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Predators land another steal in signing Saros, Rinne’s heir apparent

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Nashville Predators GM David Poile hasn’t lost his knack for signing promising young players to outstanding value contracts.

Monday represents the latest coup, as goalie-of-the-future Juuse Saros signed a dirt-cheap deal: three years, just $4.5 million overall (so a $1.5M cap hit). That’s truly fantastic stuff for a goalie whose career save percentage is a superb .923.

Now, obviously, the sample size is small for the 23-year-old. That save percentage was accrued over 48 games, with all but one of those appearances happening during the last two seasons. Still, his numbers are promising at other levels, so there’s some credence to the notion that he could end up being a strong NHL starter.

Considering some of the money being thrown around at backups this summer, the Predators landed a great deal even if Saros doesn’t reach his considerable ceiling.

One would think that this only solidifies the passing of the torch from Pekka Rinne to Saros, but we’ll see. Rinne’s $7M cap hit expires after 2018-19, and at 35, you have to wonder if a decline is looming.

The beauty of getting three years of Saros’ services at such a cheap price is that the Predators aren’t boxed into a corner, though. If they feel most comfortable with a slower transition from Rinne to Saros, possibly morphing into a platoon, that’s an option (especially if, after fattening his bank account, Rinne signs his next deal for a palatable price). There are also some other scenarios: Saros could give the Predators 2-3 years of starter-level work at a cut rate, or Nashville could pivot to a different paradigm in net altogether.

(Honestly, would it be that shocking if Saros ends up being a better goalie than Connor Hellebuyck, for instance?)

Simply put, most – if not all – of the NHL’s other GMs should be jealous of Nashville’s unusual mixture of potential production and flexibility at the goaltending position. Those other GMs should take notes.

[It’s been a great day for Nashville, who also signed Ryan Hartman for cheap.]

Speaking of masterful GM work, this signing swings back to one of Poile’s greatest strengths: locking up promising players to team-friendly deals either before a breakthrough happens or right as it begins.

Consider some of the beautiful contracts he’s put together, leveraging RFA situations and tax-related perks:

  • Again, that Saros salary is sweet, and Rinne’s $7M goes away when Nashville needs to lock down other pieces.
  • Ryan Ellis is about to end a five-year contract that carried an almost comically low $2.5M cap hit. He’ll get paid on his next deal, and deft moves like these make it more feasible for him to stick with the Predators. Ellis is 27, so Nashville landed some of his peak years.
  • Filip Forsberg is a legit game-breaker. The 23-year-old’s cap hit is just $6M through 2021-22 (he’s three years into a six-year contract).
  • Viktor Arvidsson‘s bargain contract is no secret. He’s a top-line, 25-year-old winger making $4.25M per season through 2023-24(!).
  • Nashville boasts two 28-year-old defensemen also on enviable contracts. Roman Josi‘s ridiculous $4M contract ends after 2019-20, a seven-year deal among the best in recent NHL memory. Mattias Ekholm ($3.875M per year, six seasons, ends after 2021-22) is right there with Josi and Ellis as great blueline bargains.
  • Just about anyone can sign a first-rounder to an entry-level contract, but it’s worth noting that Eeli Tolvanen didn’t burn a year off of his rookie deal. If he can live up to the hype, the Predators would get three seasons of his sniping at a ludicrous price.

It almost feels like cheating, right? Most NHL front offices would pop open some champagne if they nabbed two of those steals, let alone the litany of bargains Poile has landed.

Now, sure, there are some expenditures. P.K. Subban absolutely ranks as elite, but $9M isn’t cheap. (He’s worth it, but that isn’t cheap.) Ryan Johansen‘s a little rich at $8M and $6M for Kyle Turris looked a little shakier when he was something of a non-factor during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even then, it’s not outrageous to picture Johansen and/or Turris delivering at a nice level, especially since those deals will account for less and less of each season’s cap percentage.

Once again, it looks like the Predators knocked one of the park with a signing when it comes to Saros.

For all we know, the conglomeration of smart moves could net the Predators a Stanley Cup, and possibly more than one. That said, a lot can happen, so you never know if all of this promise will come to fruition during the rigors (and thanks to the randomness) of the postseason.

