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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.
51-24-7, 109 pts. (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in five games to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final
For a team that a year ago was put together with spare parts from other teams, misfits who either didn’t need to be kept or couldn’t be kept due to the framework set out in the expansion draft rule set.
The Golden Knights weren’t getting the team’s best players. They weren’t getting their second or third best either. But what they did get, and what they were able to do with the so-called scraps they selected, proved to be a concoction no one could have seen coming.
Predictions for this team never ended in a trip to the Stanley Cup. They rarely, if at all, mentioned the playoffs. These were all supposed to be foreign concepts to an expansion team. The Golden Knights were supposed to struggle. They were supposed to loiter in the depths of the NHL’s basement. They were expected to fail.
None of that happened.
In the course of a calendar year, Vegas rewrote the book on what an expansion team can achieve, beginning with the expansion draft and all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Every step between June of 2017 and June of this year is riddled with history.
The Golden Knights are simply the best expansion team of all-time, and it’s not even close.
Tragedy struck on the eve of the season when 58 people were gunned down and hundreds more were injured on the Las Vegas Strip. Out of the horror of that night on Oct. 1 grew a bond between a city and a team.
The Golden Knights began their first season in the NHL a few days later, giving a city a chance to forget about life for a while. Hockey seemed to help Las Vegas heal, and the team’s magical run began.
Vegas also handled adversity well. Their incredible start to the season could have been derailed quickly with injuries to Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk. This left the crease with Maxime Legace and an unlikely start for Dylan Ferguson, a seventh-round pick who was called up on an emergency basis from the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.
Nothing would stop the Golden Knights in the regular season, however. Not injuries. Not other teams.
They racked up an uncanny 51 wins, and sailed through the first three rounds of the playoffs thanks to Fleury, who was operating at a .950 heading into the Cup Final.
Only then, against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, would the Golden Knights finally be stymied.
Their cake had all the icing, but the cherry on top wouldn’t come as the Capitals took the series and the Stanley Cup in five games.
The wildest ride in NHL history came to an end, but my goodness was it fun to witness.
This offseason has been quiet by comparison. Paul Stastny is a big addition to the team after losing James Neal and David Perron to free agency.
Karlsson, the breakout king of 2017-18, signed a one-year contract, betting on himself to reproduce his heroics last season and cash in next year.
The only question left now is if the Golden Knights can do it again, or if last season and its magical mystery ride was a one-hit wonder.
The first pick Vegas ever made in the NHL Draft is their best prospect at the moment. Glass built upon his 94-point sophomore season, putting up 102 points last year in five fewer games. He’s big, his two-way game is his strong suit, and he drives offense.
“Obviously, I have that mindset of making [the Golden Knights] this year,” Glass told NHL.com in July. “I feel with this [upcoming] training camp, it’s more of a development curb for me. You obviously want to make a good first impression. I feel like I’ve improved over the year.”
Even if he is fit to make the jump, allowing him one more season in junior wouldn’t hurt. He’d be able to play in the world juniors that way and then get some time with the team down the stretch if it makes sense.
The third first-round pick that Vegas made last year, Brannstrom finished as the playoff MVP in J20 SuperElit after winning the junior league title. Before that, he had 15 points in 44 games playing with men in the Swedish Elite League.
Brannstrom likely begins the year in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, although the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League own his junior rights after he was taken in the CHL’s Import Draft and he could also end up there (Vegas assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon owns the Wheat Kings). A good camp with the Golden Knights could bring the temptation, too, of letting him stick around in the Show.
Taken 13th overall in 2017, Suzuki had a second consecutive impressive season in the Ontario Hockey League, posting 42 goals and 100 points and is likely to return to junior and get a chance to play with Team Canada at the world Juniors.
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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens.
After getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs in 2017, the Canadiens put together a horribly disappointing season last year. None of their core players played well, which obviously didn’t help. Max Pacioretty didn’t score as often, Shea Weber suffered a serious injury and Carey Price wasn’t himself.
For the first time in five years, Pacioretty failed to hit the 30-goal mark. Now, he’s entering the final year of contract, and it sounds like a divorce between he and and the team is imminent. If the Habs ship their captain to another team, who will score goals for this team? They traded Alex Galchenyuk for a playmaker like Max Domi, so they don’t have any natural scorers left on the roster.
