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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.

Golden Knights sign Max Pacioretty to four-year, $28 million extension

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The Vegas Golden Knights wasted no time in getting their newest player signed to a long-term contract extension.

Less than 14 hours after acquiring Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens late Sunday night, the Golden Knights announced on Monday afternoon that they have signed the winger to a four-year contract extension that will pay him $28 million. That comes out to a salary cap hit of $7 million per season.

That new contract will kick in at the start of the 2019-20 season, meaning that combined with the final year of his current contract (which will pay him $4.5 million this season) the Golden Knights will have Pacioretty under team control for the next five years through his age 34 season.

[Related: Pacioretty saga ends with trade to Vegas]

For Pacioretty, it is obviously a pretty significant raise and nearly doubles his previous annual salary. He has been one of the biggest bargains in the NHL over the past five years, scoring goals at an elite rate while being paid a fraction of what his peers have made.

Living in Nevada as opposed to Montreal will also be a boost to his bottom line.

From the Golden Knights perspective, it is a pretty significant investment financially but they still have plenty of salary cap space (both this season and in the future) and managed to keep the term of the contract to a fairly reasonable four years. Given that Pacioretty is turning 30 this November there would have been a long-term risk to go much longer than that. General manager George McPhee has signed a handful of veteran players to long-term contracts over the past year, but has done a nice job not going too long on the term with any of them. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (age 33) received a three-year contract extension over the summer, while veteran center Paul Stastny (age 32) was also signed to a three-year deal in free agency. The longest he has gone on term with any player has been the six-year contract he signed Jonathan Marchessault (age 27) to last season.

With Pacioretty now signed beyond this season, Vegas already has 14 players under contract for the 2019-10 season (including David Clarkson, who will forever be destined for the Long-Term Injured List) for only $56 million against the cap. Under the cap number for this season that would mean more than $23 million in salary cap space. Vegas still has more than $9 million in salary cap space for this upcoming season. All of this means they could still be players for another big score from outside the organization (like, say, a certain defenseman currently playing in Ottawa) if they really wanted to.

Even though Pacioretty is coming off of a down year there are plenty of reasons (which we looked at here) to believe Pacioretty can bounce back and once again be one of the league’s top goal-scorers.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: 10 NHL people that need to be better in 2018-19

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It is the summer and with no games being played at the moment it is awfully difficult to rank the NHL’s 31 teams on a weekly basis. So the PHT Power Rankings will spend the next month taking a look back at some of the best (and worst) developments in the NHL, both past and present. Best trades. Worst trades. Best all-time teams. Any other random things we feel like ranking. This week we look at 10 people around the NHL that need to have a better season in 2018-19.

A lot of general managers, coaches, and players had great performances during the 2017-18 season to help their teams.

Many of them were expected, some of them were not.

This week’s power rankings are not about them.

This week we look at 10 people around the NHL that, for one reason or another, really need to have a better performance during the 2018-19 season.

To the rankings!

1. Eugene Melynk, Ottawa Senators — It is almost remarkable the roller coaster of emotions Ottawa Senators fans have been on over the past two years, and sadly, just how hopeless the entire operation feels entering the 2018-19 season.

After coming out of nowhere to go on an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 — where they were in double overtime of Game 7, one shot away from the Stanley Cup Final — the entire organization completely imploded on itself over the year that followed.

On the eve of what should have been the biggest day of celebration for the team during the 2017-18 season — their outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens — team owner Eugene Melnyk threw the relocation threat out there, while also adding “I’m not going to blow a lifetime of working hard to support a hockey team.”

Erik Karlsson, the team’s best player, has been on the verge of being traded for a year now while Melnyk reportedly wanted to tie Bobby Ryan‘s contract to the trade, a decision that would no doubt lessen the return for the best player the franchise has ever seen all in the name of saving the owner some money.

The locker room was ripped apart after the fiance of former forward Mike Hoffman was accused of harassing the Karlssons following the death of their son, resulting in Hoffman, one of their two best forwards, being traded for some magic beans.

Assistant general manager Randy Lee resigned after he was charged with two counts of harassment at the scouting combine in Buffalo.

