House Money: How Golden Knights were built

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

The Vegas Golden Knights are a veritable gold mine of redemption stories.

Then again, one person’s “redemption” can be another person’s “revenge.” In considering the construction of the Golden Knights’ roster, some of the biggest hits feel like GM George McPhee’s revenge for the waves of Filip Forsberg jokes he absorbed between his 2014 firing and this unlikely run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Optimizing the returns of the expansion draft is one of the things that stand out about McPhee’s work.

[How the Capitals were built]

It’s one thing to merely select the best player available, or the best option available (if the best player’s contract makes him a bad choice). The Golden Knights leveraged other teams’ fears of losing their best unprotected players to set this team up for the present and future with draft picks and high-potential pieces. There was even an element of exploiting teams’ mistakes of the past, as Vegas sweetened its takeaways by absorbing other GMs’ mistakes, such as David Clarkson‘s contract.

Let’s take a long look at how the Golden Knights were built, and also realize that there’s still plenty of building to do … but in a very good way.

The good stuff that doesn’t really matter right now

Let’s face it. The Golden Knights weren’t necessarily built with 2017-18 at the forefront of their brains.

Instead, Vegas stockpiled a slew of draft picks to 1) agree not to select unprotected players or 2) to trade some of their picks to teams after the draft. Oh yeah, and they also received a pick in that Panthers situation … but that’s its own category.

Anyway, stockpiling defensemen and futures was a huge part of the gameplan. At the time, it seemed like any bit of first-season success would be the gravy. Instead, a nice first entry draft (despite bad draft lottery luck) and a bucket of picks ended up being the cherry on top of this beyond-Cinderella run.

Fleury and other established players

Back in June 2017, the easiest way to picture the Golden Knights exceeding expectations revolved around career-best work from Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s delivered on that dream, authoring his best work in the regular season and the playoffs. Sometimes Fleury’s looked superhuman.

But one of the beautiful things for Vegas was that they didn’t always ride that train. “The Flower” was fantastic, yet injuries limited him to just 46 regular-season games, and other goalies got hurt, too. They still easily won the Pacific Division.

Some of the other established names followed a similar pattern.

James Neal and David Perron were slated to be key figures for Vegas, and they delivered. Still, those who expected Neal to be easily Vegas’ most dangerous scorer ended up being wrong (at least after a ridiculous start for Neal). Neal was good, yet an unlikely first line emerged thanks to a few factors …

Karlsson is to Forsberg …

In this deconstruction of the Capitals’ construction, it was noted that people have been joking about the Filip Forsberg trade is a frequent punchline when discussing George McPhee. The veteran executive emphatically proved that he learned his lesson, and applied that lesson to leveraging other GMs into submission.

When McPhee flipped Forsberg for Martin Erat, his Capitals were hoping to get over the hump for a playoff run, and management misdiagnosed Forsberg’s potential. Similar situations played themselves out before, during, and after the expansion draft.

While Forsberg had yet to get to the NHL level with Washington, William Karlsson showed little more than potential (and a deadly hair flip) with Columbus. Instead, the Blue Jackets bribed McPhee not to take players like Joonas Korpisalo or Josh Anderson, not realizing that Karlsson would be Vegas’ Forsberg.

Again, that was an extreme case, but not the only one. The Wild gave Vegas Alex Tuch so they’d select Erik Haula. Tuch looks slick and Haula barely missed a 30-goal season. That stings, but Minnesota didn’t want to lose someone like Mathew Dumba, and McPhee gleefully exploited that, with successes even he probably didn’t fully comprehend.

[What Vegas success says about NHL]

Sometimes there were ulterior motives like shedding some bad contracts (to be fair to Columbus, getting rid of Clarkson was huge; Shea Theodore was the treasure they unearthed by taking on Clayton Stoner from Anaheim). Sometimes the gains were more modest, or more futures-oriented.

Either way, the Golden Knights wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic if McPhee didn’t supplement expansion draft selections with shrewd side deals. Especially …

via Getty

Skip this inevitable section, Tallon and Panthers fans

An amalgamation of many of those factors in the punchline-iest element of all, as the Florida Panthers happily gave Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas. Two-thirds of a top line that was able to hang with and sometimes outplay lines headed by Anze Kopitar, Logan Couture/Joe Pavelski, and the Jets’ beastly offerings was gladly given up. It was baffling then, and it’s aged like the opposite of wine (unless you enjoy making jokes on social media).

