Cody Eakin

Will ‘Vegas flu’ continue for Golden Knights’ opponents?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.

Plenty of sports teams boast rowdy fans and wild atmospheres, but until the Raiders and Jon Gruden’s grimaces give them company, the Vegas Golden Knights can boast an edge that’s truly unique.

Now, sure, people might get so carried away about “The Vegas Flu” that they might exaggerate the advantage, and downplay the fact that the Golden Knights win games because they’re really good, not just out of some notion that their opponents woke up that morning wondering where that tattoo came from.

But you’d be kidding yourself if you argued that there’s no advantage, and a strong home record so far adds credence to the arguments. After going 29-10-2 at home in their inaugural 2017-18 season, the Golden Knights were still pretty tough to beat in their own building, managing 24-12-5 home record despite some bumps in 2019-20 (including a 19-20-2 record away from Las Vegas).

So, an X-factor for the Golden Knights’ 2019-20 season is simple enough: how much of an advantage might home ice be for Vegas once again?

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three QuestionsUnder Pressure]

To some extent, you can’t blame coaches for merely washing their hands of various curfew-breaking risks, and just accepting the situation.

As James Neal said as part of NBC’s doc “Knight Fever,” there are certain temptations that come with Sin City, and Connor McDavid points out that those vices may drive you to lose some sleep. Even normally disciplined players might want to let loose, and that must be especially true for Eastern Conference opponents who don’t make it to The Strip all that often during a given season.

Vegas might provide an edge even if you ignore the most obvious elements that might leave players with bags under their eyes. The weather is generally a lot nicer, and like with plenty of Western Conference teams, travel can be a challenge.

Combine those factors with over-the-top “Medieval Times”-inspired entertainment before games, along with – again – this team being quite good, and getting minor line matching advantages when you’re actually on the ice, and it’s really just common sense that the Golden Knights are just that much more formidable at home. It’s probably a relief to the rest of the league that, generally, Vegas only has a small overall advantaged in “rested vs. tired” scenarios (counting both home and away).

Yet, with this being the Golden Knights’ third season in Vegas and NHL existence, opponents might be less vulnerable to various traps.

Most obviously, the novelty factor continues to wear off. Some players might have gotten those Galifianakis nights out of their systems already. Coaches might know what “works” or the closest thing to what works, by now. Gluttons may have tired of various buffets.

Whether the advantage moves the needle or is merely marginal, the Golden Knights should seek out home-ice nonetheless. After all, we’ll never really know the answer to a painful “What if?” question: would Cody Eakin have received that major penalty for the hit that bloodied Joe Pavelski if it happened in Vegas, rather than in front of horrified San Jose Sharks fans?

We’ll find out soon enough if the NHL teams have found their vaccines for “The Vegas Flu.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

How will Vegas manage Marc-Andre Fleury’s workload?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Let’s ponder three questions facing the Golden Knights:

1. How will Gerard Gallant manage Marc-Andre Fleury‘s workload? 

It has to happen at some point, right? Father Time catching up with Vegas’s beloved second son.

Fleury will be 35 before the season is two months old. He had 61 starts last season and it’s quite likely that he receives just as many this season, barring injury.

It just seems that the team isn’t ready to given Malcolm Subban more work. They used him heavily in March and Fleury got some much-needed rest before the playoffs began, but Subban didn’t set the world on fire with his play.

Finding the right workload will still winning games will be a test for Gallant, who hasn’t been as worried in the past about all the starts Fleury has gotten.

But consider this: only two goalies have ever started 60 games and won a Stanley Cup. Fleury, ironically, was one of them, but that was more than a decade ago now.

2. Can they mitigate some of their losses? 

Nikita Gusev, Colin Miller, Erik Haula, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare… all gone.

Gusev stands out for the mere fact of the hype train that followed him. The Golden Knights went out of their way to pluck him from the Kontinental Hockey League where he was regarded as one of the best players — if not the best — not playing in the NHL.

Unable to work out a deal that worked under the tight salary cap in Vegas, he was shipped off to the New Jersey Devils.

