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How will Schmidt suspension affect Vegas Golden Knights?

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Earlier today, the NHL announced a 20-game suspension for Nate Schmidt, a decision that both the player and team disagreed with.

Schmidt’s strongly worded statement indicates that the sides have already gone through the appeal process, so barring any other twists, it seems like he’ll be suspended through the first 20 games of the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season.

The Golden Knights – and everyone else involved – stated that they won’t have any further comments regarding the suspension itself, but what about how the team will deal with the loss of Schmidt? Because, as much as Vegas’ defense succeeded – to some extent – by committee, the former Capitals defenseman topped Vegas in time on ice during both the regular season and playoffs. He is, to put it mildly, very important, and losing him for about a quarter of the campaign hurts.

We might get more insight on how reigning Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant will handle the loss (and if reigning GM of the Year George McPhee might also react), so stay tuned at PHT. That said, for those who want some early insight into the impact of this loss, let’s consider multiple factors.

Golden Knights lose a go-to guy

Schmidt averaged 22:14 TOI during 76 regular-season games, then saw his ice time climb to 24:25 per night during the playoffs. Again, both of those averages topped all Golden Knights skaters, with the regular season margin being healthy at about two minutes per game (Shea Theodore came in second with a 20:21 average, with Deryk Engelland right behind him at 20:17), a margin that was similar – yet more pronounced – during the postseason (Theodore averaged 21:48, Engelland at 21:40).

So, while Schmidt didn’t average the bonkers ice time of a Ryan Suter during the regular season, he clearly was the No. 1 guy in Gallant’s eyes. With 2:13 shorthanded TOI and 2:25 on the power play during the playoffs and comparable special teams numbers during the regular season, Schmidt was used as an all-situations guy.

(Schmidt’s most common even-strength defensive partner was Brayden McNabb, according to Natural Stat Trick.)

Beyond Schmidt, Theodore and Colin Miller were logging plenty of time on the man advantage, while Engelland and McNabb were steady penalty killers. Schmidt bridged the gap between those two specialists, in a way, so Vegas loses versatility first and foremost.

Who might step up? Should Vegas dip into the market?

Those previous numbers imply that, possibly, Schmidt’s minutes might just be dispersed between Miller, Engelland, Theodore, and McNabb. Gallant might just lean on all four evenly in their specialized roles. That seemed to be the case during four games in early March when Schmidt was out of the lineup; yes, that’s a small sample size, but Schmidt played in 76 of 82 games.

[These bans are rare, but here are three recent histories of such suspensions]

If those four players can mostly match their work from 2017-18, that’s not the most dire scenario. As with sports, you might expect slippage; after all, Engelland’s generally solid work came as a surprise, while Miller and McNabb are now enjoying the security of long-term deals. (Theodore, meanwhile, still needs a deal as an RFA and probably opened a champagne bottle after seeing Noah Hanifin get paid.)

Vegas didn’t see those key guys leave in free agency, but they didn’t exactly break the bank for reinforcements on defense, either. Nick Holden, 31, is the most noteworthy addition, while they got rid of fading veterans Luca Sbisa and Jason Garrison.

Holden stands as a modest upgrade over some of the lowest-end guys, but probably not much more than that.

It makes you wonder if maybe McPhee should consider bringing in some additional depth. No, there aren’t a ton of promising options on the UFA defensemen market, but Cody Franson seems like a low-risk, OK-reward signing, one who could make sense as a bottom-pairing guy or injury insurance even after Schmidt’s suspension ends.

Those 20 games

It doesn’t hurt to glance at Vegas’ opening schedule and try to gauge how difficult life will be. Take a look at the first 20 games of the 2018-19 season (four of which air on NBCSN):

Thu, Oct 4 vs Philadelphia
Sat, Oct 6 @ Minnesota
Mon, Oct 8 @ Buffalo
Wed, Oct 10 @ Washington
Thu, Oct 11 @ Pittsburgh
Sat, Oct 13 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 16 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 20 vs Anaheim
Wed, Oct 24 vs Vancouver
Fri, Oct 26 vs Tampa Bay
Sun, Oct 28 vs Ottawa
Tue, Oct 30 @ Nashville
Thu, Nov 1 @ St. Louis
Sat, Nov 3 vs Carolina
Tue, Nov 6 @ Toronto
Thu, Nov 8 @ Ottawa
Sat, Nov 10 @ Montreal
Sun, Nov 11 @ Boston
Wed, Nov 14 vs Anaheim
Fri, Nov 16 vs St. Louis

The Golden Knights may end up missing Schmidt most during that early five-game road trip, along with that stretch of six of seven games away from home spanning Oct. 30 – Nov. 11.