As for Weber, he’s fallen on hard times injury-wise. He got off to a great start (16 points in 26 games), but he eventually missed a good chunk of the season with a foot injury. The 33-year-old will also be out until at least Christmas because of knee surgery. Not having Weber will be tough overcome.
The biggest question surrounding the Canadiens upcoming season is whether or not Price can bounce back from the dismal season he had in 2017-18. He missed an extended period of time with lower-body injury and then a concussion. The team is light on talent, but if they can get Price back to where he was a few years ago, they’ll have a chance in every game they play. If he can’t get back to form, the next eight years will be incredibly long (they owe him $84 million).
This is a big year for GM Marc Bergevin. If botches a potentially Pacioretty trade, or if the team crumbles again, he might be looking for a new job. No matter what happens, it should be an interesting year in Habs land.
The Canadiens have been searching for a number one center for years, and Kotkaniemi might finally be that guy. He’s a big body with good offensive instincts. Kotkaniemi is also capable of playing a strong all-around game. He has the ability to develop into a top-line player, but he might just need a bit more time to develop. The young Finn racked up 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games in the SM-Liiga
• Ryan Poehling, C, 19, St. Cloud State – 2017 first-round pick
Poehling made some huge strides in his second year at St. Cloud. He went from being a 13-point player in his first year to producing 31 points in 36 games last season. Like Kotkaniemi, Poehling is also big (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), but the American forward isn’t as gifted offensively. The biggest question around his game is whether or not his offensive abilities are good enough to make him a second-line center. Poehling is heading back to St. Cloud State for another year, but he could join the Canadiens next season.
Juulsen got his first taste of NHL experience during Montreal’s “lost” season last year and he certainly didn’t look out of place. He’s a good skater that can move the puck efficiently. He might not develop into a top pairing defenseman, but he’s certainly capable of being a top-four blueliner for years to come. Even though the Canadiens have several defensemen on one-way contracts, Juulsen has a pretty good shot at making the team out of camp.
Summer summary: Big-picture, the Ducks are the same: a team with an excellent goalie who has had bad injury luck (John Gibson), mostly creaky top forwards, and a veritable war chest of quality young defensemen. They didn’t even make Gibson their first goalie under a long-term and expensive contract in … ages? (Since Jonas Hiller? J.S. Giguere?) Gibson remains without an extension, entering the last year of his dirt-cheap $2.5 million per year bridge deal.
The defense got a little younger in saying goodbye to the likes of Kevin Bieksa for veteran-yet-28-year-old Luke Schenn, even if it didn’t really get much better (Andrej Sustr‘s nickname might as well be “blah”).
Beyond that, the Ducks really should try to sign Gibson to a team-friendly deal (in my opinion), and maybe extend Jakob Silfverberg as well.
Longer term, Anaheim needs to do some soul-searching. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all 33. Getzlaf and Perry both cost a ton for three more seasons, while Kesler’s contract runs one more year (through 2021-22). For a franchise that can be a little tight with cash, tough questions must be asked about whether this core can really contend.
If the answer is “No, we can’t compete with these guys,” then Murray would be wise to swallow a bitter pill and blow things up. Otherwise, the Ducks risk wasting money and being mediocre.
Where they stand? In the short term, there are some reasons to be optimistic.
This team dealt with some serious injury issues in 2017-18, yet Gibson and others kept them afloat, sometimes with ridiculously understaffed roster talent. If Murray’s going glass-half-full, he could picture a better season.
On the other hand, the speculation isn’t rosy for Kesler, and Perry looked pretty long in the tooth last season. If, say, the Oilers and Flames get their acts together, the Coyotes climb, and the Central remains deadly, the Ducks might get squeezed out.
This franchise has been able to find diamonds in the rough and work things out before, but right now, the outlook is a bit dreary.
Summer summary: Aside from maybe reaching for Barrett Hayton with the fifth pick, the Coyotes have enjoyed another pretty excellent off-season.
Maybe most importantly, they signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a contract that will essentially cover his prime, and it came cheaper than other stars like Drew Doughty. That could end up being a gem, but even if it was smack-dab in where he’s valued, it was huge not to lose a face-of-the-franchise.
More to do? Nothing too pressing. GM John Chayka should merely consider the cost-benefit analysis of possibly extending some players who will see their rookie contracts expire after 2018-19.
The biggest name, and maybe the guy with the biggest risk-reward question, is Jakob Chychrun. The 16th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (who many expected to go higher) has experienced a stunted development so far, in part because of injuries. It’s tough to tell what the Coyotes really have here, although that’s the incentive to doing something early: if he ends up being a gem, Arizona might be able to land a bargain.
