The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.
Vegas Golden Knights 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 39-24-8 (86 points); First place in Pacific Division; Third place in Western Conference
Leading Scorers: Max Pacioretty (32 goals, 66 points)
The 2019-20 season was a wild one for the Golden Knights. They opened the season as Stanley Cup contenders, struggled out of the gate, shockingly fired coach Gerard Gallant and replaced him with rival coach Peter DeBoer, traded for Robin Lehner, and then sent Marc-Andre Fleury to the bench in the playoffs (in favor of Lehner) creating some agent-driven drama. Through it all, they still ended up in the Western Conference Final for the second time in the first three years of their existence. In short: It was not a boring season.
The Golden Knights followed that up in the offseason by continuing to reshuffle their roster in significant ways by making another blockbuster addition with the signing of defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
Alex Pietrangelo (free agency), Carl Dahlstrom (trade)
Paul Stastny (trade), Nate Schmidt (trade), Deryk Engelland (retirement)
3 Most Interesting Vegas Golden Knights
• Marc-Andre Fleury. From the moment he arrived Fleury was the face of the Golden Knights franchise. He was the biggest star on the initial roster, an immediate fan favorite, played a huge role in their improbable Stanley Cup Final run, and he has been a mostly strong goalie in his three years with the team.
Now he finds himself entering a situation where his role is uncertain. He was benched in the Stanley Cup playoffs — resulting in some off-ice drama from his agent — and was the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason when the team re-signed Lehner.
It seems clear that DeBoer trusts Lehner to be his goalie, and given the way both goalies played a year ago that is not necessarily the wrong decision. But it is still going to be fascinating to see how this situation gets handled this season and what Fleury’s short-term (and long-term) future with the Golden Knights is.
• Alex Pietrangelo. The latest blockbuster addition by the Golden Knights. With Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore the Golden Knights have two outstanding top-pairing defensemen in their lineup. But even though the Pietrangelo addition was through free agency it was still costly.
Along with the seven-year, $61 million price tag, the Golden Knights also had to trade Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt — two pretty significant players from last year’s team — for well below market value to make room for him under the cap. That is significant, especially the Stastny departure given what it means for their center depth. Are the Golden Knights better after all of those moves? Pietrangelo is clearly an upgrade over Schmidt, but a lot of it might come down to whether or not a player like Cody Glass can step forward and help fill that opening that was created when Stastny was traded.
Either way, Pietrangelo and Theodore are going to be impact players on defense and with their goaltending duo this should be a tough team to score against.
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• Robin Lehner. Ah, yes. The other goalie in Vegas. After acquiring him at the trade deadline and going through the Stanley Cup playoffs with him as their starter, the Golden Knights re-signed Lehner this offseason to a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
Does all of that make him the starter? DeBoer said on Saturday that both Lehner and Fleury will take part in a 50-50 split early in the season until they get settled, and then after that “all bets are off.” Meaning, in theory, it is going to be a competition.
Given the way things have developed over the past year, as well as the fact that Lehner has been one of the league’s most productive goalies for several years running now, it is really hard to envision a scenario in which he does not get the upper hand.
The best case for the Golden Knights is Pietrangelo is worth every penny, Glass takes a big step forward at center, the two goalies play great and they find a work load that works for both, and the Golden Knights remain a Stanley Cup favorite.
There is no reason to think they will not be a playoff team. The roster is just too good and they have too many impact players throughout it (Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Pietrangelo, Theodore). It is simply a question of how good of a playoff team it will be. Every possible ingredient is there to win the Stanley Cup.
Again, this should be a playoff team and it is really hard to envision them finishing lower than fourth in this division this season. The biggest obstacle might be the possibility of having to get through both Colorado and St. Louis (depending on where they finish in the standings) in the first two rounds.
From their own internal viewpoint, the goalie situation being unsettled and the lack of center depth could be two of the factors that hold them back.
Pointsbet – Vegas Golden Knights Stanley Cup odds
Pointsbet Stanley Cup odds: Golden Knights +825. (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.