What Will the Golden Knights Do For An Encore?

by | Jun 10, 2018 | Soapbox | 4 comments

The Vegas Golden Knights came up short in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, but they have nothing to hang their heads over. They confounded the odds and the experts on route to the greatest inaugural campaign in the history of North American professional sports. They are certainly the leading contender for feel-good sports story of the year.

George McPhee’s second summer as Vegas Golden Knights GM could be a busy one (Photo via NHL.com).

Which begs the question, where do they go from here?

While the Golden Knights enjoyed an wonderful debut season, they’ve also set a very high bar for themselves going forward.

As I pointed out late last month in a piece for Featurd.io (“Golden Knights Success Will Have Repercussions Around The NHL”), several of their notable players will face a much brighter spotlight than they’re used to.

William Karlsson rose from an obscure former third-line center with the Columbus Blue Jackets to the NHL’s third-leading goal scorer (43) this season.

Winger Jonathan Marchessault was a late-blossoming 30-goal scorer with the Florida Panthers in 2016-17. With 75 points in 77 games, he was a nearly a point-per-game player.

With 55 points, center Erik Haula more than doubled his production from the previous year with the Minnesota Wild.

Defenseman Colin Miller‘s 41 points were more than twice his career totals in his two previous seasons with the Boston Bruins.

Youngsters Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore skated largely under the radar in the regular season but saw their profiles rise significantly during the 2018 playoffs.

Entering this season, no one expected much from from the Golden Knights. Their players could relax and play their game. In 2018-19, however, they’ll feel the pressure to play up to much higher expectations. Some could rise to the challenge, others might not.

I also observed the Golden Knights’ success this season resulted in a season-ticket sellout for 2018-19. Most of their fans realize their team won’t have an easy time returning to the Cup Final, but some could have their hopes raised to unrealistic levels. If the Golden Knights stumble next season, it could hurt them at the box office in 2019-20.

In an earlier Featurd piece, I touched on the busy summer that awaits Golden Knights general manager George McPhee.

Karlsson, Theodore and Miller are among Vegas’ restricted free agents this summer. Forwards James Neal and David Perron are their notable unrestricted free agents.

McPhee has just over $48.5 million invested in 17 players. If the salary cap reaches $80 million, he’ll have nearly $31.5 million to work with, assuming team owner Bill Foley is willing to spend to the cap ceiling.

While McPhee should have plenty of salary-cap dollars to re-sign those players, he must avoid overpaying for their services. If, for example, he ends up handing Karlsson an expensive long-term deal and the center consistently struggles to match this season’s numbers, that contract could handcuff McPhee in a couple of years, when cap space might not be so plentiful.

McPhee could continue playing the long game. He could keep an emphasis on drafting and developing his own talent, making affordable depth acquisitions and relying on his current core to maintain a reasonable level of competitiveness as they build toward long-term success.

But having come so tantalizingly close to the Stanley Cup this year, maybe McPhee’s appetite is whetted for faster results. Maybe Foley will push him to pursue high-priced help this summer. Perhaps he’ll attempt to parlay some of his stockpile of draft picks and young assets for an established star or two in hopes of making another run for the Cup next season.

In recent weeks, there’s been speculation suggesting McPhee could “weaponize” his cap space to pursue a true franchise player for his club. The obvious free-agent target would be New York Islanders center John Tavares. Many also point to McPhee’s attempt to pry Erik Karlsson away from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline and wonder if he might revisit his interest this summer.

Tavares and Karlsson would be expensive acquisitions salary-wise. There’s also the high asking price the Senators will set for their captain as part of a trade.

Most knowledgeable hockey fans and pundits don’t expect the Golden Knights to be as successful next season. They should remain a competitive playoff contender, but they will be hard-pressed to match or exceed this season’s impressive performance. 

The Golden Knights certainly surprised hockey fans in their maiden season. Whether they’ll have more surprises up their sleeve, and whether they’ll be pleasant ones, remains to be seen.

 








4 Comments

  1. I will admit up front that I was one of the many who didn’t (before the season started) see them making the playoffs …. I also didn’t see them at the bottom of the league …. seeing them more than likely 3-5 points out of a playoff spot

    Wow …. great to be proved wrong

    I will state now that I don’t see the same success next year but do expect to see them playoff bound and possibly even nearing WCF… but can’t see them in SCF in 2019…. please prove me wrong

    … that said …. they’re well past now where they likely saw themselves last Sept…. so path of developing team must change

    I would hold on to as much of last year’s draft haul as possible and keep at least 14 of their roster that played in SCF

    I do foresee them at least exploring an offer to JT but see him not likely to sign there

    I would negotiate heavily to get Karlson # 2 on board and heavily to limit long term hi-risk of expensive 8 year contract on Wild Bill

    If they can get EK without Ryan …. do it …. if Ryan has to come …, it better be way cheaper and they must have a plan to flip BR…. BR just can’t be in their long term plans

    I think they should only re-sign one of Neil or Perron …. not that both would be great to have back …. it is just that the cost to keep both will bee too long and expensive and doesn’t fit in with getting some of last year’s draftees in play by Oct ’19

  2. How bad was that Tatar trade? The guy could barely crack their line-up… Also, going into their second ever expansion draft without a 1st round pick feels foolish to me even if it’s 30th overall (and was wasted).

    • BL

      hoping reports true of Tater Tot playing injured leading to brutal performance …. cherishing the hopes that this is true and that he performs great next year… fingers crossed …. otherwise bust

  3. they will be hard pressed to do it over again– unless tavares\ karlsson\carlson appear in uniforms. foley will exspect mcphee to be there come hell or high water.