Even if Melnyk himself wasn’t responsible for all of this individually, it is a total dysfunctional mess of a franchise from the top on down (with an emphasis on the “top” part) and the owner has to take responsibility for that. All of it has resulted in Melnyk becoming the most loathed owner in any of the NHL’s 31 markets with fans consistently taking to social media to urge him to sell the team. What could he do to make things better for Senators fans in 2018-19? Selling the team might be a good start, but that doesn’t seem to be something that is in the cards. So maybe he could just … you know … try to be better in some small way? Anything, really. Maybe don’t threaten to move the team the night before the biggest game of the season? Start small, build up from that.

2. Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers — This spot could easily be filled McLellan or general manager Peter Chiarelli, but in fairness to Chilarelli, he has already showed signs that he might be doing better this year. For example, he hasn’t traded a core player in a lopsided one-for-one, he resisted the urge to sell defenseman Oscar Klefbom at his lowest value, he held on to the No. 10 overall pick and hopefully strengthened the defense long-term, and he didn’t sign any ridiculous contracts in free agency. Progress is progress.

That leaves McLellan who will no doubt be on the hot seat if things don’t improve dramatically in Edmonton this season, because you don’t get the luxury of missing the playoffs very often when you have the best player in hockey on your roster.

The most shocking development in Edmonton last season was probably the way the special teams completely sunk the team, finishing 31st on the power play and 26th on the penalty kill. McLellan assumed more responsibility over the PK in the second half of the season (where it did improve … a little) and he has an entirely new set of assistants around him, including former Swift Current Broncos coach Emanuel Viveiros, who comes with a reputation for being a strong offensive coach, and defensive specialist Trent Yawney. There won’t be any excuses for McLellan this season if things go south again.

3. Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens — Earlier this offseason I took an in-depth look at how Bergevin’s tenure has slowly but surely made the Canadiens franchise worse. Nothing has really changed since then. If anything, things seem to be on the verge of getting worse as the Max Pacioretty drama continues to rage on with a trade seemingly being a matter of when, and not if. Once it gets completed that means the Canadiens will have wasted the prime years of one of the league’s best goal scorers that has been playing for them on a laughably cheap, team friendly, bargain contract.

All Bergevin has done over the past few years is saddle the team with bad contracts, a suddenly aging core, and most recently gambled that Max Domi can be better than Alex Galchenyuk. He has fumbled some of his biggest trades and has one more massive one to make at some point over the next few months (Pacioretty). If he messes that one up it will set the Canadiens franchise back even further than it’s already been set back under his watch.

Good luck, everybody!

4. Scott Darling, Carolina Hurricanes — In an effort to solve their long-standing issues in net the Hurricanes traded for Darling before the 2017-18 season and committed to him with a four-year, $16.6 million contract to be their starting goalie. Year one of the deal was a disaster as Darling, one of the league’s best backups in Chicago over the previous three years, turned in one of the least productive performances from a starter in recent NHL history. Despite that performance, the Hurricanes seemingly doubled down on their commitment to Darling as their starter by letting Cam Ward leave in free agency and only signing Petr Mrazek (coming off a down year of his own in Detroit and Philadelphia) to a one-year contract to push him.

For the time being it seems to be Darling’s net and if the Hurricanes are going to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season he is going to have to be significantly bette than he was last season. The Hurricanes have definitely given him some help by assembling what should one of the league’s best defenses around him (they have been one of the best shot suppression teams in the league in recent years) and adding to it this summer with the acquisitions of Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan.

5. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks — The Blackhawks run of consecutive playoff appearances came to a sudden end this past season with one of the worst records in the NHL. It was a staggering fall for a team that is not that far removed from winning three Stanley Cups in six years, and just one year earlier finished with the third best record in the league and the best record in the Western Conference.

There were a lot of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks in 2017-18, from the injury to starting goalie Corey Crawford, to the fact that Jonathan Toews is now a $10 million per year second-line center (Sorry folks, it is true — at least based on his production).

