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What Should/Will The Golden Knights Do With Brandon Pirri And Their Roster Crunch In The Coming Weeks?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The emergence of scoring wizard Brandon Pirri, coupled with injuries to Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty, and the waiver claim of Valentin Zykov has left the Golden Knights in a roster pickle, with 25 players and only 23 available spots.

There are a few questions on just about every Golden Knights fan’s mind and we’ll attempt to answer every single one in this article. Read on.

The Facts

As of this moment, the Golden Knights roster stands at 23 with Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty on IR.

Pacioretty skated with the team in practice yesterday, is expected to do so again, and will likely play either tomorrow or Sunday. Miller skated before practice yesterday, will likely do so again today, and shouldn’t be much more than a week or so away from making his return to the Golden Knights lineup.

Valentin Zykov was claimed on waivers from the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Per NHL rules, if the Golden Knights want to keep Zykov, he must remain on the NHL roster for the remainder of the season.

Brandon Pirri has scored six goals in seven games with the Golden Knights and has played on the 2nd line with Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny in all seven games. Per NHL rules, Pirri is allowed to be sent back to the AHL without clearing waivers if he does not play in 10 games OR is on the active roster for fewer than 30 days. Thus, if he plays three more games or is on the roster for another 15 days, he would have to once again clear waivers to be sent back to the AHL.

Through 43 games, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter, Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard-Bellemare, Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves are the only forwards on the roster to have been scratched by Gerard Gallant without being on IR. Reaves, Pacioretty, and Bellemare were each scratched once and they all are believed to be injury or family/medical related. Carpenter has been scratched three times, Nosek has been scratched four times, and Lindberg has been scratched 23 times. However, in the past six games that Gallant has had to choose two of those three, he has scratched each one of them two times. The most recent player to be scratched was Nosek.

Reading Into It

I was specifically warned against doing this, but what’s the point of the Internet if not to do things people tell you not to and make them angry (Sorry, I’m not sorry Turk).

Let’s start with Zykov as he’s the biggest unknown of all of this. The Golden Knights could instantly clear one spot on their roster by immediately putting Zykov back on waivers. That would allow either Pacioretty or Miller to come off IR and the roster remain at 23.

However, Gallant made a comment in a recent press conference that he started watching film on Zykov “the first time he went on waivers” which indicates that Vegas may have wanted him originally. They did not have priority so he went to Edmonton, then when he hit waivers again, Vegas claimed him and got him. Thus, it makes sense that this is not a short-term rental that won’t be given a chance, but instead that McPhee/Gallant see something they like and they want to give him a shot.

He’s expected to finally make it into the country today after having some immigration issues. He’ll probably practice a few times with the team before getting in a game, but if he remains on the roster when Pacioretty comes back, it should be expected that he gets at least some game action with the Golden Knights.

So, let’s say we expect him to stay, at least for a little while. When Pacioretty comes off IR someone is going to have to be taken off the roster to comply to the 23 man limit.

The easiest option would be for another injured player to be placed on IR. At the moment, the Golden Knights do not have any other players we believe to be injured. In January of last season, when VGK was in a similar bind, Jon Merrill was placed on IR with what was described as an “undisclosed injury,” to make room for Luca Sbisa who came off IR. Clearly, it is against the rules to declare a player that is not injured, injured, however, don’t be completely stunned if there’s a surprise injury that we were unaware of that leads to an IR stint which opens a roster spot for Pacioretty.

If that were not to happen, then McPhee would have to choose one player to be sent back to Chicago. The most likely options are the three forwards previously mentioned (Carpenter, Lindberg, or Nosek), one of the commonly scratched defensemen (Merrill or Hunt) or Brandon Pirri. Before we move on, let’s address Pirri.

Can you really send Pirri back to the AHL?

The short answer is yes, they absolutely can, and the reason is not that he’s not good enough to be on this team. The main reason is that if he doesn’t hit that 10th game, he’s the only guy on the roster (aside from Tuch and we know that’s not happening) that can go to the AHL without risk of being lost on waivers.

