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Golden Knights make big gamble on Alex Tuch

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Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t just set themselves apart by being a hard-charging, hungry group that raised the bar for what an expansion team could accomplish in pro sports. If you’re a believer that “greed is good” in sports, then Vegas was Exhibit A, as the team flourished with a ton of players having a lot to prove.

Well, the days of this team having a remarkably clean slate feel just about over.

The latest long-term, Vegas gamble happened on Friday, as the Golden Knights handed a seven-year, $33.25 million contract extension to 22-year-old winger Alex Tuch.

Tuch is closing out his current contract at $925K, so his $4.75M cap hit will kick in starting in 2019-20.

Wow.

Before we get into the Tuch deal specifically, let’s consider the massive amount of money the Golden Knights invested in a growing group of players, between deals that have kicked in or will begin next season.

Active, mid-to-long-term deals:

Jonathan Marchessault, 27: $5M cap hit through 2023-24
Reilly Smith, 27: $5M through 2021-22
Shea Theodore, 23: $5.2M through 2024-25
Colin Miller, 25: $3.875M through 2021-22
Brayden McNabb, 37: $2.5M through 2021-22
Paul Stastny, 32: $6.5M through 2020-21

Hefty extensions beginning next season:

• Tuch, 22, $925K this season, $4.75M through 2025-26
Max Pacioretty, 29, $4.05M this season, $7M through 2022-23
Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, $5.75M this season, $7M through 2021-22

Phew, right?

Keep in mind that, heading into their first season, the Golden Knights only inherited one of the contracts above (getting Smith from Florida), while Marchessault and McNabb were extended during the season. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has been rolling the dice, then, by signing the majority of these contracts after the team enjoyed that stunningly successful run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Committing to hot streaks can burn long-standing franchises, let alone one just beginning its second season in the NHL. While the Patches extension was more palatable term-wise than many feared, it’s still risky. The Marc-Andre Fleury extension, meanwhile, stands as a massive risk.

With MAF, the questions revolve around how much “The Flower” really has left. Conversely, we just haven’t seen much of Alex Tuch.

The Golden Knights are committing to Tuch three years into his UFA phase, and essentially until he’s 30, after seeing him play in just 84 regular-season games and 20 playoff contests at the NHL level. All of Tuch’s production came from last season, when he scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 contests with Vegas (along with pitching in 10 games during that postseason run).

That’s not a lot of data to go off of, so the Golden Knights are taken a major leap that the best is yet to come from the big forward, who the Wild selected 18th overall in 2014.

The best-case scenario is that the Golden Knights will have answered many of their bigger questions contracts-wise, aside from that of William Karlsson, whose fuzzy situation was delayed with a one-year deal. There’s the possibility that Tuch will be almost as much of a bargain as Marchessault and Smith, who are giving Vegas quality work, in their primes, for just $5M per season.

The worst-case scenario is that Vegas robbed itself of a chance to see Tuch prove himself with one more season of work.

And, zooming out, the Golden Knights might be banking a little too much on rekindling at least some of the magic of their improbable, almost-impossible first season in existence.

To an extent, it’s a matter of human nature, and more foolish teams could have gone in even deeper, possibly maintaining all of Vegas’ additions while also keeping aging wingers James Neal and David Perron around. The Golden Knights showed at least some discipline – they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by possibly committing too much, too early to William Karlsson – but the question is, are they showing enough?

Tuch stands as one of the key test cases, but at least this risk allows people to make an array of bad Vegas/gambling jokes. (Hey, that’s human nature, too, really.)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV 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.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Washington Capitals host the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday Night Hockey at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Golden Knights continue their five-game road trip Wednesday without the services of Paul Stastny. The center suffered a lower-body injury Monday in Buffalo and will miss at least the next three games. He’ll be re-evaluated after that, said head coach Gerard Gallant.

Cody Eakin, who’s yet to play this season, will enter the lineup vs. the Capitals.

While the hype around this game will be that it’s a Stanley Cup Final rematch, the Golden Knights aren’t looking into the past.

“One thing is that we have to stop talking about last year,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault. “It’s a new year now. Last year is over. It’s a new team.”

The Capitals, meanwhile, have had an interesting start to their Cup defense, winning their opener 7-0 over the Boston Bruins and then dropping a 7-6 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins the following night. Washington’s franchise record for goals through the first three games of a season is 17, set in 1988-89. The NHL record for most goals through the first three games of a season is 27, set by the Toronto Arenas in the League’s inaugural season of 1917-18; the modern-era record (since 1943-44) is 25, set by the Montreal Canadiens in 1975-76.