Either way, other GMs could learn a lot from David Poile, as this is a masterwork of team-building.

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.

Tavares and beyond: five years of possible free agents

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While NHL fans get to brag about the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBA fans score a decided advantage when it comes to off-the-court/ice sizzle.

More often than not, hockey fans can only imagine seismic shifts like LeBron James’ latest “decision.”

(One bold exception is the profoundly dysfunctional Ottawa Senators, who provided us with hockey’s answer to the strange Bryan Colangelo burner account scandal by way of that drama between the significant others of Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman.)

So, like the Toronto Raptors watching Lebron mercilessly crush their playoff dreams, hockey fans grow accustomed to seeing fun spending sprees fizzle away. Could it happen again with John Tavares?

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Tavares and his representatives are “focused” on negotiating with the New York Islanders right now. Pierre LeBrun was also involved in that segment, and rained on our speculative parades even more:

Allow a simple response to the Tavares sweepstakes possibly ending before it truly begins: boo. Boo to that.

Now, sure, there’s the chance that business picks up in July. Maybe sooner. Still, reports like those above remain discouraging for those of us who want to grab the popcorn.

[Which teams would benefit the most from potential buyouts?]

It actually inspires a fun activity: let’s go over the next few years and ponder some of the big names who could auction off their services.

Naturally, because hockey, this list factors in the sad, cruel likelihood that the biggest names will bow out, so there are consolation prizes. Also, this list focuses mainly on would-be UFAs, as RFAs hold very little leverage (thanks, CBA).

This summer (2018)

Biggest fish who might not make it: Tavares

Would begging help?

/kneels

The fascinating Ilya Kovalchuk talk is a helpful reminder of how rare it is for an impact NHL player to explore free agency. At 27, Tavares figures to be exactly that. Despite all the turbulence surrounding the Islanders, Tavares generated 84 points in 82 games during 2017-18, the second-best output of his career.

He’s also put to rest any real worries about some of the freak injuries he suffered. Tavares played 82 games twice in the last four seasons, only missing nine games since 2014-15.

Tavares hitting the market wouldn’t just change the fate of a team. If he landed in the right direction, it could create a new contender. You simply don’t see a franchise center become available often; this would be as close as the NHL gets to a Lebron-type seismic shift.

Which means he’ll probably kill all the drama with an extension soon. *Grumble*

Big name with a better chance to actually hit the market: John Carlson

Before more grumbling commences, there’s this:

There’s evidence that Carlson struggles at time in his own end, particularly stretching back to before this past season. After a dazzling 68 points and a Stanley Cup victory, someone’s paying up, and it should be fun to witness that situation develop. You just do not see defensemen of his ilk hit it big very often, either.

Now that you mention it, hopefully a risky Carlson deal doesn’t scare off teams from next year’s incredible crop.

Some other notables: Joe Thornton, James Neal, James van Riemsdyk, David Perron, and Paul Stastny.

[Six players who should stay put this summer, six who should move]

Next summer (2019)

Biggest possible names: Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty

For some, Karlsson is the top draw (myself included). Old-school types might claim that Karlsson “can’t play defense,” even after he managed to drag a mediocre Senators team to within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (yes, that was only a year ago). For those types – who also probably believe that Alex Ovechkin “just figured things out this year” – then Doughty is the jewel.

The truth is that both are really, really good.

They also both carry some mileage into their next deals after being remarkable bargains, as they’re both 28 and log big minutes. There’s a strong chance that Doughty might just re-sign with Los Angeles, possibly as soon as this summer, and the same could be true regarding Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes. (Preemptive boo.)

Now, Ryan Ellis and the Predators? That could be fascinating.

These guys won’t become UFAs … right?: Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Tyler Seguin.

Buckle up, Blue Jackets fans.

Other interesting possibilities

  • Marc-Andre Fleury: He could finish his career with Vegas, but this past season could really drive up his asking price, and his age (already 33) could scare the Golden Knights off.
  • Pekka Rinne: By this time, you’d think Juuse Saros would be ready to carry the torch in Nashville.
  • Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski: Two Sharks centers with intriguing futures. Pavelski, in particular, could age out (turns 34 on July 11).
  • Matt Duchene: With the mess Ottawa’s in, who knows? Duchene leaving would really make a bumpy trade look even worse. Yikes.
  • Blake Wheeler: Winnipeg’s going to need to pay Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck, and Kyle Connor. Could an under-the-radar star get squeezed out in the process?