To sweeten the deal(s), consider that one of Florida’s defenses (Reilly Smith’s contract) probably helped the Golden Knights sign Marchessault to a team-friendly extension, as they both will carry $5 million cap hits. (Smith’s already was there, while Marchessault’s kicks in next season.)

You have to dig pretty deep to find other explanations. Maybe it helped Florida afford a very nice free agent in Evgenii Dadonov? Yeah, that’s about it. All McPhee could do was thank any appropriate deities and let Tallon shoot himself in the foot. Twice.

Sometimes, like with the Golden Knights landing Nate Schmidt, it was about a team having to make painful choices about who to expose, and that player taking off even more than expected in Vegas. There are a lot of selections and situations that look astounding in hindsight, and some deserve the extra ribbing. No situation really stands at the level of unforced errors quite like what the Panthers managed with those self-destructive moves, though.

/Takes a second to recover from just how mind-blowing that all still seems.

Speaking of former Panthers

Of course, the Golden Knights aren’t just boosted by former Panthers players.

Gerard Gallant stands as a possible unanimous choice for the Jack Adams Award a season after that embarrassing “fired and sent away in a taxi cab” fracas with Florida.

It’s honestly surprising that Gallant – someone who allegedly clashed with “The Computer Boys” in Florida during Tallon’s blink of time out of control – is the same coach who’s allowed this team to play breathtaking, aggressive hockey. This is – dare I say it? – the sort of hockey that “The Computer Boys” likely would have stumped for.

Maybe Gallant was always prescient enough to realize that these players would truly flourish if you gave them more opportunities and longer leashes to make mistakes. Maybe it was a “nothing to lose” gambit. Or perhaps he took some lessons to heart after what must have been a humbling experience in Florida.

Either way, Gallant’s been a huge part of the winner Vegas has built, and he’s a mere four wins from a Stanley Cup.

A fairly clean slate

You could mix in a little “greed is good” into this recipe, as UFAs such as James Neal and David Perron are fighting for new deals. Fleury really isn’t that far away either (he could sign an extension in July), and plenty of other players are fighting to prove their worth in the NHL. Marchessault was in a contract year before getting his extension in January, too.

Another genius element of Vegas, one that other teams must envy, is that they aren’t weighed down by a bunch of problem contracts.

Yes, they took on the albatross deals of Clarkson and Mikhail Grabovski, yet those can a) be scuttled off to Robidas Island (the LTIR) and b) they aren’t going to last long. This team isn’t just set up for a promising future because of a bounty of draft picks; they also have the sort of cap room to be credible rumored destinations for big names like Erik Karlsson and John Tavares.

That actually bring us to one of the few mistakes, at least in ignoring the Vadim Shipachyov saga: trading three prominent draft picks for Tomas Tatar.

As of this moment, that seems like a big gaffe and the NHL’s revenge for the expansion draft. Still, it’s plausible that the Golden Knights might salvage this situation. Heck, for all we know, maybe Tatar will end up providing an unexpected boost as soon as the 2018 Stanley Cup Final?

Stranger things have happened … like, you know, an expansion team winning its division and making it all the way to the final round in its first season.

***

No doubt about it, the Golden Knights have enjoyed some luck. Marc-Andre Fleury’s unlikely to sustain this level of play (no insult to MAF, few goalies could), and that magic may even begin to run out during Game 1 on Monday. William Karlsson probably won’t score on almost a quarter of his shots on goal next regular season.

Even if the Golden Knights take a step back, the point is that this team is constructed with remarkable skill and foresight.

You don’t even need to use the “for an expansion team” caveat this season, and there’s a chance you won’t need to going further, either. This management team could very well ride this hot hand into the future.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has better defense?
• How Washington was built

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

2018 NHL Draft Tracker

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Once you moved beyond the premium picks, the 2018 NHL Draft became “The Year of the Mobile Defensemen.” Almost half of the first round featured defensive picks, most of whom fit the mold of the modern, attacking NHL.

The draft began with two predictable top picks, and then the drama escalated once the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators came into the mix. Maybe hockey fans should just get used to that, as those franchises stir things up more than any others?

Early on, it seems like the Red Wings and Islanders rank among the biggest winners once you push beyond the slam-dunk picks. Time, of course, will tell if that’s even remotely accurate.

Check out the first round results below, along with some early analysis. The remainder of the 2018 NHL Draft takes place early on Saturday.