Speaking of moves relating to the cap, Colin Miller and all his great puck possession skills were traded off to Buffalo in an effort to find cap relief. Miller is an excellent puck-moving defenseman that will be missed on the blue line.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | X-factorUnder Pressure]

And then there are bottom-six guys in Erik Haula and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Haula’s injury-riddled season limited him to just 15 games. In 2017-18, however, he has 29 goals and 55 points. Bellemare was a solid fourth-liner, meanwhile.

3. Speaking of bottom six, what will that look like? 

Alex Tuch had a career year with 20 goals and 32 assists and will be counted on to provide that secondary scoring outside of Vegas’s stacked top two lines.

Where the other pieces fall into place will be decided at training camp, although it’s probably a safe bet that Cody Eakin will center that third line, at least to start. That would allow for Cody Glass to work his way into the NHL fold on as the team’s fourth-line center.

But you probably don’t want Glass, a very skilled prospect, on the same line as Ryan Reaves.

If Glass has a solid camp, perhaps Eakin gets pushed down to the fourth line and Glass is given Tuch on his right and one of William Carrier, Valentin Zykov or Brandon Pirri to his right.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Vegas Golden Knights Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

2018-19
43-32-7, 93 points (3rd in the Pacific Division, 7th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in Game 7 of Round 1 against the San Jose Sharks.

IN:
Jaycob Megna
Garrett Sparks

OUT:
Nikita Gusev
Colin Miller
Erik Haula
Ryan Carpenter
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Maxime Legace

RE-SIGNED:
Deryk Engelland
Malcolm Subban
Brandon Pirri
Tomas Nosek
William Karlsson

2018-19 Summary

Could they have done it all over again, or even one-upped their magical inaugural season with a Stanley Cup banner in just their second season in the NHL?

Ultimately, the answer to both of those questions was no. It wasn’t because they didn’t put themselves in position to take another run at Lord Stanley. Despite putting up 16 fewer points than they did when they won the Pacific Divison crown in 2017-18 the Golden Knights, plagued by injuries at times, still managed a third-place showing to secure a second playoff spot in as many years.

And in Round 1, they seemed to be cruising with a 3-1 series lead against the San Jose Sharks.

Seemed.

After dropping Games 5 and 6, the Golden Knights appeared to regroup. They held a 3-0 lead in the third period, and barring disaster, would be heading off to face the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

Instead, disaster ensured.

A five-minute major to Cody Eakin for a phantom who-knows-still-to-this-day roughing call handed the Sharks a lifeline. And it would be used to maximum effect as the Sharks rattled off four goals in four minutes during the extended power play to lead the game.

The Golden Knights forced overtime but it only delayed the inevitable as Barclay Goodrow completed one of the zaniest comebacks in NHL history.

Heartbreak in Year 1. Hearts torn out in Year 2.

It was always going to be a tough act to follow for the Golden Knights.

Vegas set the bar for expansion teams so high in their inaugural season in 2017-18 and were tasked with following up a Stanley Cup Final appearance in just their second year.

They certainly looked well on their way prior to the season kicking off, having added Paul Stastny in free agency and Max Pacioretty via trade.

[MORE: X-factor | Three QuestionsUnder Pressure]

But both players battled injuries at different points during the season, including Stastny’s, which limited him to 50 games.

Vegas wasn’t the same 109-point team from the year prior, but they announced their ‘win-now’ intentions at the trade deadline to not only acquire Mark Stone from Ottawa, but also agree to a big-money, multi-year extension.

The pieces were in place until their epic collapse watched it all go out the window.

It’s been a much quieter offseason in Vegas this time around, and the biggest news has been the players who have left the club, including Nikita Gusev, Colin Miller and Erik Haula.

Gusev is considered by some to be the best player outside of the NHL. The Golden Knights signed him this past spring but couldn’t work out a deal.

Other subtractions have come with the reality of the salary cap setting in on The Strip. The scrap bin was only available for a limited time. Guys need to be paid and you can’t keep everyone.

A healthy start to the season for Stastny should improve their early-season prospects. Having Stone in the mix for a full training camp with his new club can only be a good thing, too.