However, let’s be honest, do you really think the Golden Knights are going to take the hottest scorer off their roster? The answer is almost certainly no. The only reason they might is that Gallant simply refuses to use him late in games. In each of the last two games he took one shift in the final 10 minutes, and that’s been fairly common in his seven-game stint. That’s minor compared to his six goals in seven games though and Pirri skating on the 2nd line in practice yesterday (and probably again today) is a sign that he’s not going anywhere.

Then who goes?

So, let’s say it’s not Zykov, it’s not Pirri, and there’s no magical injury. It really comes down to five players, Carpenter, Lindberg, Nosek, Hunt, and Merrill. When both Pacioretty and Miller are ready to return, two of those guys must go.

This doesn’t completely rule out the possibility, but the Golden Knights have carried eight defensemen for all but a few games in their short history. They clearly prefer the 13 forward, eight defenseman, two goalie set-up. Assuming they don’t waver from that, it’ll be two of the forwards.

Again, Zykov could be one of the forwards to go, but let’s continue along assuming he’s not.

The most important step to all of this is to figure out which players are least likely to be claimed on waivers. (If you are still confused about how waivers work, read this.) Honestly, no one knows the answer to this question, including George McPhee. If I were to guess, I’d put them in this order, from most likely to be claimed (and thus no longer with VGK) to least likely: Nosek, Merrill, Hunt, Carpenter, Lindberg. Here’s why I ranked them the way I did.

Nosek was literally one of VGK’s best forwards on hockey’s biggest stage.(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Nosek: GMs love a young guy with upside (see Valentin Zykov). Nosek is 26 years old, is an RFA this offseason, and he scored three goals in the Stanley Cup Final. Guys like this don’t hit waivers often and he’d almost certainly get snapped up by somebody.

Merrill: He may be much maligned here, but there are so many teams that could use a viable defensive option like Merrill. His contract is very affordable for the next two years at $1.375M.

Hunt: Aside from the fact that he’s literally the ideal 23rd man on a roster, Hunt is a good offensive weapon on the blue line. Also, he’s hit waivers before and has been claimed (in 2016-17 by Nashville). The drawback to potential waiver claimers is his contract. Hunt is a UFA at the end of the season, so teams without playoff aspirations will likely have no interest. That rules out about 10 teams.

Carpenter: Like Hunt, Carpenter is on a league minimum deal ($650,000) and is a UFA following the season. Again, this rules out most non-contending teams. However, Carpenter has been claimed (by VGK) on waivers once before and he’s shown the ability to be useful in all situations. He’s a great penalty killer and showed a scoring touch when he was previously claimed. Do I think he clears? Yes, I do, but I wouldn’t be thrilled to take the risk if I’m Geroge McPhee.

Lindberg: Another UFA following this season but Lindberg carries a contract of $1.7M. Again, we’ve ruled out bad teams, but this also rules out cap-strapped teams. Lindberg has proven to not be able to either get into or stay in the Golden Knights lineup and his scoring has diminished basically every year of his career. He has some upside, and a heck of a pair of hands, but if push comes to shove, he’d probably get through.

So, my official guess as to what happens if it comes to it is that they’ll waive Lindberg first and then Carpenter second.

Ok, cool, but let’s talk about where Pirri plays

At this point, he appears to be staying on the 2nd line with Tuch and Stastny, and I agree with this decision. Quite frankly, he’s too hot to move at this point. Plus, Pacioretty and Eakin had some success together, maybe they can rekindle that on the 3rd line.

However, I do not expect this to be the long-term plan. Eventually, Pacioretty will get his chance back on the 2nd line and when it happens, expect him to stay there.

What about Zykov?

Well, he’s still kind of a mystery, but he’s been described as a power forward with great hands and quite a bit of offensive upside. So, that seems to fit in great on a third line with Eakin and Pacioretty/Pirri, but it doesn’t seem to make as much sense with Eakin and Nosek/Carpenter/Lindberg. Time will tell on him and he’s going to have to make an impact quickly, otherwise, his stay in Vegas may be short.

Hey, don’t forget about Erik Haula!

The 23-man NHL roster limit is lifted on February 25th. So, unless you think Haula is coming back before then, and I definitely don’t, there’s not much to worry about here.

