What Will the Golden Knights Do For An Encore?

What Will the Golden Knights Do For An Encore?

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.


NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 4, 2017

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 4, 2017

Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) celebrates one of his club’s five goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Predators win Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final plus updates on Henrik Lundqvist, Colton Parayko & more in your NHL morning coffee headlines. 

NHL.COM: The Nashville Predators picked up their first Stanley Cup Final victory, scoring five unanswered goals to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1.

The Preds overcame an early 1-0 deficit on second-period goals by Roman Josi, Frederick Gaudreau and James Neal. Josi finished with three points (one goal, two assists) while Pekka Rinne rebounded from shaky performances in the first two games with a 27-save effort.

Jake Guentzel tallied the only goal for the Penguins, while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin failed to register a shot on goal. Pittsburgh was unable to score on their power play while the Predators cashed in with two PP goals. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Predators made good on P.K. Subban’s guarantee of a win in Game 3. After a jittery start, they took control of the game in the second half of the first period and never looked back. While this was a big win for Nashville, they’re still down two games to one to the Penguins. They’ll need another strong effort in Game 4 on Monday to avoid returning to Pittsburgh for Game 5 down three games to one. 

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played the gold medal game for Sweden in the recent World Championships with an isolated MCL sprain in one of his knees. He’ll need four-to-six weeks of recovery but it’s not expected to adversely affect his offseason training plan. 

STLTODAY.COM: There’s growing interest around the league in St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, but don’t expect a rival club to pry him away with a big offer sheet. In a recent interview, Blues GM Doug Armstrong said his club would match any offer for Parayko. 

DETROIT FREE PRESS: Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek is coming off a difficult season. Wings coach Jeff Blashill believes the 24-year-old netminder must work to improve his game in the offseason. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Until this season, Mrazek was considered the Wings starting goaltender. However, he was outplayed early in the season by veteran Jimmy Howard and struggled after Howard was sidelined by a knee injury. If the Wings don’t shop him via trade or lose him in the expansion draft, they’ll need a much better effort from him next season. 

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Golden Knights GM George McPhee doesn’t anticipate moving up or down in the opening round of the 2017 NHL Draft. McPhee holds the sixth-overall selection. 


NHL Rumor Mill – March 8, 2017

NHL Rumor Mill – March 8, 2017

Could the Ottawa Senators leave Bobby Ryan unprotected in the NHL expansion draft?

A look at several notable players who could be exposed in this June’s expansion draft and more in your NHL rumor mill.

TSN: Frank Seravalli and Craig Button recently looked at the players that might be available in June’s NHL expansion draft. They first revisited the key rules of the draft. Teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters (four forwards and four defensemen) and a goalie, players with no-movement clause must be protected, and players with less than three years of pro experience are exempt.

They then examined which players from the seven Canadian teams could be exposed in the draft. Among the notables the Toronto Maple Leafs could expose are defensemen Alexey Marchenko and Martin Marincin and forwards Eric Fehr and Ben Smith. Tomas Plekanec, Jordie Benn, Alexei Emelin and Al Montoya could be left unprotected by the Montreal Canadiens.

The Ottawa Senators could exposed wingers Bobby Ryan and recently-acquired Alex Burrows, defenseman Marc Methot and goalie Andrew Hammond. For the Edmonton Oilers, forwards Zach Kassian, Benoit Pouliot, Matt Hendricks and defenseman Mark Fayne could be unprotected.

For the Winnipeg Jets, they could opt for the eight skater protection because of their depth on the blueline. Forwards Mathieu Perreault, Shawn Matthias and Marko Dano and goalie Michael Hutchinson could be available. The Vancouver Canucks could expose defenseman Luca Sbisa and forward Derek Dorsett. The Calgary Flames could expose forwards Matt Stajan, Alex Chiasson and Lance Bouma.

As for the rest of the league, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (provided he waives his no-movement clause), Wild winger Jason Zucker, Anaheim Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg and Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov could be among the best available players. 

Seravalli speculates Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher could be talking with Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee to work out a trade whereby the Wild will give up an asset to Vegas in order to protect a defenseman such as Jonas Brodin or Marco Scandella. 

Button doubts Silfverberg will be available and Fleury must waive his no-movement clause. He speculates the Penguins netminder could end up traded to a club of his choosing before the expansion draft. 

ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun recently reported Golden Knights GM George McPhee could take part in trade discussions with his colleagues during this week’s meeting of NHL general managers in Boca Raton, Florida. McPhee admitted he’s had some talks with several clubs, but isn’t in a rush to make any deals in advance. “We’d rather see the entire universe of who’s available and who’s protected before we make a lot of decisions,” he said. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadian teams are in good shape for the expansion draft. It doesn’t appear any of them risk losing a key player.

Bear in mind that just because players such as Bobby Ryan or Tomas Plekanec might be exposed doesn’t mean they’ll be selected by Vegas. Ryan carries a big contract and hasn’t played up to expectations in Ottawa, while Plekanec is in his mid-thirties and his best seasons are behind him. The only real concern for the Jets is losing Perreault, who’s an oft-injured but versatile forward.

Of the other notables around the league, I agree with Button that Silfverberg probably won’t be available by the time the Golden Knights make their selections. Like the Wild, the Ducks could work out a side deal with Vegas to ensure he gets passed over by the Golden Knights, possibly by trading them a defenseman. 

Fleury could be dealt or bought out prior to the draft. It’s also possible he could waive his NMC to make himself available in the draft, but he might not be keen to join an expansion team.