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Red Wings’ free agent plan at odds with rebuild

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When it comes to putting together their team, the Detroit Red Wings seemingly still believe they can eat their cake and have it too.

It’s fantastic if you can accrue futures and ice a competitive team, but GM Ken Holland’s plan hasn’t exactly worked like gangbusters lately. The Red Wings have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two straight seasons, and before that, they were dispatched in the first round three seasons in a row.

PHT readers have generally disagreed with this one foot in, one foot out style of management.

In August 2017, 70.36 percent of PHT readers voted in favor of a long rebuild for Detroit. Then, in late March 2018, about 73.36 percent of PHT readers believed that Ken Holland wasn’t the right choice to lead a rebuild.

So … yeah, that’s a pretty strong majority of people who questioned the Red Wings’ direction.

Still, there had been promising signs lately. Holland showed some serious aptitude in a key rebuild area by landing a bounty of draft picks for Tomas Tatar. Between deals for Tatar and Petr Mrazek, Holland loaded up on five draft picks.

Better yet, the consensus is that Detroit landed one of the best hauls of the 2018 NHL Draft, including a strong first round where they landed Filip Zadina with the sixth pick and expected mid-first-rounder Joe Veleno with the 30th choice. It seemed like the rest of the weekend went swimmingly, a notion that Detroit Free-Press chronicles here.

This is all fantastic stuff, and Zadina wasted little time in delighting Red Wings fans.

So, the signals are all there, right: the Red Wings are finally turning the page?

Eh, maybe not completely. MLive.com’s Ansar Khan provided a detailed free agent update for Detroit on Thursday, and if most of those situations come to fruition, there’d be some mixed signals. In particular, the belief that the Red Wings might not just give contracts but term to aging veterans is more than a little troubling.

Via Khan, here are some possibilities:

  • The Red Wings seem close to bringing Mike Green back with a two-year deal.

Now, that’s not the end of the world. Green continues to provide offense from the blueline (exactly a point every other game in 2017-18 with 33 in 66 contests), and the Red Wings aren’t exactly teeming with quality defensemen. At 32, Green isn’t ancient, and he wouldn’t rank as a scary 35+ contract.

Green probably qualifies as “an old 32,” though. Injuries have frequently been an issue for the scoring defenseman, and his neck issues are a significant concern. The 2018-19 season will already mark his 14th NHL season.

It’s not as though Green would be the only “seasoned veteran” on defense. Niklas Kronwall is 37 and hurting. Both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 34, and each are signed through 2019-20. As of this writing, Danny DeKeyser is the baby of the non-prospects group at 28, and Detroit probably wishes he wasn’t signed at $5M clip through 2021-22.

Woof.

  • Detroit appears to be one of the frontrunners for goalie Jonathan Bernier, who is no spring chicken himself at 30.

Again, term is where you furrow your brow a bit. Khan reports that the Red Wings might offer Bernier a three-year contract.

That’s quite a bit of term for an aging backup. Now, there’s the possibility that the plan could be to transition the starting job from Jimmy Howard to Bernier, as Howard is entering a contract year. Maybe the Red Wings envision a platoon situation both now and in the future.

Look, Bernier is one of the better goalie options in a shallow market for netminders … but what’s the upside here, really?

  • Finally, Khan reports that the Red Wings might make the nostalgic decision to sign Valtteri Filppula.

For one year, you could make that argument, but Khan reports that a potential deal would be for two seasons instead. For a marginal forward who is already 34 years old.

(Yes, Filppula really is 34 already. Life moves fast, gang.)

***

It’s possible that none of these situations work out. For one thing, Khan reports that Green is hoping for someone to offer up three years.

Loading up on middling veterans would be fine if the gameplan was to give a bunch of players one-year deals as stopgaps while prospects marinate in junior, the NCAA, and the AHL. There’s no denying that the Red Wings like to bring their blue chippers along gradually.

Possibly handing out two or three years of term inspires some discouraging thoughts, however.

Will these veterans serve as an excessive barrier to up-and-comers gaining valuable NHL experience? The Red Wings run the risk of locking themselves into purgatory with moves like these: being too competitive to land more high first-rounders, yet not good enough to contend.

Now, the painful truth is that someone must fall in that range in any given season. The Red Wings are just increasing their odds of being stuck in limbo.

At least there’s still time for them to change their minds, or for those free agents to do it for them by signing elsewhere.