One of the other big issues: General manager Stan Bowman’s quest to put the championship band back together backfired in a massive way. Along with re-acquiring Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks’ big move was trading Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Saad, just two years after the Blackhawks traded him away in a salary cap-clearing move. The latest trade was a disaster for the Blackhawks. Panarin not only showed that he could carry a line on his own without having Patrick Kane on the other side of the ice, but Saad struggled through the worst season of his career and was a colossal disappointment in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He managed just 17 goals and 35 points in 82 games, and somehow recorded just a single point in 174 minutes of power play time. It was, for lack of a better word, bad.

Given the Blackhawks’ lack of scoring depth and the fact their No. 1 center is now a 50-point player they are going to need a lot more from Saad in 2018-19 if they have any hope of returning to the playoffs in a suddenly competitive Central Division. The good news is that his underlying numbers (dominant possession numbers, a low shooting percentage for himself) point to a player that should be capable of bouncing back. Now he just has to do it.

6. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins — When Letang is on his game and at his best he is one of the most impactful defenders in the league. We saw him at his best during the 2015-16 season when he was a dominant force on the Penguins’ blue line on their run to winning the Stanley Cup, playing more than 28 minutes per night throughout the playoffs and scoring the Stanley Cup clinching goal, capping off a brilliant shift where he was a a one-man wrecking crew.

Unfortunately for Letang another significant injury during the following year robbed him of half of the season (including the entire postseason, where the Penguins would win another Stanley Cup) and didn’t allow him to get back on the ice until the start of the 2017-18 season. He was never quite the same player and struggled through one of the most inconsistent seasons of his career, highlighted by flashes of the dominance we’ve come to know from Letang, and stretches of play where he just didn’t seem to be himself. Harsh as it is to say, if he was one of the biggest reasons they won the Stanley Cup in 2016 (and he was), his performance was perhaps one of the biggest reasons they didn’t win it in 2018. Despite speculation that the Penguins could consider moving him in the offseason, he remains in Pittsburgh where the team is banking on his performance from this past season being a fluke that he can bounce back from. It is a smart bet to make because he is better than he showed this past season. If he bounces back the Penguins will once again be a force in the Eastern Conference and one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders.

7. Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers — A lot of general managers around the NHL were responsible for the immediate success of the first-year Vegas Golden Knights. None of them played a bigger role than Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers when he sent Reilly Smith to Vegas in exchange for a draft pick and then allowing the Golden Knights to take Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft, while protecting the likes of Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk on defense (the Panthers opted to protect four forwards and four defenders instead of five forwards and three defenders).

It was a head-scratching move at the time it was made (Marchessault was the team’s top offensive player the year before, and while Smith had a down year and carried a big contract, he was still a productive player with a decent track record in the NHL) and became even worse when Marchessault and Smith helped lead Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Panthers ended up missing the playoffs by a single point following a late-season surge up the standings. Even with the addition of Evgenii Dadonov (a very good move) that one series of roster transactions probably kept the Panthers out of a playoff spot. This offseason the Panthers acquired Mike Hoffman after his ugly exit from Ottawa and signed Troy Brouwer to fill a bottom-six role. Will those be enough to get the Panthers back in the playoffs?

8. The Travis HamonicT.J. Brodie pairing — Okay maybe this is cheating to include two players in here as one entry, but hear me out on this.

On paper the Calgary Flames were supposed to have one of the best top-four defensive pairings in the NHL last season after adding Hamonic to a group that already included the perpetually underrated Mark Giordano, Brodie, and young star Dougie Hamilton.

It did not go as planned, especially when it came to the second pairing of Hamonic and Brodie, a duo that badly struggled during the season. They spent more than 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together where the Flames were outscored by seven goals (33-40) and controlled just a little more than 50 percent of the total shot attempts. When neither player was on the ice the Flames were a 55 percent shot attempt team were only outscored by a pair of goals (90-92).

Now Hamilton is gone (traded as part of a package for Noah Hanifan), Giordano is a year older, and the Flames are going to need these two to be significantly better to make up for all of that.

(H/T Todd Cordell and Natural Stat Trick for those numbers)

9. Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers — With Claude Giroux back to being an elite scorer, an impressive young core of forwards and defenders starting to make their presence felt in the NHL, and the return of James van Riemsdyk, one of the league’s top goal scoring wingers, the Philadelphia Flyers are now back to the point where their roster looks really, really impressive with one very large exception.

