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Long-term outlook for Vegas Golden Knights

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

If you showed a non-hockey fan the salary structures of all 31 NHL teams, they’d probably not choose the Golden Knights as the team that’s only in the middle of its third season.

Rather than looking like they just entered the NHL, the Golden Knights are remarkably “established.” Consider their significant long-term commitments, which include luring players to Vegas:

That’s a lot of money, quite a bit of term, and many of those contracts include no-movement and/or no-trade clauses. Our Golden Knights are all grown up, already, folks.

On the bright side, a lot of those contracts are quite team-friendly. Theodore at $5.2M and Karlsson at $5.9M both stand out among the best deals (at least after Marchessault took a step back, and Tuch’s dealt with injury issues).

Few teams boast a strong mix of two top lines and some nice, prime-age defensemen at reasonable prices for considerable terms, let alone one that wouldn’t be old enough to go to Kindergarten. Yet, here we are with the Golden Knights.

[PHT Power Rankings: Where do Golden Knights rank among best and worst long-term outlooks?]

Long-term needs for Golden Knights

For some time, the Golden Knights experienced a serious need for a backup behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Considering that he’s 35, they had to know that MAF-or-bust wasn’t going to work forever. It sunk in 2019-20, to the point that they brought in Robin Lehner.

With Lehner being splendid during the past two years, and being much younger (in hockey terms) at 28, I can’t help but wonder if Vegas might try to be bold and keep Lehner around.

Doing so would require some juggling, possibly including trying to convince MAF to accept a trade … but it’s something the Golden Knights should at least consider.

Beyond figuring out goaltending depth one way or another — this free agent crop does look good, even beyond Lehner — Vegas faces the challenges most competitive teams do during this salary cap era. While I’d argue that Vegas is deeper than most, the Golden Knights could still use more help up and down the lineup.

Long-term strengths for Golden Knights

Under the assumptions you’d make about an expansion team, you’d expect the Golden Knights to possess a strong prospect pool. That they do, with the Golden Knights placing 10th on Scott Wheeler’s rankings at The Athletic (sub required), as one recent example.

When you pour over the details, the Golden Knights compiling a strong pool gets more impressive.

After all, the Golden Knights haven’t ever drafted higher than sixth (Cody Glass in 2017). They didn’t make a first-round selection in 2018, and only picked 17th (Peyton Krebs) in the 2019 NHL Draft.

In enjoying unexpected contention, Vegas also paid up for rentals and significant additions, bleeding picks and prospects like Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki.

Despite losing key assets, the Golden Knights still managed to bulk up on prospects, giving them a strong chance of supplementing their current stars as they get older. Ideally, a Glass or Krebs may pick up the slack when players like Pacioretty run out of steam.

Beyond Pacioretty and Fleury, a lot of key Golden Knights are either in or around their primes. That Stone price tag might eventually be rough, but right now he’s a two-way superstar, and the Golden Knights can win plenty of best-on-best battles.

When you ponder the big picture, few teams enjoy a better long-term outlook than the Golden Knights.

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Record: 39-24-8 (86 games), first in the Pacific Division, third in the Western Conference.
Leading Scorer: Max Pacioretty – 66 points – (32 goals, 66 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

• Traded Chandler Stephenson to Capitals for a 2021 fifth-round pick.

• Acquired Alec Martinez from Kings for second-round picks in 2020, 2021.

• Traded Cody Eakin to Jets for a 2021 conditional fourth-round pick.

• Acquired Nick Cousins from Canadiens for 2021 fourth-round pick.

• As part of a three-team deal, acquired Robin Lehner, traded a 2020 fifth-round pick to Maple Leafs, traded Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin, and a 2020 second-round pick to Blackhawks.

Season Overview

Did the crushing end to 2018-19 affect the Golden Knights’ start to this season? It may have played a role, but the biggest issue was goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban could not provide support to a high-powered offense and a team that has been among the best in the possession department.

That weakness ultimately led to Gerard Gallant’s dismissal in January as the team sported a 24-19-6 record. At the time, Vegas had the third-best Corsi in the NHL (54%), were top-10 in 5-on-5 scoring, and had the best expected goals percentage (106.93). But a .985 PDO and a .911 even strength save percentage were anchors on a contending team. It all set up Peter DeBoer, who replaced Gallant after being fired by the Sharks in December, in prime position to help a rebound.