Where they stand? The Coyotes improved by pretty significant steps this summer. The questions are: how much better did they get, and how much farther do they need to go to really be a factor in the Pacific?
From here, the Coyotes boast modern-style pieces (and versatility) on defense, an interesting goalie duo (with Antti Raanta being the most promising, of course), and a very young offense that seems intriguing but maybe lacks the high-end weapons to really stand out.
The thing is, teams heavy with young players can sometimes make bigger leaps than expected. The Coyotes are being aggressive in trying to make that happen, sooner rather than later.
Summer summary: In 2017-18, the Flames ranked among the most puzzling NHL teams, boasting high-end talent that never really put it together. Management clearly saw reasons to make some pretty dramatic changes.
To start, Glen Gulutzan has been replaced by former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. It’s an open question if Peters – whose Hurricanes never made the playoffs – will rank as an upgrade, or a significant one in that.
That wasn’t the only bold move for Calgary, as the Flames handed James Neal a five-year contract that carries a $5.75M cap hit.
Whether you’re hot or cold on the Flames’ off-season, you can’t accuse them of doing nothing.
More to do? The Flames already warped the postscript of the Hamilton trade by giving Lindholm a meaty extension. They figure to complicate the viewpoint again whenever they hammer out a contract with Noah Hanifin, a 21-year-old RFA.
Considering that Hanifin can say “I’m a high first-rounder and you traded Dougie Hamilton for me,” it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy blueliner eats up much of the Flames’ estimated $5.39M in cap space.
GM Brad Treliving also must consider extending pugnacious forward Matthew Tkachuk, whose rookie contract only has one year left.
Where they stand? Even though many (raises hand) view the Hamilton trade as a downgrade for Calgary, the Flames still seem like a formidable team on paper.
Tkachuk’s line tends to hog the puck and befuddle defenses. The Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan duo is deadly, and could be even more dangerous if Neal and/or Lindholm really click with them. These off-season additions may finally help Calgary provide those lines with some supporting punch, Hanifin may very well break through, and Mark Giordano hopefully still has it as a Norris-level defenseman.
Still, there are reasons to worry. The Flames seem like they’re once again going to ask a lot of Mike Smith, who’s already 36. Giordano may hit the wall in a big way at 34. Hanifin might merely be solid instead of very good.
In this era of parity, it’s rare to see a team that could just as easily contend as miss the playoffs altogether … although maybe that’s the trademark of the Pacific Division as a whole?
Summer summary: The Oilers could do worse than unveil a big banner that merely states “We didn’t make a bad trade!”
Edmonton’s moves were the definition of marginal, while they made a sensible-by-consensus pick by selecting Evan Bouchard with the 10th overall selection. A team with the best hockey player in the world shouldn’t get points for merely not shooting itself in the face – giving Connor McDavid more help would have been ideal – but you have to grade Peter Chiarelli & Co. on a curve at this point. So they didn’t fail, that’s nice.
More to do? Darnell Nurse, RFA defenseman and the seventh pick from 2013, still needs a contract. Getting that situation right (ideally with a cheap AAV and solid term, rather than a bridge deal) would brighten the outlook of a mostly tepid summer for Edmonton.
Again, the not-doing might be best for Chia. He didn’t stretch too far to exacerbate the Milan Lucic mistake. Despite rumors, affordable, solid defenseman Oscar Klefbom wasn’t recklessly moved, either. Not trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was probably the wiser choice (again, because Chiarelli), too.
Management needs to think long and hard about the future of their goaltending position. Cam Talbot had a rough season, and he’s entering a contract year. If he’s still the guy, he’d be a heck of a lot cheaper to sign today than if he bounces back. If not, why didn’t the Oilers take a flier on someone who might be a better answer?
Oh, because the Oilers actually decided to do the “potato vs. GM” bit? Not going to mash them up for that, honestly.
Where they stand? Do they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? If so, pencil them in for “plausibly competent.”
It’s still a little disconcerting that management is asleep at the wheel, with Chiarelli and Todd McLellan possibly in place to make the wrong adjustments, or few adjustments at all.
Certain situations might improve just by default. A rebound season for Talbot is feasible. Lucic being OK isn’t that outrageous, even if the climb might be short.
