House Money: How Golden Knights were built

5 Comments

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.

Christian Ehrhoff retires from hockey, but Sabres will keep paying him

Getty
1 Comment

With a booming, erratic slapper and 789 regular-season games of NHL experience, Christian Ehrhoff left an impact on the game from a literal and metaphorical standpoint.

The German defenseman recently announced his retirement via his Instagram account, and did so in the best of ways, by sharing a photo from his hockey-playing youth. Before we get nerdy about the Sabres/NHL teams spending a ton of money on inactive players, let’s take a moment to celebrate what was ultimately an impressive hockey career:

So hat alles angefangen und heute endet meine professionelle Karriere! 19 Jahre Profi sind eine lange Zeit. Danke an meine Teams, Mitspieler, Coaches, Betreuer, Physios, Ärzte und natürlich den Fans für die Unterstützung und unzählige wunderschöne Momente und Erinnerungen. Ein besonderes Dankeschön an meine Frau Farina, meine Kinder, meine Eltern und meine Schwester, ohne eure Unterstützung, eure Aufopferung und euren Rückhalt wäre es für mich nicht möglich gewesen Leistung auf höchsten Niveau zu bringen! #itwasagreatride #CE10 After 19 years of pro hockey I‘ve decided to call it a career. Thanks to all my teams, teammates, coaches, staff members and fans for your support and countless amazing memories.

A post shared by Christian Ehrhoff (@cehrhoff) on

The 35-year-old’s most lasting impact might be on the Buffalo Sabres’ payroll, though, as the Buffalo News’ John Vogl notes.

Indeed, that $857K toll will run through 2027-28.

Fork in the road

It’s interesting to remember that the Islanders gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire Ehrhoff’s rights back in 2011.

The Isles are already stuck paying off Rick DiPietro’s buyout for a whopping 16 years. If Ehrhoff accepted rather than nixing the Islanders’ advances, would the Islanders be stuck paying both? Would Ehrhoff’s career have ended up being more successful?

(After being bought out by Buffalo before the 2014-15 season, Ehrhoff played for the Penguins in 2014-15, the Kings in 2015-16, and then eight games for Chicago in 2015-16 before closing out his career in Germany.)

It’s quite the “What if?” scenario that might just make Islanders feel a little better during a tough time.

Buffalo’s bumbles

Ehrhoff is far from the only player the Sabres are paying to, well, not play. It’s a disquieting subsection of the Sabres’ salary structure (see their Cap Friendly page), as if Buffalo fans need more reasons to grumble about management mistakes from the past.

Via Cap Friendly, the total value of Ehrhoff’s buyout is $12 million. June 2014 ended up being an expensive run of compliance buyouts for the Sabres, as they also got rid of Ville Leino’s disastrous deal. Leino is scheduled to receive $1.22M from Buffalo through 2019-20, with the six-year buyout carrying a total value of $7.33M. None of those two buyouts affect the cap since, again, they were compliance buyouts.

About a year later in late June 2015, the Sabres also bought out Cody Hodgson’s deal, with an eight-year value of $6.33M. Since this was a more traditional buyout, the cap impact varies.

The Sabres are also “burying” the Matt Moulson deal in the AHL at the moment. His near-$4M cap hit won’t expire until after 2018-19, so there’s a jarring sum of dead money on Buffalo’s payroll. You might even say it sort of makes the debate about paying Jack Eichel $10M per year feel a little moot?

The Bobby Bonilla Bunch

Ehrhoff belongs in a select group that feels a lot like the Bobby Bonillas of hockey.

Allow an explanation: as ESPN’s Darren Rovell noted a couple years ago, the New York Mets are slated to pay Bonilla a bit more than $1M every year through 2035.

A man who last played 5,381 days ago owns this day. Not just this July 1, but every July 1 through 2035. It’s the day when the New York Mets pay him $1,193,248.20.

Let’s take a look at a handful of buyouts that are eye-popping in cost and duration, even if they’re not Bonilla-bombastic. Cap Friendly has a handy tool for this, so if you want to entertain yourself, sort the different categories.

PLAYER TEAM DATE VALUE LENGTH LAST YEAR
Vincent Lecavalier TBL Jun 27, 2013 $32,666,667 14 2026-27
Rick DiPietro NYI Jun 3, 2013 $24,000,000 16 2028-29
Ilya Bryzgalov PHI Jun 25, 2013 $23,000,000 14 2026-27
Brad Richards NYR Jun 20, 2014 $20,666,667 12 2025-26
Alexei Yashin NYI Jun 6, 2007 $17,632,000 8 2014-15
Mikhail Grabovski TOR Jul 4, 2013 $14,333,333 8 2020-21
Alexander Semin CAR Jun 30, 2015 $14,000,000 6 2020-21
Ehrhoff BUF Jun 29, 2014 $12,000,000 14 2027-28
Mike Ribeiro ARI Jun 27, 2014 $11,666,667 6 2019-20
Stephen Weiss DET Jun 30, 2015 $10,000,000 6 2020-21

Interesting stuff, eh?

Here’s hoping Ehrhoff enjoys himself after hanging up his skates. If nothing else, that buyout should provide him with some … walking around money.

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 all three first-round picks to entry-level contracts

Getty
10 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights front office had a pretty busy day on Saturday.