And there’s no reason to suggest that the Golden Knights won’t be a playoff team for a third consecutive season.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Power Rankings: Top regression candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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A week ago we used our PHT Power Rankings to look at 10 players that could be on the verge of a breakout during the 2019-20 NHL season.

This week we go to the opposite end of the spectrum and look at 10 players that could be due for a regression back to reality.

Regression candidates tend to be pretty easy to spot and usually come from players coming off of outlier seasons or were riding extremely high shooting percentages or save percentages that are simply not sustainable from one season to the next. Can they still be good? Absolutely. Will they be as good? Probably not.

Who are the biggest regression candidates this season?

To the rankings!

1. Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders. Prior to 2018-19, Cizikas had played parts of seven seasons and never scored more than nine goals, averaging just eight per 82 games played. That is what made his 20-goal output such a surprise. It was a great year, but it was mostly driven by an 18 percent shooting percentage that was nearly 10 points higher than his career average. That sort of spike is not sustainable for any player, let alone one that has a 400-plus game sampling as a fourth-liner with limited offensive ability.

2. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars. Pavelski has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers of his era and is coming off a monster 38-goal season for the Sharks. Even if he regresses from that number he should still be a great addition for a top-heavy Stars team that needs secondary scoring. They just shouldn’t be counting on him to push the 40-goal mark again. He had a career-high shooting percentage (20.2 percent!) at age 34, making him a textbook candidate for regression. Consider that only one other player since 2000 has shot higher than 20 percent at age 34 or older (Mario Lemieux during the 2000-01 season). A more reasonable expectation for Pavelski: 20-25 goals.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks. With all due respect to Barry Trotz and the coaching job he did, no one person meant more to the 2018-19 New York Islanders than Lehner. His .930 save percentage masked a lot of flaws and was the driving force behind the team’s improbable defensive turnaround. That is an almost impossible performance to maintain year-to-year, and he is now going to a team in Chicago that still has some big question marks defensively and has been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL the past two years.

4. Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers. Chiasson was one of the few things Peter Chiarelli touched in Edmonton that didn’t immediately turn into a dumpster fire. He scored 22 goals for the Oilers, nearly doubling his previous career high, and was one of the small handful of players that actually exceeded expectations. Getting a lot of time next to Connor McDavid helped, as did an 18 percent shooting percentage.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

5. Cody Eakin, Vegas Golden Knights. In the three full seasons prior to 2018-19 Eakin scored just 30 total goals. He followed that up by scoring 22 last season alone. He is a negative possession player (and looks even worse relative to his team), doesn’t generate a lot of shots on goal, and is coming off of a career-high shooting percentage. Bet on him being closer to 10 goals this season than 20.

6. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The 2018-19 season could not have worked out better for Skinner on an individual level. He had a career year in a contract year and cashed in with a mega-deal with the Buffalo Sabres. He scored 37 goals two years ago and seems to have great chemistry with one of the league’s best centers (Jack Eichel) so he should be capable of another huge year, but another 40-goal season seems like it’s asking a lot.

7. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. He filled in admirably for an injured Antti Raanta and was one of the biggest reasons the Coyotes were able to hang around in the playoff race until the final week of the regular season. That performance, however, was a pretty big outlier in his career, and if Raanta is able to stay healthy he will be in a competition for playing time. Expectations for Kuemper in 2019-20: Lower them … at least a little.

8. Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames. A fresh start in Calgary turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Lindholm as it produced a career-year that saw him shatter all of his career highs. There is reason to believe a lot of the improvement is real (great possession numbers, a shooting percentage that wasn’t a huge outlier, playing alongside talented players) but another 50-assist, 78-point season seems like a high bar for him to match.

9. Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks. On a per-game basis the 2018-19 season was by far the best one of Shaw’s career, so it was probably a good idea for the Canadiens to sell high on that and move him. Given the Blackhawks’ lack of forward depth he is probably going to be given a significant role, but I don’t know how willing I am to bet on him scoring at 60-point pace over 82 games again.