That said, this team missed the postseason by a mile, and didn’t really get better. Not great, yet maybe not “#FreeConnor” territory just yet.
Los Angeles Kings
Summer summary: It happened about a decade later than they probably would have preferred, but the Kings finally landed Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk, 35, ranks as one of the more intriguing wild cards of the off-season. How close is he to the world-class sniper who left the NHL with exactly as many points as games played (816)? If he has much left, we’ll probably see it, as Anze Kopitar essentially worked miracles with mediocre linemates last season.
The Kings also convinced Drew Doughty to sign an eight-year, $88M contract extension that begins in 2019-20. Los Angeles is clearly hoping that Father Time ends up being friendly.
More to do? Nope, not really. For better or worse, the Kings’ most significant players are pretty locked-in.
Where they stand? To a slight surprise, the Kings made a run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though being summarily swept by Vegas is a bullet point for those who don’t expect them to rank as true contenders.
The Kovalchuk addition is intriguing, and possibly a real boon. Los Angeles is expected to put him in “Ovechkin’s office,” which is a more conducive place for production than what Kovalchuk often did: massive power-play minutes, but patrolling the point for the most part.
It’s also worth noting that Jeff Carter‘s 2017-18 was derailed by injuries, so if both of those situations go well, the scrappy Kings suddenly boast two of the better (albeit older) snipers you’ll find.
Personally, this seems like a bubble team, as long as the aging curve doesn’t equate to gravity pulling the Kings down in a more drastic way.
San Jose Sharks
Summer summary: 2018 will stand as “The Summer of What Could Have Been?” for San Jose. They missed out on Kovalchuk and John Tavares, instead settling for quite a few re-ups with current players such as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. They also convinced Joe Thornton to stick around for another year.
GM Doug Wilson wasn’t just snoozing in a tanning bed, though, as he essentially laundered the Mike Hoffman trade, getting rid of Mikkel Boedker‘s heinous contract and grabbing some assets for his trouble.
More to do? This summer’s to-do list is checked off (though they might need more time for “Be sad about Tavares”), but some future-focused questions remain. The biggest: what to do with Joe Pavelski?
Pavelski’s in the last year of his deal and is, somehow, already 34. Maybe the Sharks ride this out and sign him short-term, go with a long-term deal, or part ways sooner rather than later. It’s not necessarily an easy decision, but one way or another, a choice is looming.
Where they stand? The Sharks feel like they’re in a similar place as their California neighbors/rivals: there’s talent here, some of it frighteningly aging, and there are some sunny best-case scenarios.
On the other hand, this is a team that’s no longer dominating the regular season, and expectations are generally more muted. Could they go on another run, like when they fell to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final? Sure, but they could just as easily fizzle out early in the playoffs, or even really flame out and miss them altogether.
Summer summary: The Sedins are officially gone, the Canucks made the smart move in drafting college-bound defenseman Quinn Hughes, and the team decided to keep Jim Benning as GM for reasons. (Trevor Linden’s had enough, though.)
Benning continues to confound in free agency, handing matching four-year, $12M head-scratchers to Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Such moves would already be questionable for a team expecting them to be “playoff warriors,” but as a team with a skill deficit that remains huge, that’s some bad stuff.
At least they’re starting to gather some nice prospects.
More to do? Not much, although well-coiffed sniper Brock Boeser‘s entering a contract year. Maybe sign him to an extension during an early low-note in the regular season to give fans a boost?
Where they stand? They’re bad, and the ideal scenario is probably to be bad enough to try to pair Quinn Hughes with his brother Jack Hughes. Come on, admit that it would be really cool for the Canucks to quickly transition from the Sedin twins to the Hughes brothers. Philadelphia might need to re-brand to “The Other City of Brotherly Love” at that rate.
Vegas Golden Knights
Summer summary: Credit Vegas with showing restraint in not overreacting to an unlikely playoff run, although the counter-argument is that a risky extension for Marc-Andre Fleury counts exactly as not showing restraint.
GKGMGM (Golden Knights GM George McPhee) decided to allow James Neal and David Perron to walk in free agency. That’s mostly prudent considering the actual makeup of the team, although I wonder if McPhee realized how affordable (four years, $4M AAV) Perron would end up being.
The Golden Knights didn’t just rack up losses, though, as they convinced steady center Paul Stastny to sign a very fair three-year deal. Hockey fans also get to find out if Daniel Carr and Curtis McKenzie ended up being the next diamonds in the rough (er, aces up the sleeve?) in Vegas.
