Early in the Vegas Golden Knights’ ongoing, still-surprising hot start as a franchise, PHT noted one thing that’s unlikely to change this season: motivation.
NHL players are already generally a motivated lot, but when you put financial futures on the line, you’ll often see a surge in results. Take a look at the Golden Knights’ Cap Friendly page and you’ll see a ton of players with one or two years remaining on their current contracts. Greed can be good, at least in the short term, for a sports team’s fortunes.
While the franchise would likely draw the most attention for high-scoring, pending UFAs like James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault, there’s a particularly noticeable glut of defensemen on one-year deals.
That group got a little smaller on Wednesday, as the Golden Knights announced a four-year, $10 million extension for former Kings blueliner Brayden McNabb.
From here, it seems like a fairly benign move.
It’s worth noting that the move draws at least a little bit of mockery on Hockey Twitter.
McNabb, 26, is averaging 19:30 TOI per night through his first 20 regular-season games with the Golden Knights. Peeking at his Hockey Reference page’s quick possession stats, it’s interesting to note an unusual disparity in his Corsi Relative (-.5) versus Fenwick Relative (+3.6) rates compared to his teammates.
It turns out that he’s been blocking buckets of shots so far this season, leading the Golden Knights in that category. Fenwick is a Corsi-like measure except with blocked shots removed from the equation, so perhaps some of a person’s view of McNabb comes down to subtle preferences.
(He’s tied for 12th overall in the NHL in blocked shots, despite missing a few games, by the way.)
Really, if the Golden Knights’ rationale is “well, this makes Gerard Gallant happy,” then it seems like a reasonable move.
Beyond McNabb, Vegas only has Nate Schmidt and Brad Hunt under contracts beyond this season, and both of their deals expire after 2018-19. If you want to be cute about it, you could call McNabb “the defenseman of the future” in Vegas, at least right now.
Discounting David Clarkson‘s dead cap money (which expires after 2019-20), the Golden Knights also have these forwards and goalies locked up for at least two seasons, ignoring players in their farm system for the sake of simplicity:
- Reilly Smith, $5M cap hit through 2021-22
- Cody Eakin, $3.85M through 2019-20
- Erik Haula, $2.75M through 2019-20
- Oscar Lindberg, $1.7M through 2018-19
- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, $1.45M through 2018-19
- Alex Tuch, $925K through 2018-19
- Brendan Leipsic, $650K through 2018-19
- (Reid Duke is also on “season-opening injured reserve,” via Cap Friendly’s listings.)
- Marc-Andre Fleury, $5.75M through 2018-19
- Malcolm Subban, $650K through 2018-19
You can look at that list a number of ways, including from two very different perspectives. Optimists will note how clean that cap is, with few deals threatening “albatross” status (beyond Clarkson’s, which the Golden Knights are essentially laundering for a fee). On the other hand, anxious types will worry about all the potential mistakes that could be made, including letting the wrong players go and/or retaining players who are playing over their heads.
Overall, this is another reminder that GM George McPhee has generally done a great job of accumulating assets while avoiding the sort of attachments that can submarine a franchise. Even if McNabb ends up being a bland bottom-pairing guy, this deal really isn’t that bad; the term would be the main issue if he really flops.
Of course, this is a mere appetizer for future decisions. Will GMGM ultimately keep or sell guys like Neal, Marchessault, David Perron, and William Karlsson? Finding out those answers should be almost as fun as observing this Cinderella story in action.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.