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Golden Knights can still land Erik Karlsson after Pacioretty trade

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By trading for Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights management declared that this team is for real. So why stop there?

The Golden Knights have prominently factored into Erik Karlsson trade rumors stretching back to last season’s deadline, and while extensions to Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury could make it tougher to continue adding pieces, they could make things work with Karlsson. Especially for next season, but not just exclusively so.

Cap Friendly estimates the Golden Knights’ cap space at $9.438 million, and the situation is actually cozier than that, as David Clarkson‘s $5.25M is almost certain to go to LTIR … assuming his contract remains on the books. That brings us to a point: Golden Knights GM George McPhee (or VGKGMGM) has a lot of tools to make a Karlsson trade happen, even after giving up Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick to land Patches.

[Read about the Pacioretty trade, plus his extension]

Let’s examine the factors that could serve as catalysts for a trade:

A different timeframe

Credit the Golden Knights for displaying the agility to zig and zag with their contrasting opportunities. It’s a message to rebuilding teams: if you can pile up an absolute treasure trove of draft assets, you can set yourself up handsomely in two very different ways: 1) by keeping the picks, thus giving you a ton of “dart throws” to land gems or 2) you can package those picks for the Pacioretties (plural for Pacioretty, obviously) and Karlssons of the world, if the opportunity strikes and makes sense.

A stunning trip to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final is one reason why it makes sense – OK, the best reason, let’s be honest – but not the only one.

The Golden Knights managed to lock up significant prime-age players to term, as 27-year-old wingers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith will see their contracts (both at a team-friendly $5M cap hit) extend into their thirties. Pacioretty will turn 30 shortly after his reasonable-enough four-year extension kicks in to start 2019-20. Paul Stastny is 32 and set to begin a three-year deal, while MAF’s already 33 and under contract through 2021-22 (for better or worse).

We can spend days debating the merits of going all-in after a hot streak, as Vegas is risking doing just that, even after showing some restraint in letting James Neal and David Perron walk.

The bottom line is that Vegas’ outlook is different now, so they might as well go big with this shorter window.

Still plenty of picks/futures to move

Despite only being in existence for two offseasons (and lacking a first-round pick for 2018), the Golden Knights have managed to accrue some nice assets. Before the Suzuki trade, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Vegas’ farm system eighth overall [sub required], with Suzuki ranking as their fourth-best prospect.

So, if Vegas deemed it worthwhile, they could still trade a prospect, with Cody Glass ranking as the headliner.

The notion that they still have some gems in their system must be comforting for McPhee, who apparently worried about Filip Forsberg parallels after moving Suzuki (another mid-first-rounder moved not very long after that player was drafted by McPhee).

Plenty of people were quick to lampoon the Golden Knights for all the draft picks they’ve traded away lately, as the Tatar trade cost them a first, second, and third, while Pacioretty cost them a second and Suzuki.

That’s fair, yet it’s crucial to remember that Vegas absolutely hoarded picks heading into the expansion draft.

Via Cap Friendly’s listings, the Golden Knights have:

2019: their original picks aside from a seventh-rounder, two additional third-round picks, and one additional fifth-rounder. (Nine picks overall.)

2020: Their seven original picks, plus two more second-rounders. (Nine overall.)

2021: Six of their seven own picks, only missing a third-rounder. (Six picks overall.)

Vegas could send Ottawa a package of merely its excess picks (two thirds, a fifth in 2019, two seconds in 2020) and do well enough for Senators owner Eugene Melnyk to reference it as a win in another deeply strange video. The Golden Knights could also make a mix of players, prospects, and picks that could conceivably land Karlsson without totally mortgaging their future.

[Highlights from Melnyk’s odd video.]

Contracts that could move, and possibly cancel out some of Ryan’s cost

The Senators’ cash troubles are painfully apparent, to the point that Melnyk’s outdated jersey almost feels symbolic.

With that in mind, it could be crucial for Vegas to find a way to absorb one of Ottawa’s roughest contracts in Bobby Ryan ($7.25M cap hit through 2021-22) or Marian Gaborik ($4.875M through 2020-21). The Golden Knights likely realize that, from a sheer salary standpoint, they’d be doing Ottawa the biggest favor if they took on Ryan, and Clarkson’s salary structure would be highly appealing to penny pinchers.