Stop me if you have heard this before, but … goaltending might be the only thing that holds the Flyers back from taking another big step this season.

Elliott’s career has been as unpredictable as any other goalie in the league (which is really saying something at a position that is largely defined by its unpredictability) as he has gone from leading the league in save percentage at times, to being benched and traded away. He was okay at times last season, and he is ideally just a placeholder until Carter Hart is ready to take over the job, but the Flyers have a chance to be something more than the mediocre team they have been for the past six years if they can get something that resembles even average goaltending.

10. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins — As an outsider, watching the city of Boston collectively eat itself alive over the performance of Tuukka Rask is a remarkably entertaining thing to watch. As an observer of the game of hockey it is also a little maddening. Honestly I wasn’t even sure if I should include Rask on this ranking because he’s still a pretty darn good goalie that a great team can win with.

He didn’t even have a bad season a year ago.

Is he as good as he was five or six years ago? Probably not, and his personal numbers illustrate that. He is, however, still good. Really good.

But every time he doesn’t single handedly win the Bruins a big game the sky falls in around him and a city of spoiled rotten sports fans and media that think it is their god-given right to win every championship, in every sport, every year lose their minds and need to find a scapegoat. Lately, that scapegoat for the Bruins is almost always Tuukka Rask. For that reason alone Rask could use a better season, just to save himself from that madness and to salvage his reputation in Boston. It is unfair, but so are sports.

Now there is even offseason talk that the addition of Jaroslav Halak could challenge Rask for playing time, or perhaps even push Rask out of town.

Which is just … you know what? Maybe Boston deserves that.

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.

Building off a breakthrough: William Karlsson

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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.

When the Columbus Blue Jackets left William Karlsson unprotected in last year’s expansion draft, they could’ve never imagined that he would be able to hit the numbers he did during his first season with the Vegas Golden Knights. Before last season, Karlsson’s previous career-highs in the NHL were nine goals and 20 points (he hit those numbers in 2015-16). So when the 25-year-old managed to score 43 goals and 78 points in 82 games last season, it caught everyone off guard.

“I’m not sure what happened in Columbus, but when your confidence is down it affects you,” Karlsson said, per NHL.com. “All I wanted is a chance to show what I can do. Vegas let me do that. It let a lot of guys do that.

“When I got put with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, things just started clicking.”

[2017-18 Review | Under Pressure: Tatar | 3 Questions]

That’s an understatement. The trio developed incredible chemistry. They became the Golden Knights’ go-to line for good reason. Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith combined to score 213 points. They instantly became a matchup nightmare for every one of their opponents.

According to Natural Stat Trick, both Smith and Marchessault saw their numbers numbers dip when they weren’t playing with Karlsson. Marchessault’s CF% was 54.57 percent with Karlsson and 43.77 percent without him. Smith had a CF% of 54.39 percent with Karlsson and 46.31 percent without him. In their defense, Karlsson’s numbers were also much better when he played with those two. So each player really did thrive when they were on the ice together.

Even though Karlsson proved to be an incredible fit in Vegas, negotiating a new contract with him became a bit of a challenge for general manager George McPhee. Committing big money on a long-term deal is a huge risk when the player you’re signing only has one productive season under his belt. The fact that Karlsson had arbitration rights made the situation even more complex.

Instead of going to arbitration, the two sides agreed on a one-year, $5.25 million extension. It’s a risky move for both sides because if the Swede lights up the boxscore again next year, the Golden Knights will have to pay even more money to lock him up for multiple years. If he goes back to posting below-average numbers, then he’ll earn a lot less money on his next deal.

So he has a lot to prove going into this season. There’s a lot on the line. Not only does he have to prove that his individual performance wasn’t a fluke, his teammates also have to show that they can replicate the success they had last season. That doesn’t mean that they have to go back to the Stanley Cup Final (that’s pretty hard to do), but they’ll have to show that they can be competitive on a nightly basis and that they can make another long playoff run.

There’s a lot on the line.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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