Through Vegas’ 22 games under DeBoer there were slight improvements in those weak areas. Special teams and goaltending were slightly better, but between the pipes remained an issue. Fleury’s ESSV% is his worst in nearly a decade, which is why general manager Kelly McCrimmon went out and acquired Robin Lehner at the trade deadline. The Golden Knights experienced a small sample of what the Swedish netminder can do with only three appearances before the NHL pause. But should we have a resumption of play for this season, Vegas will clearly be a big contender coming out of the Western Conference after strengthening that area.

In spite of their goaltending and special teams, the Golden Knights hummed along to atop the Pacific Division through 71 games. Four players — Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault — each topped the 20-goal mark. Shea Theodore is currently fifth among defensemen with 13 goals and early-season addition Chandler Stephenson has found a role in Vegas with 22 points in 41 games.

DeBoer has only had 22 games behind the Golden Knights’, so his impact may not be felt for some time. The goaltending decision will be an interesting one depending on if the NHL resumes with the regular season or goes right to the playoffs. Fleury, who has two more seasons at a $7M cap hit remaining, has been outplayed by Lehner, a pending unrestricted free agent, this season. With Vegas a Cup contender, it should be an easy choice who to ride out the rest of this unique season with.

Highlight of the Season: Nic Petan surely thought he had a goal until Fleury did his thing:

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments of 2019-20
Golden Knights’ long-term outlook

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

Looking at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.

2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

Record: 31-31-9 (71 points in 71 games), fifth in the Atlantic Division, 12th in East
Leading Scorer: Tomas Tatar – 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

It’s tempting to summarize the Habs’ last two seasons by making a parallel with Max Domi‘s past two years.

Heading into 2018-19, people mocked Domi for his previous season’s goals total (nine) following the Alex Galchenyuk trade. They made fun of Marc Bergevin as his moves looked, at that moment, quite regrettable. Then Domi and the Canadiens played really well, and almost made the playoffs.

Of course, almost everything went right for Domi (easily career-highs in goals [28] and points [72]) and the Canadiens in 2018-19 … yet they didn’t make the playoffs.

Both Domi and the Habs performed reasonably well in 2019-20, but they also cooled off. Domi was fine, really (17 goals, 44 points falling in line with the strong start to his Coyotes career), yet people were likely let down after he set expectations higher.

Naturally, boiling things down to a Domi comparison simplifies things too much.

Really, if you’re going to gripe about any top Habs player, it might be Carey Price — or more accurately, the goaltending overall. Or maybe luck?

The Canadiens looked strong by just about every five-on-five measure, from sheer shot shares to controlling high-danger chances. They simply couldn’t finish (8.6 shooting percentage), get enough saves (.900 save percentage as a team), and continued to struggle on the power play (17.74 percent success rate).

This all leaves the Canadiens in a strange place. Bergevin isn’t quite as worthy of ridicule as before — even the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade looked better with time — but he also couldn’t capitalize on Price’s prime.

Now what? The Habs haven’t been tanking, making their long-term future look good (thanks to some smart picks and maneuvering) but maybe not great. In the short term, any path to postseasons seems bumpy as long as the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs already seem primed to hog the Atlantic’s top three spots most years.

(Honestly? As often as the Panthers shoot themselves in the foot, many would still take their foundation over Montreal’s thanks to Florida’s value-heavy, impressive forward group.)

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Canadiens

Is it too crass to argue that it was Bergevin turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder and conditional fourth-rounder via the Scandella trades?

Maybe zoom out and ponder the bucket of picks Montreal landed by moving out inessential parts in Cousins, Thompson, Reilly, and Kovalchuk? There was a lot of “something from nothing” in Bergevin’s work once it was clearer that Montreal’s 2019-20 ceiling was fairly low. Cap Friendly’s chart of Canadiens picks tells the story of a team that landed a lot of volume:

2019-20 Canadiens draft picks and beyond

Sure, you could argue that the Canadiens lack the “premium” picks of, say, their division rivals in Ottawa. But such a bulk of picks opens up options for Bergevin. He can try to trade up, or maybe shake loose some talent by moving his picks for roster players.

