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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.

Reilly Smith zings Panthers while pondering playing in front of empty arenas

Reilly Smith burns Florida Panthers coronavirus scares empty arenas
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Reilly Smith landed a pretty spicy zinger on his former team, the Florida Panthers, while pondering the prospect of playing in front of empty arenas as coronavirus fears spread.

“I played in an empty building for a couple years in Florida so I’m used to it,” Smith said, according to reporters including The Athletic’s Jesse Granger and The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen.

Simple, sharp, and stinging. That’s how I’d describe that one-liner from Smith.

It also felt inevitable. As teams like the San Jose Sharks come to grips with possibly playing empty arena games, and the Blue Jackets among others try to hold out against doing so, the “well that will be no change for [criticized team]” jokes were going to come. It is, however, refreshingly saucy for a player like Smith to join in on the barbs.

Pondering Reilly Smith dropping that one-liner on the Panthers

This comment makes you wonder if “living well is the best revenge” just wasn’t convincing enough for Smith.

The Panthers were seemingly so eager to get rid of Smith at the expansion draft that they gave up Jonathan Marchessault as well. That decision hasn’t exactly worked out well for Florida, while Smith and Marchessault comprised two-thirds of a line that propelled Vegas to heights that … frankly soared above anything the Panthers have really accomplished.

(Sorry, John Vanbiesbrouck, Ed Jovanovski, and pile of rubber rats.)

Seeing a team give up on you can cause bitterness even if you’re better off elsewhere. One wonders if Smith experienced the jilted feelings of bitterly observing an ex, all while being in a healthier relationship.

Or … you know, Smith just blurted out the one-liner without really thinking about it. That could be it, too.

Either way, it’s honestly pretty fun. We might need that comic relief in this otherwise grim coronavirus situation, too.

MORE ON THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF THE CORONAVIRUS FOR HOCKEY EVENTS

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.

Trying to make sense of Panthers’ plan after Trocheck trade

Panthers trade
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It was only about a month ago that things were really starting to look up for the Florida Panthers.

They were in the middle of a six-game winning streak, had the highest scoring offense in the league, and at least looked like a solid bet to make the playoffs for just the sixth time in franchise history. Given the moves they made over the summer the playoffs should have been a very realistic goal, if not an expectation.

They can still get there, but they are probably only a 50-50 shot (at best) entering the stretch run as they compete with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

On Monday they made one of the most curious decisions at the NHL trade deadline when they dealt forward Vincent Trocheck to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, and two prospects.

It is a strange trade for the Panthers on pretty much every level.

For one, Trocheck is the best player changing teams here and is still signed for a couple of more years at a reasonable salary cap hit.

There’s nothing wrong with Haula and Wallmark as players. They’re legit NHLers and have a place on a good team. But neither one is an upgrade over Trocheck or has the upside that he does when he’s at his best. Haula is also an unrestricted free agent after this season. If he doesn’t re-sign, the trade comes down to Wallmark and the development of two solid-but-not-great prospects.

Even more curious was general manager Dale Tallon’s explanation for the trade. Basically, he just wanted to shake something up for a team that has struggled since the All-Star break.

Via The Athletic’s George Richards:

“Since the All-Star break, our team has really struggled and we wanted to find a way to shake things up and see what would work,” Tallon said on Monday afternoon, an hour after the NHL’s trade deadline for the 2019-20 season had passed.

“The more we got into discussions over the past 10 days or so, teams starting making offers. Some of them were pretty fair, some better than others. We just decided this was the right path to add more depth throughout the organization, for the big club and the minor-league team, and it was conscious from all of us that this was a fair deal and something we should do not only for the present but for the future.”

Something about this just seems flawed. Do you really weigh a couple of weeks so highly that you trade a player that, as recently as the beginning of this season, was considered one of your core players to “add more depth throughout the organization?” Especially when that player’s trade value is probably at a low-point, and without even addressing the team’s biggest current need? And in the middle of a push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a year where you’ve invested millions of dollars and a ton of assets?

If anything the justification at the time could have been that it created enough salary cap space to add a defenseman in another move before the trade deadline, but that did not even happen.