After signing restricted free agents Brendan Leipsic and Griffin Reinhart to two-year contracts, the team also announced that it has signed all three of its first-round draft picks, Cody Glass (No. 6 overall), Nick Suzuki (No. 13 overall) and defenseman Erik Brannstrom (No. 15 overall) to three-year, entry-level contracts.

Thanks to a series of expansion draft dealings, the Golden Knights were able to stockpile draft picks including two additional first-rounders on top of their own pick at No. 6.

General manager George McPhee opted to keep all of them and not package them to move up in the draft, selecting the trio of Glass, Suzuki and Brannstrom.

Suzuki was selected with the No. 13 overall pick that originally belonged to the Winnipeg Jets. Vegas acquired that pick in a trade for Columbus’ first-round pick (which had been acquired by Vegas in a previous trade) in exchange for Vegas taking Chris Thorburn in the expansion draft.

The No. 15 pick, used to select Brannstrom, belonged to the New York Islanders and was sent to Vegas, along with Mikhail Grabovski, Jake Bischoff and a 2019 second-round pick to ensure that Vegas selected goaltender Jean-Francois Berube in the expansion draft.

Related

Vegas signs Leipsic, Reinhart to two-year contracts.

Top pick Nico Hischier signs entry-level contract

Vegas locks up former Ranger Lindberg: two years, $3.4M

Getty
5 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights announced the signing of Oscar Lindberg to a two-year, $3.4 million contract on Tuesday.

Lindberg, 25, was Vegas’ expansion-draft selection from the New York Rangers, who addressed his departure (and arguably the trade of Derek Stepan) with a move of their own in landing David Desharnais.

Lindberg was still, to some extent, proving himself with the Rangers, who amassed the sort of depth that forced him to battle for minutes. He saw his average TOI drop from 12:11 in 2015-16 to just 10:50 per contest last season.

Even then, he’s shown glimpses of being an interesting piece, and Lindberg should get a golden opportunity to show what he can do with the Golden Knights.

Cap Friendly places their forward spending at $40 million after this signing, although the likes of David Clarkson and Mikhail Grabovski inflate those numbers quite a bit.

Vegas Golden Knights name their team

32 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights are taking shape.

After completing a cavalcade of trades, the Knights picked 30 players from each existing NHL team in today’s expansion draft. Vegas was obligated to select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies.

The players were announced in reverse order from last season’s standings.

From the Avalanche: Calvin Pickard (G)

From the Canucks: Luca Sbisa (D)

From the Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen (F)

From the Devils: Jon Merrill (D)

From the Sabres: William Carrier (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires 2017 sixth-round draft pick

From the Red Wings: Tomas Nosek (F)

From the Stars: Cody Eakin (F)

From the Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires Reilly Smith (F), Panthers receive 2018 fourth-round draft pick

From the Kings: Brayden McNabb (D)

From the Hurricanes: Connor Brickley (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires 2017 fifth-round draft pick

From the Jets: Chris Thorburn (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires 2017 first-round draft pick and 2019 third-round draft pick, Jets get 2017 first-round pick (acquired by Vegas from CBJ)

From the Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (F)

From the Lightning: Jason Garrison (D)
Trade: Vegas acquires Nikita Gusev (F), 2017 second-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick

From the Islanders: Jean-Francois Berube (G)
Trade: Vegas acquires Mikhail Grabovski (F), Jake Bischoff (D), 2017 first-round draft pick, 2019 second-round draft pick

From the Predators: James Neal (F)

From the Flames: Deryk Engelland (D)
Signing: Engelland gets one-year contract with AAV of $1 million

From the Maple Leafs: Brendan Leipsic (F)

From the Bruins: Colin Miller (D)

From the Senators: Marc Methot (D)

From the Sharks: David Schlemko (D)

From the Blues: David Perron (F)

From the Rangers: Oscar Lindberg (F)

From the Oilers: Griffin Reinhart (D)

From the Canadiens: Alexei Emelin (D)

From the Ducks: Clayton Stoner (D)
Trade: Vegas acquires Shea Theodore (D)

From the Wild: Erik Haula (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires Alex Tuch (F), Wild get third-round draft pick in 2017 or 2018
Signing: Haula gets three-year contract worth AAV of $2.75 million

From the Blue Jackets: William Karlsson (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires David Clarkson (F), 2017 first-round draft pick, 2019 second-round draft pick

From the Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk (D)

From the Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
Trade: Vegas acquires second-round draft pick in 2020

From the Capitals: Nate Schmidt (D)

ROSTER BY POSITION
Forwards:
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Connor Brickley
William Carrier
David Clarkson
Cody Eakin
Mikhail Grabovski
Nikita Gusev
Erik Haula
William Karlsson
Brendan Leipsic
Oscar Lindberg
Jonathan Marchessault
James Neal
Tomas Nosek
David Perron
Teemu Pulkkinen
Reilly Smith
Chris Thorburn
Alex Tuch

Defensemen:
Jake Bischoff
Deryk Engelland
Alexei Emelin
Jason Garrison
Brayden McNabb
Jon Merrill
Marc Methot
Colin Miller
Luca Sbisa
David Schlemko
Griffin Reinhart
Nate Schmidt
Clayton Stoner
Shea Theodore
Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goalies:
Jean-Francois Berube
Marc-Andre Fleury
Calvin Pickard