Summer of 2020

Biggest fish to land: Avoiding a lockout or limiting the damage.

*sigh*

Interesting possibilities

  • Roman Josi: David Poile is responsible for some salary cap wizardry, yet at some point, the Predators are going to need to make some choices.
  • Nicklas Backstrom: Already at 30, and with Braden Holtby also slated for possible free agency during the summer of 2020 (let’s assume Holtby re-signs), it remains to be seen if Washington can/will retain the Swedish center. He deserves an upgrade from that $6.7 million cap hit, one way or another.
  • Corey Crawford: Currently at 33 and the Blackhawks remain in a perpetual cap crunch. Hmm.
  • Holtby: Just in case the Capitals try to save money in net.
  • Tyson Barrie and Torey Krug: Two explosive scoring defensemen who are a bit underrated. Krug, in particular, might be tough for the Bruins to retain. Justin Faulk deserves a mention, too, although his situation could be very different in mere weeks for all we know.
  • Alex Galchenyuk: Will his inevitable split from Montreal happen before free agency 2020?

Even more aimless speculation in later years …

Summer 2021

Aging stars: Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Dustin Byfuglien.

Intriguing prime-age names: Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Devan Dubnyk.

Summer 2022

Last chances at big deals? Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban, Claude Giroux, Kris Letang, Patrice Bergeron.

Intriguing prime-age names: Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones.

***

Interesting stuff, right?

Of course, many of those players are likely to sign extensions, in most cases with their current teams. The same could be said for players who get traded to new teams. Some of the older guys might just retire. Restricted free agents may also add some spice to summers.

There’s even a chance that a new CBA could open the door for more movement in the future.

Looking at the lists above, it’s easy to envision fun scenarios, even if recent hockey history suggests blander solutions. Then again, re-signing players like these could force other important players to get traded, so team-building nerds should have something to chew on even if free agency isn’t as fun in reality as it can be in our heads.

Cap Friendly was an excellent resource for this post. Their tools can help you go on your own dorky hockey adventures, possibly unearthing more interesting names. (You’d need to wait until the summer of 2023 to get excited about Nathan MacKinnon, though.)

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.

Six players who should stay put this summer

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Over the next couple of months there will be a lot of trades that get made throughout the NHL.

Some of them will be good for everybody involved. Some of them will be bad for somebody. Some of them should not happen. After taking a look at six players that probably should be traded, let us now take a look at six players that should not be traded.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins. Based on his career it seems that the Phi Kessel experience has a shelf life with whatever organization he is playing for.

Based on the reports coming out of Pittsburgh regarding his relationship with coach Mike Sullivan in the wake of their second-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals he could be on the verge of reaching the end of that shelf life in Pittsburgh

That, of course, has led to trade speculation.

General manager Jim Rutherford has downplayed the whole thing and summed up the entire ordeal becoming a story this offseason as perfectly as anyone could have when he said this to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a week ago.

“They always had good communication directly and indirectly through the assistant coaches,” Rutherford said. “I don’t see where that has changed. The only thing that’s changed is that we won the first two years, so nobody wants to talk about it. We didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, so it’s become a bigger public issue. To me, that’s the only reason.”

Basically, when you win nobody cares that you don’t get along. When you lose, suddenly it is the most important thing in the world.

There are probably a lot of truths when it comes to the Kessel-Penguins situation.

Kessel is probably the type of player that drives coaches crazy.

He and Sullivan may not always see eye-to-eye.

But he is also one of the best offensive players in the world and is more than just a one-trick pony that can only score goals (not that being a goal-scorer is a bad thing).

If I am Jim Rutherford my message to Kessel and Sullivan is simple: Hey Mike, Phil is too good, too productive, and too much of a bargain for me to trade because I will never get fair value back in return and it is only going to make our team worse if I do trade him. Hey Phil, Mike is the coach … try to be a little less of a pain in the ass sometimes.

The Penguins could probably use a tweak or two or to their roster. They could stand to dump a contract or two (Conor Sheary, perhaps). But it should not be the guy that was just one of the top-10 scorers in the NHL and has been a central cog in a team that has won the Stanley Cup in two of the past three years.