It just seems like less than ideal asset management, something that has been a reoccurring — and significant — problem for the Tallon-led Panthers.

The expansion draft fiasco that saw them give away Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights three years ago has been well documented. Last year they dealt Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann for a collection of spare parts and mid-round draft picks to help clear salary for a free agency splurge. They ultimately landed their prized free agent — goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky — on a massive contract, and then followed that up by putting him behind a porous defensive team that can not stop anyone. Now this trade happens.

In the end it is probably not a trade that is going to ruin the season, and they very well could still end up making the playoffs even after sending Trocheck away. But it is not necessarily the result that is concerning here. It is the process that seemingly went into the decision that is most concerning (panic move when things are going bad, selling key player at low value, questionable asset management). It is the sort of process that has repeatedly burned the Panthers in recent years.

Related: NHL Power Rankings: Teams that improved the most at NHL Trade Deadline

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.

The Buzzer: The David Ayres show; Canucks and Coyotes win big

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. David Ayres, Carolina Hurricanes. Nobody expected this. He started the day as a 42-year-old Zamboni driver. He finished the day 1-0 in the NHL after stopping eight out of 10 shots for the Hurricanes in a 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just for good measure, he also recorded a shot on goal. One of the most incredible stories in recent NHL history. Read all about it right here.

2. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes and Lightning have been at opposite ends of the NHL spectrum over the past month. Tampa Bay has been nearly unbeatable. The Coyotes entered the game with just five wins since the first week of January. So of course it was the Coyotes that cruised to a 7-3 win to help keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. Keller was one of the big stars of the night with two goals and an assist in the win.

3. Tyler Toffoli, Vancouver Canucks. The other rout in the NHL on Saturday took place in Vancouver where the Canucks put a 9-spot on the board against the Boston Bruins. Toffoli was one of the many offensive stars for the Canucks, scoring two goals and an assist in the win. He was the Canucks’ big trade acquisition and is going to need to take on an even larger role than originally expected in the absence of Brock Boeser. He made that impact on Saturday.

Other notable performance from Saturday

  • Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood stayed out for the New Jersey Devils by helping them spoil Alex Ovechkin‘s big day in a 3-2 Devils win.
  • Jack Eichel scored a pair of goals to help the Buffalo Sabres stun the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 5-2 win that was not as close as the final score would indicate.
  • Scott Laughton scored two goals for the Philadelphia Flyers in a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Carey Price recorded a shutout and Max Domi scored twice for the Montreal Canadiens as they topped the Ottawa Senators.
  • Jesper Fast was one of the difference-makers for the New York Rangers as they beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, on Saturday night.
  • Reilly Smith scored two goals against his former team to help the Vegas Golden Knights to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
  • Rocco Grimaldi scored the shootout winner for the Nashville Predators to cap off an eight-round shootout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • Joonas Donskoi‘s shootout winner lifted the Colorado Avalanche to a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Alex Ovechkin scores the 700th goal of his career. Read all about it here (and here).

Artemi Panarin helped the New York Rangers keep rolling on Saturday, and this ridiculous play set up the Rangers’ first goal of the night.

The entire eight-round shootout for the Predators and Blue Jackets.

Moment of the Night

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour addresses his team and his temporary goalie.

Factoids

  • David Ayres became the oldest goalie in NHL history to ever win his debut. [NHL PR]
  • No denying that Ovechkin is not only one of hockey’s all-time greats, but one of the all-time greats in all of major North American sports. [NHL PR]
  • Carolina’s Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 12 games, currently the longest in the NHL. [NHL PR]

Scores

New Jersey Devils 3, Washington Capitals 2
Philadelphia Flyers 4, Winnipeg Jets 2
Buffalo Sabres 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 3
Montreal Canadiens 3, Ottawa Senators 0
New York Rangers 3, San Jose Sharks 2
Arizona Coyotes 7, Tampa Bay Lightning 3
Nashville Predators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO)
Vancouver Canucks 9, Boston Bruins 3
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Florida Panthers 3
Colorado Avalanche 2, Los Angeles Kings 1 (SO)

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.