Consider the year-by-year breakdown (cap hits in parentheses):

Ryan (7.25) Gaborik ($4.875) Clarkson ($5.25) Ryan – DC Gaborik – DC
2018-19 $7.5 $4.575 $4.75 $2.75 -$0.1750
2019-20 $7.5 $3.175 $3.25 $4.25 -$0.0750
2020-21 $7.5 $3.075 n/a $7.5 $3.0750
2021-22 $7.5 n/a n/a $7.5
Savings: Ryan—> $22
Savings: Gabby-> $2.8250

So, overall, the Golden Knights would save Melnyk $22M in total salary (ignoring the potential 2020-21 lockout) over four years if Clarkson’s deal was exchanged for Ryan’s contract, including $2.75M this season. Gaborik’s salary is actually a bit higher than Clarkson’s during the next two seasons, yet Gabby’s deal is more expensive because it lasts for one additional season. (If Melnyk is penciling in a lockout of any kind, it would negate some of the advantage of a Clarkson – Gaborik swap. It would also negate happy thoughts.)

If the Senators truly demand moving salary in a Karlsson deal, then a Clarkson – Ryan swap would be a huge selling point, and one would assume Vegas pointed this out before.

Managing the Ryan cap hit would be a considerable challenge, assuming his wrist/hand issues wouldn’t also plop him on the LTIR at some point during his career. Ottawa is only retaining Dion Phaneuf‘s salary, so perhaps Vegas could convince Ottawa to eat a bit of that egregious Ryan money?

The Golden Knights could also mix in a smaller, mid-level contract or two to make things work.

Cody Eakin makes a $3.85M cap hit and salary for two more seasons, and he’s a solid player at 27. Erik Haula‘s also 27, and a fantastic value at $2.75M per year through 2019-20 (fantastic enough that Vegas would probably not want to give him up). Ryan Reaves is making slightly more than Haula during the same two seasons, and Ottawa might be so bad that fights become the main attraction some nights, which would make Reaves that much more valuable.

There are also some depth defensemen who could conceivably be part of a deal, such as Nick Holden, Deryk Engelland, and Jon Merrill.

***

All things considered, the Golden Knights have a lot of ammo – and incentive – to get an Erik Karlsson trade done.

The sheer array of variables likely explains why this process is taking so long, and not just when Vegas has been involved.

How much value does Vegas place on Karlsson agreeing to an extension? Will Ottawa drastically reduce its asking price if the Golden Knights take on Ryan’s enormous contract? These are questions that loom over the process.

The bottom line is that Karlsson is absolutely world-class, particularly right now, and the Golden Knights boast the sort of cap space, prospects, and picks to make something happen. After adding Pacioretty, it might be a flat-out disappointment if they don’t trade for the Senators’ star.

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.

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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

2017-18
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

IN
Paul Stastny
Daniel Carr
Curtis McKenzie
Nick Holden

OUT
James Neal
David Perron
Jason Garrison
Philip Holm
Lucas Sbisa

RE-SIGNED
William Karlsson
Tomas Nosek
Ryan Reaves
Marc-Andre Fleury
William Carrier
Tomas Hyka
Stefan Matteau
Brandon Pirri
Maxim Lagace
Oscar Dansk

– – –

Unlikely.

Unprecedented.

Unfathomable.

Historic.

The list of superlatives to explain the Vegas Golden Knights first season of existence in the NHL has been exhausted. In reality, the words to describe it simply don’t exist.

[Under Pressure: Tatar | Breakthrough: Karlsson | 3 Questions]

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.

Career-years seemed to be the norm in Vegas, whether it was William Karlsson’s 43 goals and 78 points, Jonathan Marchessault‘s 27 goals and 75 points or Marc-Andre Fleury’s .927 save percentage.

And there were many more — Erik Haula, Reilly Smith, Nate Schmidt and on and on and on.

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.

Prospect Pool

Cody Glass, C, 19, Portland (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick

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.

Erik Brannstrom, D, 18, HV71 (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick

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.

Nick Suzuki, C, 19, Owen Sound (OHL) – 2017 first-round pick

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.

“In his mind the game is in slow motion,” said Owen Sound general manager Dale DeGray. “They see it, they compute it, and they react . . . Nick Suzuki has an uncanny ability to slow the game down.”

There’s plenty for Vegas fans to get excited about if they read the entirety of that article.


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

Have Minnesota Wild already hit their ceiling?

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Let’s talk about the Minnesota Wild for a few minutes because, well, I am still not entirely sure what to make this team under its current construction.

How do you feel about them? Do you think about them? When you hear the name “Minnesota Wild” do you think “that’s a team that I could see making some noise and going on a deep playoff run,” or do you just kind of say “meh” and not see them as much of a threat?