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers. There is a disturbing cycle in Edmonton.

It usually starts with the team underperforming or just flat out being terrible on the ice.

Then you start to hear rumblings about how one of the core players is falling out of favor even though they aren’t really the biggest part of the problem. Then that player gets traded for an underwhelming return and goes to their new team and excels while the Oilers are left holding a bag of magic beans and looking like they do not really know what they are doing.

Justin Schultz. Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you are paying close attention it seems to be happening again, and this time the player at the center of that discussion is defenseman Oscar Klefbom.

Knowing the history of the Oilers and the history of general manager Peter Chiarelli making these kinds of deals it should send a shiver up the back of every Oilers fans because there is no way this would end well.

Klefbom was tremendous as a top-pairing defenseman for the Oilers in 2016-17 but regressed this past season as he played through a shoulder injury.

He is still only 24 years old, he is signed long-term, when healthy he has shown that he can be an outstanding player. He is not the reason their defense stinks and if they try to trade him now they are doing so at what is probably his lowest value — coming off of an injury plagued, injury shortened season where he did not play at his best. Only bad things can come from a trade in that situation.

Give him a chance to rebound. Keep your best defenseman. Just do not do anything dumb.

Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Everything we just said about Klefbom? Say it again, only this time about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Not that he is someone that seems to be on the trading block, but he carries a big contract, the Oilers have to clear some salary cap space somewhere, and with Schultz, Hall and Eberle all gone he is one of the few long-time members of the “core” that lost so much that still remains in Edmonton.

He is good. He is not your problem. Keep him.

Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes. There has been some speculation for more than a year now that Domi has been shopped, and there was even a rumor that the Pittsburgh Penguins could be interested in him (Domi’s father, long-time NHL tough-guy Tie Domi, and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux are very close).

Given how much smoke there has been around Domi when it comes to trade speculation there is always the possibility that it could happen but I really can’t think of a compelling reason why it should happen.

Yes, he had a tough season in 2017-18. Yes, he is a restricted free agent and in line for a new contract. But he is still only 22 years old. The Coyotes have reportedly struck a deal with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson indicating that they are trying to build something around their current young core. Domi could still be a part of that. Plus, he just does not seem like the type of player that would bring enough of a return to warrant trading him at this point.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens. You could try to give me a lot of good reasons why the Canadiens could — or maybe even should — trade him. The only one that even begins to make sense is the contract situation as he enters the final year of his deal.

Still, let’s be serious here: The Canadiens are not really in a position to rebuild after committing a ton of money into a veteran core. Whether or not they should rebuild is another question entirely, but given the makeup of the team that just does not seem to be in the cards.

That brings us to Pacioretty.

He is their best player not named Carey Price and has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL throughout his career. He is also coming off of a career-worst performance offensively. Trading him now is trading him at his absolute lowest value given that he did not play great in 2017-18 and only has one year left on his contract. There is no upside to moving him at this point. Even though he is entering his age 30 season he is the type of player that should be able to maintain a lot of his value as an offensive contributor for several more years and there is plenty to indicate that he is due for a bounce back season, from the fact he was a 53 percent possession player this past season, to the fact he still averaged more than 3.30 shots on goal per game, to the fact he had one of the worst shooting percentages of his career.

There is a very real chance that he comes back in 2018-19 and is once again a 30-35 goal scorer. Make sure he has that season for your team and not somebody else.

Regarding the contract situation? You are the Montreal Canadiens. You can afford to re-sign an elite goal-scorer. Make it work.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. The only reason the Maple Leafs might even consider something like this is because they want to maybe deal from a position of strength (young, talented forwards) to fill a position of weakness (defense).

Here is another idea: Don’t do it. Find another way to fix your defense. You don’t want to do something crazy like pulling a Hall-for-Larsson here.

Nylander is a great young player and is going to be one of the key building blocks of a team that could, maybe, one day, finally end your Stanley Cup drought.

He just turned 22 years old and already has a pair of 60-point seasons under his belt, something that only 33 players have accomplished since the start of the 2000 season.