Got it? If not, post whatever questions you still have in the comments and I’ll be sure to answer them.

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35 Comments

  1. Brian S

    I think Carpenter probably clears waivers fairly easily, though as you said you never know how Competing Team Y is going to value Player X. At the same time if the Knights lost Carpenter to waivers I wouldn’t really lose too much sleep about it unless there’s a rash of injuries amongst the forwards. Same with Brad Hunt if they end up having to expose two players to waivers. I don’t think he gets picked up, but if he does I wouldn’t be crushed. I don’t think I could say the same about Nosek.

    • I tried to be as honest and fair as possible but I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Hunt. He’s the nicest guy in the world and I honestly can’t imagine a VGK locker room with him.

      • Brian S

        It’s the hard/unfair part of the business for everyone (the player, GMGM, the media, etc.) for sure.

      • Gregory Casterline

        I agree that Hunt is the nicest guy in the world. He is super friendly and always makes sure he says hello to me in the media elevator and in the press box. I hate that we have to let some guys go, I do agree with your top two picks and I realize at the end of the day it’s a business and business decisions have to be made. If anyone from VGK reads this article please keep Hunt. The media elevator crew loves him, things wouldn’t be the same without him.

  2. the HOCKEY GOD

    trade patches for draft picks

    • Slr82

      Hmmmm lets see you already traded 6 picks/players for him in the first place, why would you?

  3. Mike G

    The Zykov thing is very strange to me. We were already in a too many players predicament when Patches and Miller return. He’s obviously not a top 6 guy just based on how much he’s bounced around. We are winning right now and more importantly it feels like the team chemistry is great. Let’s say one of the most liked players in the locker room, Hunt, gets waived for Zykov. How does that affect the chemistry? I’m nervous about how this is going to play out…

  4. BL

    On what side does Zykov play? Would Patches, Zykov, Eakin work?

    Also what is the PK line if one of Bellemare, Eakin, Nosek and Carpenter are in the box? Does Stastny fill that role?

    And does it seem that Zykov would make Turk’s favorite lineup types? Power player and shooter on the wings (even on the so called 4th line):

    Smith, Karlsson, Marchy
    Tuch, Stastny, Patches/Pirri
    Zykov, Eakin, Pirri/Patches
    Carrier, Bellemare, Reaves

  5. Bent Hermit

    Every team is looking for a puck moving offensive D man so I think Hunt diffently gets claimed. I like breaking up the 2nd and 3rd lines. Put Patches-Eakin-Tuch together. They had some chemistry. Then Pirri- Stastny-Zykov together. This puts a play maker and a shooter on both lines. This also gives Zykov a real chance by playing with top 6 players. Zykov will also benefit playing with a veteran center. Stastny is the best defensive center so keeping him with Pirri is key.

    • JD

      I like the lines you are suggesting. I noticed Eaks production drop off when he got moved off the line with Tuch and Patches. They were all scoring when put together.

  6. BCoff

    I definitely don’t like this idea, but even with the scoring upside, I feel that Pirri is likely to go back down just long enough to feel out Zykov. If it doesn’t work out, I see Pirri coming right back up.

    Then, I think the Saga continues with the return of Haula late in the season. Even with the roster limit lifted, I’d guess Pirri would be sent back down rather than scratch him or lose someone to waivers.

    All that to say, I completely agree with you that Pirri should stay and not be sent down, I just think we’ve seen this story too many times… you are either a reliable two-way player or suffer the fate of Neal, Perron, Scratchorietty.

  7. Craig

    The best thing to do is get Engelland to stub his toe and land on IR, or better yet retire and take a front office (non hockey) job.

  8. Ting

    Would Derky Engelland be a possibility to be sent down? He’d clear waivers right? And he isn’t playing all that well right now

  9. Jason Bentley

    OK call this a stretch but what if they’re stacking up on these players to make a push for a trade and Brayden Schenn. It most certainly would take a relief of cap space which puts Lindberg into the mix plus also will take a couple other players say Carpenter and Hunt. (Some draft picks as well) This clears room and makes what is arguably 4 amazing lines. Remember we roll all 4 lines.
    It was also recently rumored that we were making a trade from several media outlets on Brayden Schenn.
    This also allows room for Patches, Pirri, and the return of Miller

    • Charles

      Absolutely agree this is trade related and based on the poor play of Holden

      • Slr82

        What ? …..are you even watching the games. Holden is playing good, fitting in with Colin Miller(IR) and whomever is inserted to replace him each game.