For all we know, not trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry could end up being a highlight, too.

If you want a more hockey-related highlight, try the Canadiens’ early-season run.

After starting 1-1-2, the Canadiens rumbled their way to an 11-5-3 record by mid-November. Unfortunately for the Habs, it was not a sign of a larger rise, as they entered the pause at 31-31-9.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:

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’ DeBoer not in favor of bye week (or tournament for top draft pick)

Peter DeBoer not in favor of bye week lottery tournament Golden Knights
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It sounds like Peter DeBoer isn’t fond of some outside-the-box hockey ideas for whenever play might resume. Specifically, DeBoer objected to a) a playoff format that would involve bye week(s) and b) a tournament to determine which team gets the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

DeBoer addressed those issues and more during a March 31 interview with ESPN on Ice’s Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. The Golden Knights’ head coach also reiterated to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that he’s not in favor of a “bye” week-type setup on April 3 (sub required).

DeBoer: not in favor of a bye week/more than 16 NHL playoff teams

DeBoer told ESPN on Ice that he wants the Stanley Cup to be awarded in a way that the winning team wouldn’t need an “asterisk.”

Even so, he’d ask the NHL’s planners to thread the needle. DeBoer doesn’t want more than 16 teams in a playoff format, but also wants things to be fair. Around the 28-minute mark of the podcast, DeBoer indicated that he’d prefer sacrificing some rest if it meant that the Golden Knights would be less rusty in a postseason situation.

” … There’s a huge advantage to having played games,” DeBoer said.

Of course, DeBoer calls for a typical format with his Golden Knights ranked first in the Pacific Division. Would he feel the same way if Vegas was ranked outside of the wild card, but with games in hand, or some other fuzzy situation?

Even DeBoer hinted at seeing things differently if his team wasn’t in such a comfortable spot.

“I’m more in favour of the traditional format,” DeBoer said to LeBrun. “Although I understand that we’re not a bubble team and I’m sure for my good friend Paul Maurice (in Winnipeg) it’s different when you’re either just in or just out depending on whether they (use) points percentage or not. But yeah I prefer the traditional route.”

DeBoer shoots down tournament for the top pick

DeBoer made some great points to Kaplan and Wyshynski about the potential downsides of a hypothetical tournament to determine the top pick.

As a coach who’s been behind the bench for some lottery teams, DeBoer addressed the elephant in the room. When you’re suffering through a lousy season, you just want it to end as soon as possible.

Now, some would debate DeBoer’s assertion that fans might not have an “appetite” for a No. 1 pick tournament. Maybe that would be true for fans during a typical season, but under these circumstances, I’d imagine there would be a lot of interest to see a lottery tournament of sorts.

From fans, at least. It would be strange not just for the coaches, but also the players involved. After all, how much should a current player care about their team landing that draft’s top pick? Maybe a “core” player would see the value, but plenty of others 1) wonder if they’ll even play for that team much longer and 2) would view a better pick as a bigger threat to their spot.

There’d be serious cognitive dissonance to playing high-stakes games to possibly hurt your career. After all, a higher draft pick is that much more likely to push players down the depth chart, or off of it altogether. So DeBoer definitely makes some good points.

DeBoer backed up earlier comments made by Los Angeles Kings coach Todd McLellan.

(Then again, players might warm up to the idea if … say, playing a lottery tournament cut down on their money lost from escrow. Just throwing it out there.)

More from DeBoer

That ESPN on Ice interview (from 26-minute mark to 38) is worth your time, as DeBoer also discusses:

  • Load management: DeBoer was asked the question if things get congested between a modified end to 2019-20 while getting in a full 82 games. His general takeaway is that, while not often using healthy scratches, teams already practice subtle load management.

(Personally, I still think NHL teams could do more, and smart ones might benefit in the long run.)

It’s one thing for Brad Marchand to land on such a list. But Cousins is funnier because … well, he might not always walk the walk. At least at the NHL level.

