Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t just set themselves apart by being a hard-charging, hungry group that raised the bar for what an expansion team could accomplish in pro sports. If you’re a believer that “greed is good” in sports, then Vegas was Exhibit A, as the team flourished with a ton of players having a lot to prove.
Well, the days of this team having a remarkably clean slate feel just about over.
The latest long-term, Vegas gamble happened on Friday, as the Golden Knights handed a seven-year, $33.25 million contract extension to 22-year-old winger Alex Tuch.
Tuch is closing out his current contract at $925K, so his $4.75M cap hit will kick in starting in 2019-20.
Before we get into the Tuch deal specifically, let’s consider the massive amount of money the Golden Knights invested in a growing group of players, between deals that have kicked in or will begin next season.
Active, mid-to-long-term deals:
• Jonathan Marchessault, 27: $5M cap hit through 2023-24
• Reilly Smith, 27: $5M through 2021-22
• Shea Theodore, 23: $5.2M through 2024-25
• Colin Miller, 25: $3.875M through 2021-22
• Brayden McNabb, 37: $2.5M through 2021-22
• Paul Stastny, 32: $6.5M through 2020-21
Hefty extensions beginning next season:
• Tuch, 22, $925K this season, $4.75M through 2025-26
• Max Pacioretty, 29, $4.05M this season, $7M through 2022-23
• Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, $5.75M this season, $7M through 2021-22
Keep in mind that, heading into their first season, the Golden Knights only inherited one of the contracts above (getting Smith from Florida), while Marchessault and McNabb were extended during the season. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has been rolling the dice, then, by signing the majority of these contracts after the team enjoyed that stunningly successful run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Committing to hot streaks can burn long-standing franchises, let alone one just beginning its second season in the NHL. While the Patches extension was more palatable term-wise than many feared, it’s still risky. The Marc-Andre Fleury extension, meanwhile, stands as a massive risk.
With MAF, the questions revolve around how much “The Flower” really has left. Conversely, we just haven’t seen much of Alex Tuch.
The Golden Knights are committing to Tuch three years into his UFA phase, and essentially until he’s 30, after seeing him play in just 84 regular-season games and 20 playoff contests at the NHL level. All of Tuch’s production came from last season, when he scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 contests with Vegas (along with pitching in 10 games during that postseason run).
That’s not a lot of data to go off of, so the Golden Knights are taken a major leap that the best is yet to come from the big forward, who the Wild selected 18th overall in 2014.
The best-case scenario is that the Golden Knights will have answered many of their bigger questions contracts-wise, aside from that of William Karlsson, whose fuzzy situation was delayed with a one-year deal. There’s the possibility that Tuch will be almost as much of a bargain as Marchessault and Smith, who are giving Vegas quality work, in their primes, for just $5M per season.
The worst-case scenario is that Vegas robbed itself of a chance to see Tuch prove himself with one more season of work.
And, zooming out, the Golden Knights might be banking a little too much on rekindling at least some of the magic of their improbable, almost-impossible first season in existence.
To an extent, it’s a matter of human nature, and more foolish teams could have gone in even deeper, possibly maintaining all of Vegas’ additions while also keeping aging wingers James Neal and David Perron around. The Golden Knights showed at least some discipline – they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by possibly committing too much, too early to William Karlsson – but the question is, are they showing enough?
Tuch stands as one of the key test cases, but at least this risk allows people to make an array of bad Vegas/gambling jokes. (Hey, that’s human nature, too, really.)
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.