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.

After improbable debut, where do Golden Knights go in year two?

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The Vegas Golden Knights inaugural season was a wonderful statement on the unpredictability, randomness and downright chaotic nature of the National Hockey League.

At the start of the year expectations were about as low as they could have possibly been for an NHL team, and for good reason. It was a roster that was mostly a collection of second-and third-tier players from all over the league where the initial intention was, presumably, to hope enough of them would perform at a high enough level that they could be flipped at the trade deadline for more future assets to continue building an expansion team from the ground up.

It was going to be a brutally tough job for general manager George McPhee.

Then a bunch of wild stuff happened and expectations suddenly changed to something else entirely — win the Stanley Cup. Right now. Not in two years. Not in five years. Not within the decade. Right. Now.

[Related: Welcome to playoff heartbreak, Vegas]

We realized a lot of those second-and third-tier players were maybe better than anyone thought, including the general managers that willingly gave a lot of them away when they didn’t actually need to. The goalie played the best hockey of his life and masked a lot of flaws on defense for most of the playoffs. A forward that had scored 18 goals in 173 career games on an 8 percent shooting percentage coming into the season suddenly could not miss and finished as the league’s third-leading goal-scorer. All of it together pushed them to the Stanley Cup Final where they fell just three wins shy of doing the impossible.

Now that this improbable, magical season has come to an end, McPhee and the Vegas front office have another tough job ahead of them as they try to build on this season.

There are a lot of big questions here that should lead to an absolutely fascinating offseason.

One of the biggest questions facing them is what they do with leading goal-scorer William Karlsson.

Karlsson is a restricted free agent this summer and after scoring 43 goals and being one of the driving forces of the team’s offense is going to be in line for a substantial raise over the $1 million he made during the 2017-18 season. How Vegas handles this is going to be tricky because at no point in his career did he ever play at a level like this. You can’t really pay him like a 40-goal scorer because you don’t know if he is going to ever be this play again, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest he wont. The best hope is that he is willing to sign a “prove it” bridge deal and show what type of player he really is before going all in on him.

Along with Karlsson’s contract situation the Golden Knights have four pretty significant unrestricted free agents in James Neal, David Perron, Ryan Reaves and Luca Sbisa.

Who do they try to keep (Neal?) and who do they say goodbye (Reaves, Perron?) to in free agency?

But perhaps the most enticing question is what they do outside of their own players, because McPhee is going to have seemingly unlimited options.

The Golden Knights will enter the offseason with more salary cap space than nearly every other team in the NHL. They have 27 draft picks over the next three years to deal from. They has a prospect pipeline that includes three top-15 picks from a year ago. They have what might be the greatest free agency sales pitch ever (We just went to the Stanley Cup Final, we have a ton of money to pay you, oh and we play in Las freakin’ Vegas). All of that makes pretty much any player in the NHL that could conceivably be available in play.

They could, if they wanted to, make a serious run at John Tavares and give the team another superstar to build around alongside Marc-Andre Fleury.

They could, if they wanted to, make another run at trading for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson and theoretically pay him whatever market value contract he wants beyond next season. Heck, they could probably go after both him and Tavares given the cap space and assets they have at their disposal.

There is, however, a danger in that sort of approach for this team.

The danger: What if the rest of this team, as currently constructed, simply is not as good as it looked this season? It would not be the first time a team went on a lengthy, unexpected playoff run and then came back the next season and cratered across the board.

What if William Karlsson gets re-signed and regresses back to the 8 percent shooter he was in Columbus and Anaheim only scores 15 goals next season? What if Marc-Andre Fleury goes back to the .915 save percentage he has had for most of his career? What if Reilly Smith goes from being the near point-per-game player he was this season to the 45-50 point player he has been throughout his career? What if Neal and/or Perron leave in free agency and Tomas Tatar can not match what they provided over a full season?

Those are a lot of big, important questions and they are ultimately the ones that will dictate where this team goes in the immediate future, perhaps even more than whatever free agent they can acquire or what trade they can make.

At the start of the year we expected this Vegas team to stink. In hindsight, we had no idea how good they were as they stormed through the Western Conference on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. Funny thing is even after doing that we still probably do not really know how good they are or where they are headed in year two.

That, too, is a wonderful statement on the unpredictability, randomness, and chaotic nature of the National Hockey League.

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.