Round 1

1. Buffalo Sabres – Rasmus Dahlin, Defenseman, Frolunda (Sweden)

“He is a terrific skater and stick handler who can rush the puck, or join the attack in a hurry. Impressive agility makes him a good one-on-one defender. He has fine passing ability, and although not a big-time bomber, he has an accurate shot from the point.” – Elite Prospects.

Dahlin is the most hyped defensive prospect in years, if not decades. Some say we haven’t seen this kind of excitement for a defenseman since Denis Potvin. Yeah.

2. Carolina Hurricanes – Andrei Svechnikov, Winger, Barrie (OHL)

“Svechnikov has size, speed and skill. He can play a power game or a finesse game, make plays or score goals any way they can be scored – off the rush, one timers from far out, getting his nose dirty in front of the net or off the cycle.” – Bob McKenzie, TSN.

3. Montreal Canadiens – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Center, Assat (Finland)

“A smart forward with a dangerous shot, Kotkaniemi possesses a high hockey IQ and determination with the skills to back it up. Positions himself well and often seems to be a step ahead of plays.” -Matias Strozyk, Elite Prospects.

4. Ottawa Senators – Brady Tkachuk, W, Boston University (NCAA)

“Tkachuk is a lot less refined and less polished than the other elite picks but the big raw-boned winger plays a hard driving, aggravating power and agitation game.” McKenzie, TSN.

5. Arizona Coyotes – Barrett Hayton, C, S.S. Marie (OHL)

“Very smart two-way centre who contributes in all areas of the game and has potential to be a very key player.” TSN.

6. Detroit Red Wings – Filip Zadina, W, Halifax (QMJHL)

“Filip Zadina is a dynamic offensive forward that plays a complete game. A deft and agile skater, he exhibits explosive mobility both up and down the ice. In all three zones, he proactively looks to create problems for the opposition.” – Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

7. Vancouver Canucks – Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan (NCAA)

“He plays a go-go-go offensive game, at times more like a rover than a defenceman. He’s fearless, not afraid to make high risk, high reward but also high danger plays.” TSN.

8. Chicago Blackhawks – Adam Boqvist, D (Sweden)

“A dynamic offensive defenceman that can carry plays with the puck on his stick. A highly mobile and nimble skater that moves with fluidity, balance, and confidence. Utilizes an active stick and creates turnovers frequently. Could be more proactive in his own end …” Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

9. New York Rangers –  Vitali Kravtsov, W, Chelyabinsk (KHL)

“A big, skilled winger that can play up and down the lineup and provide scoring in a number of roles. He brings grit and physical size, but could be more assertive in throwing his weight around more.” Elite Prospects.

10. Edmonton Oilers – Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL)

“A highly intelligent all-around defenceman that plays with poise and can shift the pace of play in a multitude of ways. Showcases smooth four-way skating ability and loves to get involved in all situations – especially when that situation happens to be an up-ice rush.” – Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

11. New York Islanders – Oliver Wahlstrom, W, NTDP

“Offensively, he might be described as uncontainable: the confidence he has in his individual puck skill, paired with a high level of thinking, makes him a difficult cog to take out of alignment. He is able to create opportunities for himself, as well as teammates, out of nothing; this, in turn, translates to energy on the ice and in the building as a whole.” – Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

12. New York Islanders (from Flames) – Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

“Dobson is a strong skater with a high degree of creativity, vision and offensive prowess. Scouts feel we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg here.” – Bob McKenzie, TSN.

13. Dallas Stars – Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint (OHL)

“Very strong two-way centre who plays all situations and can contribute offensively and defensively. Terrific improvement.” TSN.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (from Blues) – Joel Farabee, W, NTDP

“Plays all situations in the game with full understanding and has the skills to contribute offensively.” Craig Button, TSN.

15. Florida Panthers – Grigori Denisenko, (Russia)

“Highly skilled, very dynamic offensive player who is a very dangerous player and capable of quick strike scoring.” Craig Button, TSN.

16. Colorado Avalanche – Martin Kaut, W, Parduice (Czech Extraliga)

“All the skill to be a top six winger who is capable of scoring and being a playmaker.” Craig Button, TSN.

17. New Jersey Devils – Ty Smith, D, Spokane (WHL)

“Elite skating defender whose upside is not far off from the top defenders in the 2018 class.” ISS Hockey.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets – Liam Foudy, C, London (WHL)

“Great speed that creates opportunities for his team and makes life uncomfortable for opponents. Catalyst type player.” Craig Button, TSN.