    • Julian

      Why would St Louis want any of these players?
      Come on your reaching now.

      • Jason Bentley

        Well why would they want to trade Brayden Schenn is also a good question. St Louis is a heartbeat away from a rebuild. It makes sense to cut salary.

  10. Mike

    Initially, I had a suspicion that Pirri was being showcased as potential trade bait. He scored a few goals last year during his cup of coffee, and NO ONE saw his production doing what it has this season!
    To claim a decent D man, GMGM would have to put together a decent package of players (with Pirri being the biggest upside.) It’s too bad Pirri had other ideas, and is scoring like a mad man! I hope Pirri stays,,,he has definitely earned his spot!

    Re: Zykov, We watched him in his first 2 years in N. America. The kid (at least back then) showed serious skill and upside (at the ECHL level.) I don’t remember anything bad that stood out. Sounds like he bulked up some recently. Let’s see if GMGM finally has his Russian.

  11. Julian

    Pirri isn’t going anywhere.Listen with Zykov why not give him a chance.The Lindberg/Carpenter thing we all have seen it run its course.They offer no offense at all and as for Hunt or Merrill they go so be it.There is plenty of guys in minors who can fill that void. I highly doubt these 4 guys will even be on team next year anyway.The 3rd line needs to do something different and I’ll take offense potential any day over lack there of.

    • David VanderKlipp

      I agree with the minors filling the Hunt or Merrill void. I think we’re deeper at Defense in the minors.

  12. Mike G

    The timing is just bad. We are one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the past month. The defence is playing better than it has played all year and will only improve with the return of Miller. The 3rd and 4th lines are doing their job and the guys on those lines play their butts off at both ends of the ice. If we get one or two goals a game from those lines, the other two lines are more than adequate to cover the rest. I believe there is already some tension on how/where to play your highest paid non goalie that has either sucked or been hurt most of the season. This is bad timing for a Zykov experiment!

  13. David VanderKlipp

    Hunt and Merrill. I honestly think that they are the most replaceable In our organization. If there is an injury to a defenseman you would have to resort to putting in Brannstrom!? That sounds fine with me! Lol with Brannstrom Hague Bishoff and Whitecloud Getting close To being NHL caliber defenseman there might not be space on The roster for them as early as next year.

  14. Vgk4life

    For me Carpenter and Merill go. Both have way underperformed. Carpenter’s season last year was a flash in a pan, he’s back to where he was when the sharks decided to cut bait. Merill, other than his size brings nothing. Hunt is the smarter better defensemen.

    Zykov has big potential. If he doesn’t pan out, he becomes another carpenter and we lose nothing. Watching him in practice showed he has amazing stick handling skill, reminded me a lot of Lindberg but a bit faster of foot.

  15. Pierre S Martin

    Thanks for all of the info Ken, and lots of good posts with many interesting ideas and theory. Just don’t let Mr. Gallant see this.

  16. Mike

    Alright Ken, things are getting even murkier. Just read we traded Oligny (A D man playing for the Wolves) to Winnipeg for future considerations.
    Why is Chicago shedding players?
    Please “read more into this.” 🙂

  17. Mike B

    It wouldn’t surprise me if McPhee has a few trades in his pocket as to not lose assets for nothing…but do you think they might be more willing to risk the “8th D” perhaps Hunt with Brannstrom waiting in the wings?? Besides I would argue that a 30-year old pending UFA guy would be the least likely to be claimed

  18. Slr1982

    The bottom line is that the Defensemen in Chicago are not ready to be called up or else we would have already seen them. We signed Holden, Nate Schmidt was out and we still didn’t seen these young D men. The reason why us they aren’t ready. McPhee and Gallant know what they are doing, they have a plan and its working.

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