They have been, by definition, a pretty good team.

They finished with 101 points in 2017-18 and are one of just three teams to have made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks. That is also — if you can believe it — tied for the second longest active playoff streak in the NHL (behind only the Penguins’ ongoing 12-year run, and tied with the Ducks).

All in all, pretty successful — right?

The thing about that success is that the past few years have at the same time been kind of a disappointment because their ceiling seems to be that of a team that makes the playoffs and then quickly disappears without much of a fight. During the aforementioned six-year playoff run they have won a grand total of two playoff series and have not been out of the second round in any of those years.

They have not been out of the first round since 2014-15 and have managed to win a grand total of four playoff games in the three years since (that coming after they swept out of the second round in four straight games in 2015. That means in their past four postseason series they have won exactly four games).

The latest postseason exit resulted in a significant change in the team’s organizational leadership when long-time general manager Chuck Fletcher was fired and replaced by former Nashville Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton. Even with a team that recorded 100 points for the second year in a row it was still a tough year for Fletcher as the Wild were one of the many NHL teams that paid too much in the expansion draft process, giving up Erik Haula and Alex Tuch to the Vegas Golden Knights.

When a team that has not achieved much postseason success changes general managers, a change behind the bench can not be far behind if results do not change for the better. That means coach Bruce Boudreau almost certainly has to be on the hot seat heading into the 2018-19 season.

That leads to another pretty big question: Are the Wild, as currently constructed, good enough to keep Boudreau employed behind the bench? And if not, is he good enough to keep squeezing more out of this roster than it should be capable of producing?

There are a lot of red flags with this team that make it seem like the whole thing could be teetering on the edge of a full-on collapse, perhaps sooner rather than later.

From a shots and possession perspective, the Wild were one of the worst teams in the NHL last season controlling just 47 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts. That was the second-worst mark in the NHL and had them sandwiched between the dumpster fire that was the Ottawa Senators and a New York Rangers team that was beginning to sell off half of its roster.

In their five games against the Jets in the playoffs they were absolutely steamrolled in that department, attempting just 40 percent of the shot attempts in the five games (while getting outscored 16-9, including 7-0 over the final two games of the series).

Typically, teams that get decimated like this in the shots column do not make the playoffs, and when a team is that bad it usually does not paint a promising picture for the following season. Especially when the only additions to the roster are depth players like the ones added by Minnesota this summer (Matt Hendricks, J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr, Greg Pateryn).

The one area the Wild did excel in this past season was scoring chances.

While their share of the total shot attempts was among the league’s worst, their share of the total scoring chances was, shockingly, among the league’s best.

Usually when a team finds any sort of success with poor shot metrics the argument in their favor — or the one coming from the team itself — revolves around shot quality, and not quantity. Usually that argument is bunk and the team’s success is usually because a goalie played out of their mind to bail them out, or they had a few forwards have career years to carry the offense (which kind of happened in Minnesota last year, at least as it relates to Eric Staal and maybe Jason Zucker). Then everything falls apart the next season.

In the Wild’s case, though, there seems to be at least some evidence that this was the case. How repeatable that is not only remains to be seen, but will also go a long way toward determining whether or not they are going to remain competitive or if the bottom will fall out from underneath them.

Aside from the poor shot metrics, the other concern here is that this was the second oldest team in the NHL last season and while they have some young players in Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Luke Kunin, it still figures to be one of the oldest teams in the league this season.

At the top of that list will be Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, both of whom are not only entering their age 34 seasons, but are also coming off of significant injuries.

Parise has already been mired in a steady decline across the board for about five years now in all major areas (goal and point production, his ability to generate shots, and his overall possession numbers). Suter is still a workhorse that plays close to 27 minutes per night (and still at a reasonably high level) but given the mileage on those tires you have to assume he, too, is going to start to see his play begin to decline. The Wild still have more than $15 million tied up in those two for another seven years.

Their core players are still pretty good, but they are either in a decline (Parise), likely to regress (Staal), or could be on the verge of reaching a point in their career where they start to break down (all of Parise, Suter, and Staal). They have some okay young players, but nobody that really seems to be a potential game-breaker.

Given all of that it seems this team has hit its ceiling. They have already made the change in the front office. If things get off to a bad start in ’18-19 it might be time for him to just hit the reset button on the entire operation because it is difficult to see this group turning things around in a meaningful way.

[Shot attempt and scoring chance information via Natural Stat Trick]

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights

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Free agency can lead to some laughably regrettable roster moves for even the best general managers.