19. Philadelphia Flyers – Jay O’Brien, C, Thayer (USHS)

“Smart with a quick mind and very good hands where he can make a play or finish a play. Improvement as good as any player.” Craig Button, TSN.

20. Los Angeles Kings – Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Finland)

“Slick Finnish forward, very dangerous with the puck on his stick, always a threat offensively.” – ISS Hockey.

21. San Jose Sharks – Ryan Merkley, D, Guelph (OHL)

“There is chatter that he’s a bad teammate/uncoachable. He’s also one of the most purely gifted playmaking defencemen not named Rasmus Dahlin that we’ve seen in recent years. None of Timothy Liljegren, Erik Brannstrom or even Cale Makar had his kind of creativity in 2017. Nor did Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev or Charlie McAvoy in 2016.” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic (paywall).

22. New York Rangers (from Ottawa Senators, previously from Penguins) – K’Andre Miller, D, Wisconsin (NCAA)

The Rangers traded up to make this choice.

“Strong skating, puck carrying defenceman who can quickly get the play moving forward. Athletic with excellent potential.” Craig Button, TSN.

23. Anaheim Ducks – Isac Lundestrom, (Sweden)

“Very versatile and can adapt to different positions and play in different slots in the lineup. Very smart with good skill.” Craig Button, TSN.

24. Minnesota Wild – Filip Johansson, D (Sweden)

Some believe Paul Fenton made a reach with his first pick as Wild GM.

25. St. Louis Blues (from Toronto Maple Leafs) – Dominik Bokk, W (Sweden)

“A hungry scorer who likes to shoot the puck and gets himself into scoring spots and has a very good shot.” Craig Button, TSN.

26. Ottawa Senators (from New York Rangers, previously from Bruins) – Jacob Bernard-Docker, D, North Dakota (NCAA)

“Steady presence, never gets burned, headed the NCAA route out of the AJHL,” – Scott Wheeler.

27. Chicago Blackhawks (from Predators) – Nicolas Beaudin, DDrummondville (QMJHL)

“Nicolas Beaudin is a diminutive yet cunning defenceman that is able to use his size to his advantage. His mobility is all but elite at this point; he primarily uses his speed to open up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone.” Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

28. New York Rangers (from Lightning) – Nils Lundkvist, (Sweden)

“Acquitted himself very well in the Swedish top league as a 17-year old. Smart and knows how to take advantage of his skills.” Craig Button, TSN.

29. Toronto Maple Leafs (from St. Louis Blues, previously from Jets) – Rasmus Sandin, D, S.S. Marie (OHL)

“Not big in stature but he plays a strong game in all areas. Skates, thinks, makes plays with puck and competes.” Craig Button, TSN.

30. Detroit Red Wings (from Golden Knights) – Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Veleno dropped in the first round after being one of the few players (along with the likes of John Tavares and Connor McDavid) of being granted “exceptional player” status.

“The fleet-footed center is unselfish and will primarily look to make a play at top speed; however, when the chance arises to put it in the pot himself, he will capitalize. He sees the ice well and is rarely caught out of position. His defensive game is refined and he actively pursues puck control.” Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

31. Washington Capitals – Alexander Alexeyev, D, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

“He’s a mobile puckmover in the mold of the modern NHL defenders.” Mike Vogl, Washington Capitals website.

Red Wings pick Filip Zadina has a message to teams that passed on him

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DALLAS — Call it swagger or confidence, Filip Zadina has it and he has a message for the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Arizona Coyotes, the three teams that passed him over before he went to the Detroit Red Wings sixth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“I’m telling my agent if they will pass on me, I will fill their net with the puck,” Zadina said. “Yeah, it’s just I want to prove [to] them that they have done, like, bad decision. But I’m so glad that I am in Detroit right now, so I just want to prove to Detroit that they have got a pretty good decision.”

Zadina, who led the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in goals with 44 goals and recorded 82 points, saw heavy speculation linking him to Montreal at No. 3 and Ottawa at No. 4, but the Canadiens decided on Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Senators took winger Brady Tkachuk from Boston University. The Coyotes selected center Barrett Hayton out of Sault Ste. Marie.

“It’s going to be good games for me and I’m excited for it, sure,” Zadina said about facing those teams in the future.

Zadina will have every opportunity to make the Red Wings next season given the state of the franchise. Two playoff-less seasons has the franchise in rebuilding mode and allowing him to develop immediately at the NHL level could go a long way to seeing him become an integral part of a turnaround.