As Eakin returns for Vegas, Michal Kempny is expected to make his season debut for the Capitals after suffering a concussion during the preseason. Dmitrij Jaskin is also expected in for Washington after being claimed on waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

What: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
When: Wednesday, October 10th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Golden Knights-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan Marchessault – William KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyErik HaulaTomas Nosek
Ryan Carpenter – Cody Eakin – Oscar Lindberg
William CarrierPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbColin Miller
Jon MerrillNick Holden

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovBrett Connolly
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerChandler Stephenson
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Golden Knights on NBCSN

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The NBCSN Thursday night doubleheader continues with the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the Philadelphia Flyers at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

It’s been nearly four months since the Golden Knights had to watch the Washington Capitals celebrate a Stanley Cup championship at T-Mobile Arena. They’re back tonight to follow up an historic first year in the NHL. 

Owner Bill Foley’s original plan of “playoffs in three, Cup in six” was blown out of the water with the Golden Knights’ success last season. Over the summer, GM George McPhee bolstered his lineup by adding Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty and extending Marc-Andre Fleury, Shea Theodore and William Karlsson. There’s no reason to believe that, even with some regression areas, Vegas can’t be contenders again.

The Flyers, meanwhile, are looking to build off of last season, which feature career years for a number of players like Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. Goaltending, as usual, is an issue early on, and an area that could really hold them back from taking a big next step. One of Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth (currently injured), Carter Hart, Alex Lyon or Anthony Stolarz need to grab hold of what should be a season-long competition for the top job.

What: Philadelphia Flyers at Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Thursday, October 4th, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch Flyers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Flyers
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny
Oskar LindblomNolan Patrick – Jakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykMikhail VorobyovWayne Simmonds
Scott LaughtonJori LehteraMichael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

Golden Knights
Jonathan Marchessault – William Karlsson – Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – Erik Haula
Oscar Lindberg – Ryan Carpener – Tomas Nosek
William Carrier – Pierre-Eduouard Bellemare – Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabbColin Miller
Shea Theodore – Derek Engelland
Jon MerrillNick Holden

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Current, former teammates shocked by Schmidt suspension

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CHICAGO — Marc-Andre Fleury was surprised and T.J. Oshie said he was shocked to see Nate Schmidt suspended 20 games for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Current and former teammates expressed degrees of disbelief about the suspension this week after the NHL announced the Vegas Golden Knights defenseman’s punishment on Sunday. Schmidt insisted he didn’t intentionally take a banned substance and couldn’t have gotten any performance benefit from the ”trace amount” that got into his system.

”I really didn’t see how this guy, how this could happen to him,” said Fleury, the goaltender who helped Vegas reach the Stanley Cup Final last season. ”He’s obviously a very straightforward guy. I really believe everything he says. He’s a standup guy, and I don’t see him doing this kind of stuff.”

Schmidt and the Golden Knights released statements disagreeing with the suspension, though neither specified the substance. Schmidt said one of the experts testifying on his behalf at the appeal hearing likened the amount to a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

[How will Schmidt suspension affect Vegas Golden Knights?]

The appeal, which was heard by a neutral arbitrator, was denied.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he tries not to pay attention to the blowback from suspensions like this.

”I think it’s the nature of any performance-enhancing drug policy,” Daly said. ”I don’t view Nate’s reaction to this or the club’s reaction to this to be far different than other reactions you see from other athletes in other sports. It’s just the nature of the beast. I think it’s an unfortunate incident. Nate’s a good guy, he’s a great player. I wish it didn’t happen as much as he does.”

Oshie, who played with Schmidt for two seasons in Washington, trusts the explanation that it wasn’t intentional.

”I think he’s being very honest that this was out of his hands,” Oshie said. ”Knowing Schmidtty and the type of person he is, I can only think that he got the worst run of bad luck you could ever imagine. That’s the nightmare of trying to be healthy and take supplements is something gets tainted in a warehouse that no one would ever have any idea how it happened.”

Former Capitals teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov isn’t as much worried about how it happened as how Schmidt responds to adversity.

”We all know he’s nice guy, but at the same time sometimes you have to deal with the bad days in your life,” Kuznetsov said. ”You don’t want to be in that situation, but some players in different situations have their bad days, right? … Twenty games are not too much. I think they have a good team.”

Schmidt led the Golden Knights in ice time last season at 22:14 per game, and someone will have to fill the role of No. 1 defenseman until he can return Nov. 18. That will likely fall on the likes of Collin Miller, Brayden McNabb and still unsigned Shea Theodore to make sure Vegas doesn’t get off to a rough start.

”We’re lucky,” Fleury said Friday. ”We have some depth on D, and I think everybody contributed to success last season, and I think it’s another part of the season that we need somebody else to step up and not fill his shoes but play well and do the things that they can and we’ll be all right.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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.