10. Ryan Strome, New York Rangers. After a nightmare experience with the Oilers, Strome went to the Rangers and erupted offensively with 18 goals in the final 63 games of the regular season. He did this despite averaging just 1.27 shots on goal per game and getting caved in from a possession standpoint. Sometimes players go on hot streaks that eventually fizzle out. His debut with the Rangers was most likely a short-lived hot streak that will eventually fizzle out.

Also worth mentioning: Jaroslav Halak (Boston Bruins), Jared McCann (Pittsburgh Penguins), Ryan Dzingel (Carolina Hurricanes), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars)

Related: Top breakout candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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.

Cap crunch: Rangers, Penguins, Flames among teams that need moves

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Even though most of the NHL’s biggest roster transactions have already happened this summer, there are still some significant moves that will be coming over the next few weeks. Many of them will be out of necessity as it relates to getting under the salary cap for the 2019-20 season.

As of Saturday, there are four teams (New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins) that are still over the $81.5 million salary cap (teams can exceed the salary cap by 10 percent in the offseason) and a handful of teams that are close to the salary cap while still needing to re-sign some players.

Let’s take a look at some of the teams that will needing to make another move (or two) over the next few weeks to position themselves under the salary cap.

New York Rangers: After signing Pavel Buchnevich to a two-year contract on Saturday, the Rangers currently sit more than $4 million above the cap with a full roster of 23 players under contract. The offseason additions of Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba drastically altered the cap situation and have them in a position where a significant move is going to be necessary. Possible trade options: Chris Kreider should be at the top of the trade list given what he could bring back and his UFA status next summer, but they could also explore options with Ryan Strome and Vladislav Namestnikov.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Trading Phil Kessel was supposed to help the Penguins ease their salary cap crunch, but acquiring Alex Galchenyuk in that deal and signing Brandon Tanev to a long-term deal negated any savings that might have existed. They still have to re-sign defenseman Marcus Pettersson (they want to give him a long-term deal) and will need to move another contract to do so and remain under the cap. Possible trade options: Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad, Jack Johnson, and Erik Gudbranson are all depth players signed to long-term deals (never a good idea for Stanley Cup contenders). Rust and Bjugstad still have the most value and use to the team, while Johnson and Gudbranson are definitely expendable.

Calgary Flames: After re-signing David Rittich on Saturday to settle their goaltending duo for this season the Flames have between $4 and $5 million of salary cap space remaining for this season. They still have to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Magiapane. Without another move they do not have enough salary cap space to re-sign Tkachuk alone as he is in line for a massive raise on his next deal. He is already one of the best young players in the league and will easily be a $6 million-plus player starting this season. Possible trade options: Michael Frolik is the obvious choice here, and his name has been in trade rumors for a while now. He counts more than $4 million against the salary cap this season, and while he is still a useful player he is probably not the most efficient use of the Flames’ limited salary cap space at the moment.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vegas Golden Knights: Dumping Clarkson’s contract off on the Maple Leafs finally put the Golden Knights back under the cap, but they still have the Nikita Gusev situation looming. Based on his KHL production and skillset Gusev could be a top-six winger in the NHL and a welcome addition to any NHL team … including the Golden Knights. The problem is they do not have anywhere near the salary cap space to meet his demands. Their options are either trading Gusev and risk giving up an outstanding player, or moving someone like a Cody Eakin and/or Ryan Reaves to create enough salary cap space to keep him for themselves.

Toronto Maple Leafs: They are now about $3 million over the salary cap after acquiring David Clarkson‘s contract and still have to re-sign restricted free agent Mitch Marner. It looks bad, but they are going to get relief by placing Clarkson and Nathan Horton on the long-term injured list. They should be okay without having to make another significant move, but it will be close and Marner may not be under contract on the first day of the regular season.

Washington Capitals: They will have some major decisions to make over the next couple of seasons with core players. In a more short-term outlook they are, as of Saturday, a little more than $1 million over the league’s salary cap after re-signing Chandler Stephenson on Friday. The Capitals already traded Andre Burakovsky this summer and will probably need another cap-clearing move before October. It’s hard to imagine them shipping out a top-line player right now, so look for smaller moves that could involve the likes of Travis Boyd or Christian Djoos.

Related: Jets, Lightning still have big RFA challenges to deal with

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.