“A deft and agile skater, he exhibits explosive mobility both up and down the ice,” according to Elite Prospects, Zadina is eager to prove his worth to Red Wings fans and hopes his play can one day equal that of Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lighting, whom he models his game after.

Despite some nerves, Zadina wasn’t too disappointed with ending up No. 6 overall. He’s just pleased his team is the Red Wings.

“I don’t want to call it that I fall to sixth. It’s a draft and I am in Detroit, so I don’t care what position I’m in,” he said. “I’m a Detroit player. I just want to prove to Detroit that they have done a pretty good decision, so I’m just glad that I could be here.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders stay put, land Wahlstrom, Dobson with back-to-back picks

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DALLAS — It’s been quite few weeks for the New York Islanders organization. After hiring Lou Lamoriello as their new president and general manager and then snatching up Barry Trotz to replace Doug Weight as head coach, they scored big in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Sitting at picks No. 11 and 12, the Islanders were able to select forward Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Noah Dobson.

“All we can say is we’re glad where they were when we picked, so we feel very good about it,” said Lamoriello. “You never know when it comes to drafts, everybody has a little different focus, but these were two players we had very high.”

“It’s a dream come true. To be in New York, that city’s awesome and the organization is a powerhouse organization throughout the years. I couldn’t be more happy,” said Wahlstrom, who spent the last two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

Wahlstrom, who was a viral star as a 9-year-old, scored 48 goals and recorded 94 points this season. There’s no question about his offensive ability (“Scoring goals is my specialty”). It’s his play away from the puck that he feels he needs to improve, along with consistency. Currently committed to Boston College, he says he’ll make a decision at the end of the summer.

“If I have to develop for one year, Boston College is a great spot for me to develop as a person,” he said.

Also offensively-minded is Dobson, who helped the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL win the Memorial Cup in May. Modeling his game after Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, he’s a good puck moving defenseman that is confident on the rush.

His abilities mesh with where the NHL is going.

“The NHL is a fast game now and you’ve got have D that are able to get the pucks up to the forwards and let them do their thing,” said Dobson. “I think it says a lot. Obviously there’s a lot of great defensemen in this draft. The game’s becoming a fast game so you’ve got to be able to move the puck quick and get the puck up ice.”

Dobson said he wants to use the summer to get stronger and increase his chances of making the team out of training camp in September.

As a 15-year-old, Dobson left his home in Prince Edward Island to spend a year with the Red Bull Salzburg academy. There hs impressed against older competition and furthered his development in a professional setting.

“I think that year at Red Bull showed him how hard he had to work to get to where he wanted to be,” said former NHLer Brian Savage, who served as a Red Bull scout.

Both players were tabbed to go a little higher than they did in many mock drafts, but as Wahlstrom noted, it doesn’t matter where you’re selected.

“You always want to be the best and picked as high as possible,” he said. “But it’s the draft and you get picked and then after that you have to focus on what you do to make the team.”

MORE:
Oliver Wahlstrom goes from viral stardom to NHL top prospect
Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Coyotes go retro, Hurricanes get new look with third jerseys

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Before the start of the first round of the 2018 NHL draft on Friday night the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes revealed their new third jerseys for the upcoming season.

With all due respect to the Hurricanes, the Coyotes kind of stole the show on this one by announcing that they will be bringing back the Kachina jerseys the team wore during the early seasons in the desert.

“We’re thrilled to make our black Kachina jersey the official third jersey of the Arizona Coyotes,” said Coyotes’ Owner Andrew Barroway in a team statement. “These are iconic jerseys that are beloved by our fans and players. We’re excited to have our players wear these great jerseys 14 times this season and hope that our fans will enjoy wearing these classic jerseys for many years to come.”

Here they are all in of their glory.

The Coyotes wore those jerseys on the road between 1996 and 2003 before bringing them back for one game in 2015 for a throwback night.

The Coyotes also included this note in their announcement.

In August of 2016, in a fan poll conducted by Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (which received over 35,000 votes), the Coyotes black Kachina jersey was voted as the best jersey in Valley sports history over 47 other team jerseys.

So, yeah, they are popular among Coyotes fans.

As for the Hurricanes, here is what they introduced for their new third jersey this upcoming season.

They went with the all black jersey/pant combo with red trim, and a new secondary logo.

Sharp look on the color scheme, and that is definitely a different look on the front.

Your thoughts on these new threads?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.