It’s not all bad, though. There are only two back-to-back sets, and while they have fewer home (nine) than road (11) games, it’s not by an enormous margin. Vegas has a decent shot to navigate that quarter-season without its ice time leader from 2017-18.

Contract year uncertainty for Schmidt

Schmidt was already coming into 2018-19 on a cheap deal, as his cap hit is just $2.25 million with a $2.3M salary. Now he’s expected to lose almost $500K (via TSN’s Frank Seravalli), and the biggest cost might be how this situation affects his next contract.

With a nice 36-point output and top pair duty, Schmidt already raised his standing in the NHL, and it seemed like he might join Ryan Ellis and other defensemen cashing in before they hit 2019 free agency. Schmidt loses out on 20 games to cement his status as a top-pairing defenseman, possibly even increasing his standing in the eyes of NHL executives.

Now, who knows? It’s a disappointing situation for the defenseman, to put things mildly.

***

While there have been other 20-game suspensions for performance-enhancing substances, every other instance was a player who wasn’t a significant part of a team (with all apologies to 2015-16 Shawn Horcoff).

The Golden Knights were already facing a serious challenge in showing that their incredible first season in the NHL wasn’t a fluke. Their second season hasn’t even begun and they’ve already lost Schmidt, their leading defenseman from last season, for 20 games.

How will Vegas adjust, and how will Schmidt perform once his suspension is over? Those are fascinating questions, and serious hurdles for the player and team.

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.

Reinhart eagerly rejoins Sabres with new contract signed

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — If Sam Reinhart‘s objective was to carry over his point-a-game pace from the second half of last season, the Buffalo Sabres forward understood that it wasn’t doing him much good sitting at home waiting for contract talks to be resolved.

”I don’t know if worried’s the right word,” he said after practicing for the first time Thursday, a day after flying in from Vancouver, British Columbia, and signing a two-year, $7.3 million contract. ”I think the best thing for the team and myself was to be here as soon as possible.”

Reinhart missed five days of training camp and two preseason games.

With two weeks to catch up before the Sabres open the regular season by hosting Boston, the No. 2 player selected in the 2014 draft is focused on proving he can consistently produce over the course of an entire season.

That was the knock on Reinhart last year, when he had just seven goals and 13 points in his first 44 games. He then went on a tear, scoring 18 goals and 37 points his final 38 games, and finished with a career-best 25 goals and 50 points.

The down-then-up season was one of the reasons the Sabres balked at offering the restricted free agent a longer-term deal.

”Whether it was a one-year or an eight-year, it’s not changing my mentality,” Reinhart said. ”I know the player I can be.”

General manager Jason Botterill said the key to Reinhart’s turnaround was how he established himself as a player unafraid of playing in front of an opposing net. He said it’s on both Reinhart and his coaching staff to continue his development.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Botterill was impressed with Reinhart’s approach during contract talks. He kept in touch with the team over the summer and traveled to Buffalo to take part in informal workouts with his teammates before camp opened, then returned to Vancouver last week.

”I think it’s just not words, it was his actions,” Botterill said. ”It’s been evident that Sam wants to be part of our solution here in Buffalo.”

The two-time 20-goal scorer has 65 goals and 140 points in 249 career games.

Reinhart rejoins a roster that was overhauled this summer after the Sabres finished last in the standings for a third time in five years. Despite the additions of forwards Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner, Reinhart is being counted upon to reclaim his role on one of the top two lines.

Coach Phil Housley said there’s a chance Reinhart could make his preseason debut as early as Saturday, when Buffalo hosts Toronto.

NOTES: Botterill expects Sheary to be ready for the start of the season despite the forward suffering an upper body injury on Sept. 14. … The Sabres are buying out the final year of Vaclav Karabacek’s contract after the forward cleared waivers. Karabacek was Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2014 draft and had eight goals and 16 assists in 51 games split between the Sabres’ two minor-league affiliates over the past two years.