Players like that do not typically get traded. Out of that aforementioned group of 33, only 11 of them have been traded at any point in their careers. One of them, Filip Forsberg, was traded before his NHL debut. Several others (like Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal, Paul Stastny, Marian Gabroik) were traded later in their careers just before they were set to become unrestricted free agents or due to some other contractual issue. The only players out of that group that were traded before their 25th birthdays were Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen.

One of those trades (Johansen) worked out well for everybody. The other (Seguin) was a disaster for the team that gave up the player.

Do you want to take that chance?

Players that produce like Nylander at this age usually go on to be All-Star level players. They are also incredibly difficult to find. When you get one, you want to hang on to them for as long as you possibly can.

MORE: Six players who should be traded this summer

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.

George McPhee has fingerprints all over Stanley Cup Final

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WASHINGTON (AP) — George McPhee will only get a ring if the Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup.

Maybe he should get one if the Washington Capitals win.

McPhee is responsible for acquiring 13 players on the current roster during his 17 years as general manager and also hired longtime friend Brian MacLellan, who became his successor and built the rest of the team. Kicked around the past five years for trading Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat and not being able to bring the Cup to Washington, McPhee has his fingerprints all over this final after building the foundation of each team.

”It’s funny how life goes,” McPhee said Sunday in Las Vegas. ”Two years ago I was walking around Ann Arbor kicking stones and couldn’t get a job.”

McPhee went two years between his job as Capitals GM and his new one when new owner Bill Foley hired him for the dream job of his life as GM running the as-yet-named Vegas expansion team. From MacLellan to captain Alex Ovechkin, star center Nicklas Backstrom, goaltender Braden Holtby and management staffs on either side, this final in many ways is a validation of McPhee’s philosophy, knowledge and career.

”It’s great to see him have success somewhere else,” said Capitals defenseman John Carlson, one of 12 McPhee draft picks facing him in the final. ”I knew he would, based on the pieces that he put in place here.”

McPhee was GM when the Capitals last made the Cup Final in 1998 but had just taken over the previous summer. Until the past year, his greatest accomplishment was rebuilding Washington into a perennial playoff team and title contender that went to the playoffs from 2008-2013.

After missing the playoffs in 2014, the Capitals did not renew McPhee’s contract.

”When you’re working with (players), they’re sometimes like your own kids,” McPhee said. ”You’re on call for them all the time, you’re trying to help them, you try to steer them in the right direction. Then you get fired and you’re suddenly persona non grata because nobody wants to be seen to be too close to you in the organization. I understand that’s how things change quickly and that’s the business.”

Things changed quickly because MacLellan went from McPhee’s college teammate and roommate and then right-hand man as assistant GM to the person who owner Ted Leonsis said gave ”the most negative of the interviews” among candidates. MacLellan said he felt like he had nothing to lose during the interview process, which led to him landing the job at the same time Barry Trotz was named coach.

MacLellan conceded Friday his relationship with McPhee was ”not as close” as in previous decades.

”I think it just took a little time for things to evolve,” MacLellan said. ”I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here and it just took time.”

MacLellan choked up a couple of times talking about glory days with McPhee, when they won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championship together at Bowling Green. McPhee and MacLellan have had dinner and texted in recent days about how strange it is to face each other after all that has transpired.

”It’s kind of a weird experience,” MacLellan said. ”It’s a little awkward, but it’s going to be a fun experience, I hope.”

McPhee still has plenty of supporters in the Capitals’ locker room, especially among players he stuck his neck out for. He signed Jay Beagle as a college free agent in 2007, listened to now-Vegas goaltending coach Dave Prior and selected Holtby as the 10th goaltender in the 2008 draft and picked Tom Wilson in the first round in 2012.

”I have a very fond respect for George,” Wilson said. ”You always have kind of a soft spot for the guy that drafted you, that brought you into the league, that gave you a chance. … He kind of always had his players’ back.”

Not only is Beagle thankful to McPhee for taking a chance on him, but he also believes in the moves made to try to bring a championship to Washington well before now, even if they didn’t work out perfectly.

”The trades and the deals that he made were to win the Stanley Cup that year,” Beagle said. ”You can always look back and be like, ‘Oh it wasn’t the right one’ or ‘It was the right one.’ But at the time it was the moves that he felt needed to be done to win a Stanley Cup that year because we had a team to do it for a lot of years.”

