Vegas Golden Knights: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

Vegas Golden Knights
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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Vegas Golden Knights.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 40-14-2 (82 points), finished second in West, lost tiebreaker for Presidents’ Trophy.
• Postseason: Eliminated by Canadiens in six games (Third Round).
• Offensive leaders: Mark Stone (21 goals, 40 assists for 61 points in 55 games).

• Free Agent Additions: Evgenii Dadonov (trade from Senators), Laurent Brossoit, Nolan Patrick (trade from Flyers/Predators), Brett Howden (trade from Rangers)
• Free Agent Subtractions: Marc-Andre Fleury (trade to Blackhawks), Nick Holden (trade to Senators), Tomas Nosek (Bruins), Cody Glass (trade to Predators), Ryan Reaves (trade to Rangers)

Biggest question for Golden Knights

• Are they really better off without Marc-Andre Fleury?

From Paul Stastny to Nate Schmidt, the Golden Knights haven’t been shy about shedding big contracts to make even bigger splashes. If there’s been a theme to those moves, it was always to push more chips into the middle of that poker table. Even if it meant being messy about it.

Yet, after the smoke cleared following the end of the Marc-Andre Fleury era, did it all really increase the Golden Knights’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup?

To an extent, it sure feels like the Golden Knights spent their “Flower money” on … Evgenii Dadonov, and maybe Laurent Brossoit? Throw in Nolan Patrick, too, if you want. It’s still a puzzling direction for a team with such bold ambitions.

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

Over the last week, Robin Lehner made waves in ways that transcend on-ice play. Ideally, having such tough discussions won’t leave Lehner drained heading into the 2021-22 Golden Knights season.

Ignoring off-the-ice discussions, there were questions about how Lehner might deliver as the unquestioned No. 1 goalie for the 2021-22 Golden Knights.

  • As a rule, goalies are simply difficult to predict, in general.
  • Lehner struggled, at least relatively, last season. While Fleury stunned with a Vezina run, Lehner appeared in 19 games, earning a respectable .913 save percentage. “Respectable” is a step down from Lehner’s recent work, as he flirted with elite status starting with his 2018-19 Islanders breakthrough.
  • That said, Lehner’s rarely served as a true workhorse goalie. During the past three seasons, Lehner played 19, 34, and 43 games. His peak workload years came with the Sabres: 53 GP in 2017-18, and 59 in 2016-17. One year was sneaky-strong (.920 save percentage in 2016-17); the other not so much (.908 in 2017-18).

For a team investing so much in the present, was it really that wise to move on from MAF? Yes, Laurent Brossoit has been a competent backup. Yet, if Lehner struggles and/or gets injured, would you rather hinge your championship hopes on Brossoit or Fleury?

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

All due respect to Dadonov — who was effective early in his Panthers run — but his addition doesn’t ease the tension of Vegas ridding themselves of a goalie who came in very handy last season.

Most of the Golden Knights’ moves felt like a team striking when the iron was hot. In moving away from Fleury, this smells more of overthinking things.

Maybe the Golden Knights just got tired of the sword-in-the-back memes.

What’s the salary cap situation?

You know the saying “You get what you pay for?” That hasn’t always been so true for NHL teams. In plenty of cases, teams pay big to contend, only to get sunk with a chest full of fool’s gold.

So, credit the Golden Knights for not just going on big heists, but unearthing actual treasures. At least in the short term. From Max Pacioretty to Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights received boosts from their bold investments.

Even so, look up and down their roster.

In a dream scenario, the Golden Knights’ older star players age like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in Boston. Considering the hockey IQ of a Mark Stone, it’s not totally unthinkable.

But the worries linger. Pietrangelo’s already 31, and costs $8.8M for six seasons. Keeping Alec Martinez ($5.25M through 2023-24) could backfire, as he’s somehow 34. Lehner, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault are all 30, while Stone is 32. The “youngest” core members are Shea Theodore (26) and William Karlsson (28).

Right now, it’s worth it for the Golden Knights to go for broke. They have to hope that this expensive vehicle doesn’t break down too fast, then.

Breakout Candidate

Peyton Krebs

When the Golden Knights hoarded draft picks during their expansion draft, people pictured a robust farm system in the making.

Instead, that pile of draft picks mostly helped them land players like Mark Stone. In a way, trading Cody Glass felt symbolic: most of the team’s value came from the present, rather than those futures.

Even so, the 2021-22 Golden Knights could have at least one ace prospect up their sleeves: Peyton Krebs. Krebs’ mix of playmaking and two-way acumen could be a boon for Vegas.

That said, Krebs might not start the 2021-22 season with the Golden Knights, instead beginning in the AHL. We’ll see soon enough. Beyond Krebs, Nolan Patrick is another interesting breakout candidate. From Karlsson to Chandler Stephenson, we’ve seen centers flourish in this simplified system. Could Patrick show that second overall stuff after a (some might say, controversial) change of scenery?

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Vegas Golden Knights

Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty dominate as a duo even more this season. Lehner gives the 2021-22 Golden Knights another Vezina-caliber season from a goalie. New pieces chug along, with Dadonov and Patrick looking revitalized. It all comes together for that Stanley Cup win.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Vegas Golden Knights

Lehner stumbles as a No. 1 goalie, and the Golden Knights struggle to score with their quantity-over-quality approach. All the while, Fleury flourishes once more. New pieces like Dadonov don’t move the needle. The Golden Knights make the playoffs in 2021-22, but no longer look like a true contender. Even though they’ll be stuck spending like one.

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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.

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