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

MORE:
Reinhart, Sabres end stalemate with two-year bridge deal
Sabres are remarkably expensive, but relief is coming

Ilya Kovalchuk quickly getting up to speed with Kings

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We’ll see how the skills we witnessed over 11 NHL seasons are following five years home in the KHL, but Ilya Kovalchuk is off to a good start after his first two preseason games with the Los Angeles Kings.

After picking up an assist in their first game, the 35-year-old Kovalchuk, who signed a three-year contract over the summer, scored a highlight-reel tally in a split-squad loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

“That’s the type of player he is,” said Kings assistant Dave Lowry via LA Kings Insider. “He’s a very dynamic guy, he has the ability to break open games, he’s a very highly skilled guy.”

Is the NHL faster than what Kovalchuk remembers? “I’ll tell you after the [season opener],” he said. Playing on a line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, the Kings captain said they’re still working on developing chemistry as he gets used to going from Milan Lucic‘s “north-south” game to the Russian winger’s “east-west” style.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Kovalchuk’s goal scoring abilities didn’t dry up during his time in the KHL, so he’ll be relied upon to play a big role in increasing the team’s offensive output in 2018-19. That will come. After two preseason games, he wasn’t ready to declare himself up to speed with the NHL’s pace just yet.

“Actually today, I felt much better than the first game, so a few more games will be more than enough,” he said.

MORE: Under Pressure: Ilya Kovalchuk

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Pavelec retires; NHLers love coconut water

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• After 11 NHL seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is retiring at the age of 31. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• How Max Domi‘s suspension could open the door for Nick Suzuki to find a full-time spot with the Montreal Canadiens. [Sportsnet]

Erik Karlsson isn’t giving out any details on why he thinks he was finally traded from the Ottawa Senators. [Toronto Sun]

• Ted Lindsay, Glen Hall, Bobby Hull, and Alex Delvecchio talk about their names being removed from the Stanley Cup after the top band was taken off following the Washington Capitals victory. [NHL.com]

• Hockey players and coconut water: it’s a love affair. [ESPN]

• Everything about the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2018-19 season rests on Corey Crawford‘s health. [The Hockey News]

• The Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending situation didn’t get any clearer with the news that Alex Lyon will miss four weeks with a lower-body injury. [Inquirer]

• How do we rank this San Jose Sharks blue line now that it features Erik Karlsson? [Five Thirty Eight]

• A look at the impact John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen will have on the Dallas Stars’ lineup. [Dallas Morning News]

Daniel Carr‘s mission during camp: prove he’s an NHL regular with the Vegas Golden Knights. [Sin Bin Vegas]

Brooks Orpik is back with the Washington Capitals and playing a vital role despite less ice time. [NBC Washington]

• Finally, here’s part one of the series following Brent Burns‘ off-season adventures:

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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.

NHL not tough enough with preseason suspensions

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When it comes to the court of public opinion the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is always going to be a no-win position.

Their job is a brutally difficult, thankless one that by its very nature is going to anger almost everyone watching the NHL. No player receiving a suspension is going to be happy about it, while their team and fans will usually think the punishment is too harsh. Meanwhile, the other side is always going to come away thinking the punishment wasn’t severe enough. Then there is always the neutral third parties in the middle that have no rooting interest with either team and will always be split with their opinions.

In short: It’s a job that a lot of people like me (and you!) enjoy yelling about. Sometimes we think they get it right; sometimes we think they get it wrong.

When it comes to Max Domi‘s suspension for the remainder of the preseason for “roughing” (the official wording from the league) Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the near universal consensus seems to be a gigantic shoulder-shrug and the understanding that this isn’t really a punishment.

[Related: NHL suspends Max Domi for remainder of preseason]

Sure, it goes in the books as a “five-game” suspension, because the Canadiens still have five games remaining in the preseason. And it will impact Domi in the future if he does something else to get suspended because it will be added to his history of disciplinary action that already includes a one-game suspension from the 2016-17 season for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game. This roughing incident, it is worth mentioning, also occurred while Domi was attempting to instigate a fight. Too soon to call that sort of action with him a trend, but it’s close.

The problem is that he isn’t losing anything of consequence as a result of the “punishment.”

He will not miss a single regular season game.