Now that the Capitals – and Golden Knights – have that team, McPhee will be there each night to see one of his teams lift the Cup.

”I’m certainly proud of the Washington team and the players,” McPhee said. ”Really happy for them – and really proud of this team we have in Vegas.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule

House Money: How Golden Knights were built

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

The Vegas Golden Knights are a veritable gold mine of redemption stories.

Then again, one person’s “redemption” can be another person’s “revenge.” In considering the construction of the Golden Knights’ roster, some of the biggest hits feel like GM George McPhee’s revenge for the waves of Filip Forsberg jokes he absorbed between his 2014 firing and this unlikely run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Optimizing the returns of the expansion draft is one of the things that stand out about McPhee’s work.

[How the Capitals were built]

It’s one thing to merely select the best player available, or the best option available (if the best player’s contract makes him a bad choice). The Golden Knights leveraged other teams’ fears of losing their best unprotected players to set this team up for the present and future with draft picks and high-potential pieces. There was even an element of exploiting teams’ mistakes of the past, as Vegas sweetened its takeaways by absorbing other GMs’ mistakes, such as David Clarkson‘s contract.

Let’s take a long look at how the Golden Knights were built, and also realize that there’s still plenty of building to do … but in a very good way.

The good stuff that doesn’t really matter right now

Let’s face it. The Golden Knights weren’t necessarily built with 2017-18 at the forefront of their brains.

Instead, Vegas stockpiled a slew of draft picks to 1) agree not to select unprotected players or 2) to trade some of their picks to teams after the draft. Oh yeah, and they also received a pick in that Panthers situation … but that’s its own category.

Anyway, stockpiling defensemen and futures was a huge part of the gameplan. At the time, it seemed like any bit of first-season success would be the gravy. Instead, a nice first entry draft (despite bad draft lottery luck) and a bucket of picks ended up being the cherry on top of this beyond-Cinderella run.

Fleury and other established players

Back in June 2017, the easiest way to picture the Golden Knights exceeding expectations revolved around career-best work from Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s delivered on that dream, authoring his best work in the regular season and the playoffs. Sometimes Fleury’s looked superhuman.

But one of the beautiful things for Vegas was that they didn’t always ride that train. “The Flower” was fantastic, yet injuries limited him to just 46 regular-season games, and other goalies got hurt, too. They still easily won the Pacific Division.

Some of the other established names followed a similar pattern.

James Neal and David Perron were slated to be key figures for Vegas, and they delivered. Still, those who expected Neal to be easily Vegas’ most dangerous scorer ended up being wrong (at least after a ridiculous start for Neal). Neal was good, yet an unlikely first line emerged thanks to a few factors …

Karlsson is to Forsberg …

In this deconstruction of the Capitals’ construction, it was noted that people have been joking about the Filip Forsberg trade is a frequent punchline when discussing George McPhee. The veteran executive emphatically proved that he learned his lesson, and applied that lesson to leveraging other GMs into submission.

When McPhee flipped Forsberg for Martin Erat, his Capitals were hoping to get over the hump for a playoff run, and management misdiagnosed Forsberg’s potential. Similar situations played themselves out before, during, and after the expansion draft.

While Forsberg had yet to get to the NHL level with Washington, William Karlsson showed little more than potential (and a deadly hair flip) with Columbus. Instead, the Blue Jackets bribed McPhee not to take players like Joonas Korpisalo or Josh Anderson, not realizing that Karlsson would be Vegas’ Forsberg.

Again, that was an extreme case, but not the only one. The Wild gave Vegas Alex Tuch so they’d select Erik Haula. Tuch looks slick and Haula barely missed a 30-goal season. That stings, but Minnesota didn’t want to lose someone like Mathew Dumba, and McPhee gleefully exploited that, with successes even he probably didn’t fully comprehend.

[What Vegas success says about NHL]

Sometimes there were ulterior motives like shedding some bad contracts (to be fair to Columbus, getting rid of Clarkson was huge; Shea Theodore was the treasure they unearthed by taking on Clayton Stoner from Anaheim). Sometimes the gains were more modest, or more futures-oriented.