More to do? Vegas still faces some challenging negotiations in locking up RFAs William Karlsson and Shea Theodore. Karlsson’s arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 4, so we’ll see if they hammer out a deal between this moment and the deadline for a verdict.
The Golden Knights also may consider signing some extensions beyond the scary (if understandable?) one for MAF. Nate Schmidt, Alex Tuch, and Deryk Engelland all enter contract years in 2018-19.
Granted, with the maybe-unsustainable success Vegas enjoyed, they might be better off letting some of those guys settle down a bit first.
Where they stand? Uh oh, this is a trap, isn’t it?
You’d have to be a bold gambler to expect the Golden Knights to make another deep run, as they did in their infant season by falling in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Vegas rode some positive forces, most clearly Fleury playing at a level in both the playoffs and regular season that we’ve rarely seen since Tim Thomas was on good terms with his Boston Bruins teammates.
Fleury’s almost certain to stumble to at least human levels, and that could bring Vegas down with him. There are also plenty of players capable of regression following career years.
On the other hand, there is talent here. The Karlsson trio, particularly Jonathan Marchessault, sure seemed pretty legit, even if they might eventually be better cast as a very, very good second line. This remains as soundly built an expansion team as the NHL’s ever seen, and maybe the best in contemporary professional sports.
Will they once again contend? It’s fearful to doubt them yet another time, but probably not. Could they make the playoffs? That’s not outrageous, yet that may come down to a favorite/most-reviled factor in Vegas: luck.
In the days leading up to free agency, all eyes will be on Islanders forward John Tavares. Where will he end up? How long will he sign for? How much will he sign for? Those are all interesting questions that will likely be answered in the coming days.
Ryan doesn’t play a flashy game, but he’s been a useful asset for the Hurricanes over the last few seasons. The 31-year-old had 15 goals and a respectable 38 points in 80 games in 2017-18. He also won 56.5 percent of his faceoffs over the course of the season.
His advanced stats weren’t too shabby either, as he posted a CF% of 57.05 percent, a FF% of 55.78 percent and a SF% 55.67 percent, according to Natural Stat Trick.
In his two full NHL seasons, Ryan has earned $600,000 and $1.425 million. This will likely be his only chance at getting some long-term financial security.
If history has shown us anything, it’s that Calvert will finish with roughly 10 goals and almost 25 points every year. Those aren’t impressive offensive numbers by any stretch, but he’s capable of doing other things well.
Calvert plays a fast game. He’s got wheels, which is ideal for a bottom-six player in today’s NHL. He’s also able to kill penalties, too. In the playoffs, he managed to score three goals in six games against the Washington Capitals.
The 28-year-old is likely on his way out of Columbus, so another team could scoop him up at an affordable rate on July 1st.
If you’ve paid any attention to the Stars over the last few years, you know exactly the type of player that Roussell has developed into. He’s a big winger, that plays a very north/south kind of game.
Before last season, he managed to find the back of the net 12, 13, 13 and 14 times, which shows that he has a little bit of touch around the net. He’s also not shy about racking up penalty minutes either, as he accumulated between 115 and 209 penalty minutes since 2013-14.
His advanced stats aren’t too shabby either. He had a CF% 52.47 percent last year and a FF% of 55.09 percent.
Depending on his asking price, Roussel could be a solid value pick up for his next team.
After being traded from Montreal to Dallas, Pateryn finally got an opportunity to establish himself as a regular at the NHL level.
The 28-year-old finished the year with one goal, 13 points and 50 penalty minutes in 73 games with the Stars. Playing with the puck on stick isn’t necessarily his strength, but he’s able to play a simple, physical game
Pateryn won’t break the bank if he goes to market, but he won’t have to wait long to land a contract from an NHL team as a fifth or sixth defenseman.
The Canadiens reportedly offered Carr $700,000, but he turned it down because of a great offer he got in the KHL. His camp has already mentioned that they feel they can get a better offer if they stick in the NHL.
Carr is a hard worker that battles in front of the net and competes on a nightly basis. Still, the 26-year-old was never able to establish himself as a regular with the Habs.
He split last season between the Montreal and Laval (their AHL affiliate). He had 19 points in 20 AHL games and he added 16 points in 38 contests in the NHL.
Carr’s signing won’t make headlines, but fans of his next team will quickly grow to like his compete level and style of play.