He will not forfeit a penny of his $3.15 million salary this season.

He basically gets to take the rest of the Canadiens’ preseason games off (and he would almost certainly sit at least one or maybe even two of them anyway, just because that is how the preseason works) and be rested for the start of the regular season on Oct. 3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The only possible defense (and that word should be used loosely) of the DoPS here is that because the Canadiens have five preseason games remaining, and because suspensions longer than five games require an in-person hearing as mandated by the CBA, the league would have had to handle this incident with an in-person hearing to take away regular season games. In the eyes of the CBA, a suspension for five preseason games counts the same as five games in the regular season.

The only logical response to that defense should be: So what? Then schedule an in-person hearing if that is what it takes and requires to sit a player that did something blatantly illegal (and dangerous) for games that matter. Players tend to waive their right to an in-person hearing, anyway.

When it comes to dealing with suspensions in the postseason the NHL seems to take into account the importance of those games and how impactful even one postseason game can be in a best-of-seven series. If we’re dealing in absolutes here the same logic is applied, because had Domi done that same thing in a regular season game he probably doesn’t sit five games for it.

In the history of the DoPS “punching an unsuspecting opponent” typically results in a fine or a one-game suspension, unless it is an exceedingly dirty punch or involves a player with an extensive track record of goon-ism. The only two that went longer were a four-game ban for John Scott for punching Tim Jackman, and a six-game ban for Zac Rinaldo a year ago for punching Colorado’s Samuel Girard. Both Scott and Rinaldo had more extensive and troubling track records for discipline than Domi currently does.

If you want to argue semantics and say that Domi was suspended for “roughing” the point remains the same, because only one roughing suspension over the past seven years went longer than one game, and none went longer than two.

So looking at strictly by the number of “games” he has to miss he did, technically speaking, get hit harder with a more severe punishment than previous players.

But at some point common sense has to prevail here and someone has to say, you know what … maybe this translation isn’t right and we have to do something more. Because, again,  and this can not be stated enough, he is not missing a meaningful game of consequence or losing a penny of salary for blatantly punching an unwilling combatant (one with a history of concussions) in the face, leaving him a bloody mess.

The point of handing out a suspension shouldn’t just be for the league or an opposing team to get its pound of flesh when a player does something wrong and champion the fact they had to miss “X” number of games.

It should be to help deter future incidents and aim for meaningful change for the betterment of player safety around the league. That is literally why it is called “the Department of Player Safety.” It is supposed to have the safety of the players in mind. And that was the original goal of the DoPS — to try and put a stop to blatant, targeted hits to the head that were ruining seasons and careers (and, ultimately, lives).

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

No one with an ounce of common sense is looking at this and thinking that this suspension does anything close that. And the NHL has to know that, too. How so? Because when a player does something in a previous season or postseason that warrants a suspension that will carry over to the following season (as was the case with Raffi Torres in 2011-12, and then Brayden Schenn in 2015-16), that carryover suspension starts with the regular season games — not the preseason games.

This, of course, is not the first time the league has handed out what is, ultimately, a meaningless suspension that only covers meaningless games.

Last year there were two such suspensions, with Washington’s Tom Wilson earning a two preseason game suspension for boarding St. Louis’ Robert Thomas, which was followed by New York’s Andrew Desjardins getting a two preseason game ban for an illegal check to the head of Miles Wood the very next night.

(It should be pointed out that upon Wilson’s return to the lineup in the preseason he earned himself a four-game regular suspension for boarding).

During the 2016-17 Andrew Shaw (who like Domi was playing in his first game with the Canadiens following an offseason trade to add more grit, sandpaper, and energy) was sat down for three preseason games for boarding.

There were four other similar suspensions in 2013-14.

Since the formation of the DoPS at the start of the 2011-12 season, there have been 21 suspensions handed out for preseason incidents. Only 12 of those suspensions carried over to regular season games. Of those 12, eight of them occurred during the initial DoPS season when the league was far more aggressive in suspending players (there were nine preseason suspensions handed out that season alone).

That means that over the previous six years only four of the 11 incidents that rose to the level of supplemental discipline resulted in a player missing a game that mattered.

That can not, and should not, be acceptable.

So, yeah. Five games for Max Domi. Given the circumstances, it is not even close to being enough.

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.