Either way, the Golden Knights wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic if McPhee didn’t supplement expansion draft selections with shrewd side deals. Especially …

via Getty

Skip this inevitable section, Tallon and Panthers fans

An amalgamation of many of those factors in the punchline-iest element of all, as the Florida Panthers happily gave Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas. Two-thirds of a top line that was able to hang with and sometimes outplay lines headed by Anze Kopitar, Logan Couture/Joe Pavelski, and the Jets’ beastly offerings was gladly given up. It was baffling then, and it’s aged like the opposite of wine (unless you enjoy making jokes on social media).

To sweeten the deal(s), consider that one of Florida’s defenses (Reilly Smith’s contract) probably helped the Golden Knights sign Marchessault to a team-friendly extension, as they both will carry $5 million cap hits. (Smith’s already was there, while Marchessault’s kicks in next season.)

You have to dig pretty deep to find other explanations. Maybe it helped Florida afford a very nice free agent in Evgenii Dadonov? Yeah, that’s about it. All McPhee could do was thank any appropriate deities and let Tallon shoot himself in the foot. Twice.

Sometimes, like with the Golden Knights landing Nate Schmidt, it was about a team having to make painful choices about who to expose, and that player taking off even more than expected in Vegas. There are a lot of selections and situations that look astounding in hindsight, and some deserve the extra ribbing. No situation really stands at the level of unforced errors quite like what the Panthers managed with those self-destructive moves, though.

/Takes a second to recover from just how mind-blowing that all still seems.

Speaking of former Panthers

Of course, the Golden Knights aren’t just boosted by former Panthers players.

Gerard Gallant stands as a possible unanimous choice for the Jack Adams Award a season after that embarrassing “fired and sent away in a taxi cab” fracas with Florida.

It’s honestly surprising that Gallant – someone who allegedly clashed with “The Computer Boys” in Florida during Tallon’s blink of time out of control – is the same coach who’s allowed this team to play breathtaking, aggressive hockey. This is – dare I say it? – the sort of hockey that “The Computer Boys” likely would have stumped for.

Maybe Gallant was always prescient enough to realize that these players would truly flourish if you gave them more opportunities and longer leashes to make mistakes. Maybe it was a “nothing to lose” gambit. Or perhaps he took some lessons to heart after what must have been a humbling experience in Florida.

Either way, Gallant’s been a huge part of the winner Vegas has built, and he’s a mere four wins from a Stanley Cup.

A fairly clean slate

You could mix in a little “greed is good” into this recipe, as UFAs such as James Neal and David Perron are fighting for new deals. Fleury really isn’t that far away either (he could sign an extension in July), and plenty of other players are fighting to prove their worth in the NHL. Marchessault was in a contract year before getting his extension in January, too.

Another genius element of Vegas, one that other teams must envy, is that they aren’t weighed down by a bunch of problem contracts.

Yes, they took on the albatross deals of Clarkson and Mikhail Grabovski, yet those can a) be scuttled off to Robidas Island (the LTIR) and b) they aren’t going to last long. This team isn’t just set up for a promising future because of a bounty of draft picks; they also have the sort of cap room to be credible rumored destinations for big names like Erik Karlsson and John Tavares.

That actually bring us to one of the few mistakes, at least in ignoring the Vadim Shipachyov saga: trading three prominent draft picks for Tomas Tatar.

As of this moment, that seems like a big gaffe and the NHL’s revenge for the expansion draft. Still, it’s plausible that the Golden Knights might salvage this situation. Heck, for all we know, maybe Tatar will end up providing an unexpected boost as soon as the 2018 Stanley Cup Final?

Stranger things have happened … like, you know, an expansion team winning its division and making it all the way to the final round in its first season.

***

No doubt about it, the Golden Knights have enjoyed some luck. Marc-Andre Fleury’s unlikely to sustain this level of play (no insult to MAF, few goalies could), and that magic may even begin to run out during Game 1 on Monday. William Karlsson probably won’t score on almost a quarter of his shots on goal next regular season.

Even if the Golden Knights take a step back, the point is that this team is constructed with remarkable skill and foresight.

You don’t even need to use the “for an expansion team” caveat this season, and there’s a chance you won’t need to going further, either. This management team could very well ride this hot hand into the future.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has better defense?
• How Washington was built

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final 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.