Edmonton have all made coaching changes.
Gallant himself was let go right around this time two years ago when he was coaching Florida. Nobody has to tell him he works in a results-driven business.
So what does McPhee do?
If he tries to make a deal, he’s going to have to give up something to get something. Whether it’s prospects (Cody Glass? Nic Hague?) draft picks, or players, will it truly make an immediate difference?
He wasn’t able to get to the negotiating table with John Tavares in July. He couldn’t swing a deal to get Erik Karlsson. The Tomas Tatar deals, to first get him, then move him, aren’t looking so hot at the moment for Vegas.
Could he even move a Pacioretty if he really wanted to? I’m guessing he could. But what would he get in return? Teams don’t give 30-goal scorers away.
Pacioretty is a proven goal scorer. He knows his slow start isn’t cutting it. He needs to play better. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt because we’ve seen what he has done in the past. Still, he’ll be the first to say he expects more from himself.
Should Gallant break up the Karlsson-Smith-Jonathan Marchessault line for the foreseeable future and move Eakin and Alex Tuch up? Should he sit Deryk Engelland, as Ken suggests? Should GMGM send Jon Merrill and Lindberg to the waiver wire?
See? This isn’t as easy as you thought.
My short-term plan is to simplify things, starting with the locker room. It’s time for every player in that room to be accountable. Whatever the leadership group is, starting with Marc-Andre Fleury, they need to lead by example.
It’s time to end the dumb penalties. It’s time to start hitting the net when you shoot. It’s time to pick up opposing players in your own end, quit turning the puck over and once again play with speed and smarts.
There are three division games in the next four days (Arizona tonight, Calgary Friday and San Jose Saturday). The last two are at T-Mobile Arena. To the fans’ credit, they’re still showing up, upset as they may be. They haven’t abandoned this team yet.
Reward their support. Go out and win a shift. Make the simple, smart play. Play low-risk hockey. Don’t gamble in your own end.
Do enough of those things and you’ll win a period. Do it for three periods and you’ll likely come away with points. That’s how you work your way out of a struggling situation. Hitting the panic button and making wholesale changes won’t get it done. Every player in the lineup must perform. No exceptions.
Gallant has good players. It’s his job to keep them motivated, keep them engaged, find ways for them to succeed. If it means breaking up his lines and restructuring them, so be it. I’d endorse such a move. Remember, he did that last year and it ultimately worked out pretty well.
The clock is ticking. With each inconsistent, mediocre performance, the postseason drifts further and further away. The line in the ice must be drawn, beginning tonight in Glendale.
If it doesn’t change quickly, forget about that little girl putting down her coloring pens to watch. Maybe her dad will stop watching too.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**