By the time players hit the open market they have probably already played the best hockey of their career, and they sometimes tend to be signed based on what they did last. A big playoff showing can increase the price tag by an extra million or two while a down year could lower the term. We should know by now that what you saw last from a player is not necessarily what you will see next.

It is a hellacious landscape.

All of that made Paul Stastny an interesting player to watch when the free agent signing period opened on Sunday.

He’s 32 years old (going on 33 this season) and like most free agents at that age has probably already seen his most productive hockey, at least from an offensive standpoint. The fact he was coming off such a strong playoff showing with the Winnipeg Jets and was entering a relatively thin free agent market seemed to make him a candidate for a huge contract that would probably turn out to be very regrettable in just a couple of years.

That did not exactly happen as the Vegas Golden Knights — the team that eliminated Stastny and the Jets in the Western Conference Final — were able to get him on a three-year contract that will pay him $6.5 million per season.

It is a cap hit that the Jets probably could not afford given their current roster construction, but is easily manageable a Golden Knights team that is swimming in salary cap space (even after signing Stastny they are still $18 million under the cap with 21 players already under contract) and will have a lot of offense to replace this summer.

David Perron is already gone after signing with the St. Louis Blues, while James Neal also seems like he is likely to find a new spot. They also have to be planning for some regression from players that are returning (See: Karlsson, William). They are going to have to replace that offense somewhere, and Stastny should be able to help with that.

It also gives them some really solid depth down the middle as Stastny joins a group of centers that includes Karlsson, Erik Haula, and Cody Eakin.

Even at 32 he still performs like a strong second-line center (and maybe even a fringe first-line center) and can still be counted on for 55 points and strong two-way play. I don’t think anyone should expect Karlsson to score 40 goals again but if he can be somewhere between that and what he was during his time in Columbus they could have a pretty formidable duo at the top of their lineup.

When the Golden Knights entered the league at the start of the 2017-18 season nobody anticipated they would be buyers at the trade deadline and dipping into the free agent market for a veteran like Stastny in their second offseason. Expectations can change quickly, though, and the Golden Knights have already set a pretty high bar for themselves going into year two. It is going to be difficult to match it after what they did this past season, but Stastny is a really strong addition at a fair price to help them try and get there again.

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.

No surgery needed for Capitals’ Backstrom, Kuznetsov

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The Washington Capitals met the media for the final time this season during locker clean out day on Wednesday and we got to see a sober and clean shaven Alex Ovechkin, plus we learned about the various injuries some players dealt with during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

First, Nicklas Backstrom, who missed four games due to a hand injury, revealed that he suffered two fractures in his right index finger blocking a Justin Schultz shot in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It got better after he returned in the Eastern Conference Final, but was still pretty swollen following the series. He won’t require surgery.

“I tried to play Game 6 [vs. Penguins], the hand was too swollen with the fracture,” Backstrom said via the Washington Post. “That was probably the worst finger to have, too. Any other finger it probably would’ve been fine. But this one is the one that I actually use. I got better and better every week. Which is good. They did a great job with all the treatments and stuff. It sucked at the time but we got it done. I got to play again.”

Forward Andre Burakovsky revealed he broke both thumbs during the season, including his right one during the first round.

Evgeny Kuznetsov left Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final late in the first period after taking a hit from Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights. The forward did return for Game 3 and scored a goal and assisted on another during a 3-1 win. He will also not need surgery to repair the injured shoulder.

[Highlights from Capitals’ Stanley Cup parade]

In the grossest injury of the Final, defenseman Brooks Orpik, who had already suffered a hand injury in the first round, said that the tip of his left pinkie had to be reattached after being slashed by Erik Haula in Game 2. 

“It probably looked worse than it was, to be honest with you,” he said. “It was tough to look at, but the trainers did a really good job. It was never something I thought would keep me from playing.”

Marc Methot knows the feeling.

Most Capitals also noted that they’d be open to visiting the White House, a week after Devante Smith-Pelly said he would not attend any celebration with the U.S. president.

Finally, the most important question about this summer seems to moving towards getting an answer. Head coach Barry Trotz, who is not signed beyond July 1, said he and general manager Brian MacLellan have spoken about an extension and will work through “a few issues” to get a new deal done.

“[I]f he wants to be back, he’ll be back,” MacLellan said on the ice after the Capitals’ Cup victory last week.

MORE:
Ovechkin, Holtby get Jimmy Fallon to drink out of Stanley Cup
Don’t forget how great Kuznetsov, Backstrom were for Capitals

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.