  • Among other things, DeBoer also spoke about the strange transition of becoming Golden Knights head coach after being fired by the hated Sharks. He seems to indicate that it wasn’t as awkward as one might think.

DeBoer gives us a lot to ponder thanks to those two interviews. Do you agree with DeBoer on avoiding a bye week and not having a No. 1 pick tournament?

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.

Winners and losers of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline

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A busy day of movement around the NHL has come to an end. There were plenty of big names who were dealt today, as well as a number of draft picks heading to teams hoping to be a club adding pieces at this time of year in the future.

It was a record day of trades, according to the NHL. There were 32 deals made on Monday involving 55 players, breaking the record of 31 trades set at the 2010 deadline. The 2018 and 2019 deadlines combined only saw a total of 38 trades.

So now that the 3 p.m. ET deadline has passed, who are the winners and losers?

Let us know in the comments who you think had the best and worst day.

NHL Trade Deadline tracker
PHT Trade Deadline Live Blog

WINNER: Rob Blake

Already with a strong prospect pool, the Kings GM added to it with a bevy of deals as the franchise retools for the future. Blake turned Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez, and Derek Forbort into two 2020 second-rounders, a 2020 third-rounder, a 2021 second-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-rounder, a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick, Trevor Moore, and the rights to Tyler Madden. Let’s also not forget he sent Martinez to the Golden Knights and managed to not have to retain any salary for a player whose contract expires after next season.

Canucks strengthen up front by acquiring Tyler Toffoli

LOSER: Joe Thornton

Maybe he didn’t want a trade, or maybe there wasn’t an option that intrigued GM Doug Wilson enough. But while long-time teammate Patrick Marleau gets to chase after a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, Thornton remains in San Jose on a team that is going nowhere, wasting what might be one of his last chances at a championship. — Gretz

WINNER: Embarrassing photos from your youth

Thank you, Christina Marleau.

LOSER: Calgary Flames

With a banged up defense group, GM Brad Treliving added Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort. But when you see how wide open the Pacific Division is and how the Oilers attacked the deadline, wouldn’t it have been wise for Calgary to bolster up front as well?

WINNER: Don Waddell

Vincent Trocheck, Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei will strengthen their center position and blue line. The Skjei addition, however, is a curious one when you remember that he’s signed for four more years with a $5.25M cap hit and the Hurricanes will need space to re-sign Dougie Hamilton and Andre Svechnikov in the summer of 2022. But for a team that wants to build off last year’s run, they’re certainly better than they were on Sunday.

• Hurricanes send package featuring Haula to Panthers for Trocheck

LOSER: Dale Tallon

Florida is chasing a playoff spot and they send Trocheck out and bring in Haula, Lucas Wallmark and two prospects. Oh, and they made the deal with a team also in the wild card mix. Haula can be a UFA this summer, while Trocheck still has term on his deal. If this was an attempt at a wake-up call by Tallon it’s a weird one. We won’t know if the two prospects will make an impact for years, but for the now there’s a lot of hope that Haula can stay healthy and be productive as he once was.

WINNER: Ilya Kovalchuk and Marc Bergevin

It’s been quite a few months for the Russian forward. After a failed stint in LA, Kovalchuk landed in Montreal, found his passion again and played well and now goes to a Cup contender. Due to that, the Habs GM brought him in for practically nothing and flipped him for a third-round pick. Nice bit of business.

Capitals land Ilya Kovalchuk from Canadiens

LOSER: Everyone hoping for a blockbuster

Since the Coyotes remain in the playoff hunt, it was clear that Taylor Hall was going to stay put. But when rumors started surfacing that the Islanders and Wild had discussed a Zach Parise for Andrew Ladd swap that perked everyone up. Talks between Bill Guerin and Lou Lamoriello, which began about this deal in the summer, never led to anything solid, unfortunately. It would be a complicated deal to make given the salary cap hits for each player, but both reportedly waived their movement clauses to make it happen. Guess we’ll just have to wait until the summer to see if something can be done here.

WINNER: Draft pick hoarders

The climb is too steep, so Bergevin saw the writing on the wall and began looking toward the future. In dealing Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson, Matthew Peca, and Nick Cousins the Habs now have 14 picks in the 2020 draft — a draft they host — and 10 more in 2021. That’s a good amount of assets to stock a prospect cupboard or add some bodies through trades. Or, maybe, through another summer offer sheet?

Same goes for the Senators, who are in a full-on rebuild. GM Pierre Dorion has accumulated 13 picks in the 2020 draft and already has four in the first two rounds in the 2021 draft. Considering how Eugene Melnyk spends his money — sorry, doesn’t like to spend his money — Ottawa will only be able to get to where they want to be by building through the draft.

The Devils have the possibility of owning three first-round picks in 2020 if certain conditions are met following the Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman trades. Detroit has six in the opening three rounds this June, and we already mentioned LA above.

LOSER: Colorado Avalanche

Joe Sakic’s two moves Monday were adding Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Michael Hutchinson. With the injuries they’re currently dealing with and the cap space they own to add some pieces, it’s a surprise they were relatively quiet. Maybe Sakic went all-in on Kreider and that was shot down once he re-signed with the Rangers, or the price set was too much for his liking.

You’d think if Sakic was going to give up a prized prospect like a Bowen Byram it would be for a player with term, but no deal of that nature came to fruition or was even rumored to be a possibility. In his eyes, when Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert, and Mikko Rantanen return, those will be considered Colorado’s additions. We’ll find out in a few months if standing pat was the right move here.

WINNER: Ken Holland

He didn’t complete a massive blockbuster, but the additions of Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Ennis, and Mike Green are strong additions for a team that already has two MVP candidates and is playing in a very winnable division. Depth was their big concern, and they addressed it for a decent price — Gretz

Oilers get Athanasiou from Red Wings; Ennis from Senators

LOSER: Jacob Markstrom

The Canucks goaltender, who has been the team’s MVP this season, is expected to miss the next several weeks after suffering a knee injury over the weekend. That explains why GM Jim Benning went out and acquired Louis Domingue from New Jersey for Zane McIntyre.

Markstrom has played his way into the Vezina and Hart Trophy conversations with what he’s done in Vancouver, and set himself up for a nice raise after July 1.

WINNER: Robin Lehner

He may not get as much playing time as he did in Chicago, but he goes from a sinking ship to a Chicago team that should be a bonafide Stanley Cup contender in Vegas. — Gretz

LOSER: Stan Bowman

He had the right idea, I just don’t know that it worked out the way he thought it would. The Blackhawks absolutely had to trade Lehner and Gustafsson. It would have been nonsensical not to. But everyone in Chicago had to be expecting more than a disappointing young goalie, a prospect, and a second-and third-round pick. Did he overplay his hand? Did he just mess it up? Whatever it is, it was the right idea just seemingly a poor execution of it. — Gretz

WINNER: The Ovechkins

The couple announced their own acquisition on Monday:

LOSER: Overthinking every little thing on Trade Deadline day

Johnny Gaudreau left the ice early on Monday prompting a flurry of speculation that the Flames were about to trade him. Sorry, turns out he just had to pee.

WINNER: New York Rangers

They didn’t trade Chris Kreider and kept him for seven years at a reasonable $6.5M cap hit. GM Jeff Gorton also freed up some cap space for the summer (Tony DeAngelo extension?) and added a first-round pick by sending Brady Skjei to Carolina.

LOSER: New York Rangers

At the same press conference where team president John Davidson announced the Kreider extension he also revealed that Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin were in a Sunday night car accident. Buchnevich is considered day-to-day but Shesterkin suffered a rib injury and will be out for the next several weeks. Welcome back to the fold, Henrik Lundqvist.

WINNER: Boston Bruins

GM Don Sweeney added Ondrej Kase and was able to rid himself of 75% of David Backes’ contract in one move. Kase, when healthy, is a productive forward and signed for $2.6M through the end of next season.

LOSER: Dallas Stars

Jim Nill was in on Joe Thornton, but it was a quiet day in Big D. We know they Stars are strong defensively, but their biggest need was help on offense as they sit in the bottom five in the NHL in goals per game. The pressure is on to win in Dallas and taking an inactive approach to the deadline is a gamble. Defense wins championships, sure, but other contenders around them in West look a step ahead of them up front at the moment.

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