Reaves sits as Golden Knights tweak Game 5 lineup (Update)

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Update: The rumblings appear to be true. With Vegas’ season on the line, Gerard Gallant decided to add David Perron and William Carries back into the mix. Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter, meanwhile, are healthy scratches.

Will the moves pay off? Click here for the livestream.

***

For the first time this postseason the Vegas Golden Knights are facing elimination when they enter Game 5 against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

For the second game in a row they could be making some changes to their lineup in an effort to change the momentum of the series.

In Game 4 they swapped David Perron for Tomas Tatar, a move that did not really produce the desired results.

Even though coach Gerard Gallant refused to announce or confirm any changes for Game 5 on Thursday, speculation seems to be, based on who did and did not take part in the optional morning skate, that Perron and William Carrier could be back in the lineup in place of Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Reaves.

[Related: Golden Knights could really use one of their fast starts for Game 5]

Both potential moves would be … let’s just say interesting.

Carrier has not played since Game 5 of the second round series against the San Jose Sharks and was playing less than nine minutes per night when he was in the lineup. There probably isn’t much of a difference between him and Reaves on the fourth line, so it would be kind of odd to put him back in at this point. What would be especially bizarre about that switch is the fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Reaves has, quite surprisingly, been one of the Golden Knights’ better lines recently.

Then again, if your fourth line is playing better than your first three lines it probably is not a good thing.

Perron, meanwhile, is still searching for his first goal of the playoffs after finishing the regular season with 16 goals and 66 total points in 70 games. In his two games before being scratched for Game 4 on Monday he had failed to record a shot on goal and was a minus-3 in the Golden Knights’ Game 3 loss. In his past six games he has just a single point (an assist) and only four shots on goal. In four of those six games he has not recorded a single shot on goal.

We will not know for sure what Vegas has planned until game-time.

When their team has lost three games in a row, has scored only five goals (while giving up 12), and is facing elimination in the Stanley Cup Final most coaches will feel the need to do something to try and shake things up and find a spark. Maybe Gallant will find something here.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights look to even Stanley Cup Final vs. Capitals

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Game 4: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (Capitals lead 2-1)
NBC
Call: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here

It was the Alex Ovechkin show for Capitals in Game 3
Golden Knights had no answer for Capitals during ‘unacceptable’ Game 3 loss

Is the curtain beginning to close on the Vegas Golden Knights?
Capitals’ suffocating pressure is frustrating Golden Knights
Why Kuznetsov has been a nightmare to stop during playoffs
Theodore’s struggles have Golden Knights in Cup Final hole
• Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly once again embraces the big stage

• Tomas Tatar gets his chance as Golden Knights make changes for Game 4
Golden Knights don’t need to worry about Marchessault

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

Golden Knights don’t need to worry about Marchessault

While the scale of concern sometimes feels as overblown as the Vegas Golden Knights’ vaunted pre-game presentation (they are only down 2-1), it’s true that the Washington Capitals gave the upstart expansion team a lot to worry about from Games 3 to 4.

Unlike their Western Conference opponents and just about everyone Vegas faced during the regular season, the Capitals found a way to clog up the Golden Knights’ exhilarating transition game. For all the jokes about Vegas “finally becoming an expansion team,” the real worry is that they looked, almost … flat and boring.

The Golden Knights also saw poor work from their second line, to the point that Gerard Gallant is subbing in Tomas Tatar for David Perron heading into Monday’s key Game 4 on NBC.

[Here’s the livestream link for Game 4. You can also enjoy “NHL Live” before the contest here.]

People might also be worried about the play of Vegas’ first line for the first time during this magical run.

After shockingly keeping pace – and in plenty of cases, getting the better of – the likes of Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, and the Winnipeg Jets’ frightening high-end players, the trio of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault is sputtering a bit against the Caps.

Take Marchessault, for instance. Overall, he has a star-status-affirming 19 points in 18 postseason games, but lately things have dried up. The undersized, undrafted, indefatigable forward has only managed a single assist over the past four games, three of which came against Washington.

Does that mean it’s time to say that the pixie dust has worn off? Maybe for some elements of this team, but don’t blame Marchessault. And the Golden Knights shouldn’t worry about him.

For one thing, he’s putting up the sort of volume of shots that would indicate that he’s “due” for some positive bounces, and maybe those good breaks will come as early as tonight.

Despite coming up with zero goals (but two assists) over the past five games, Marchessault generated a whopping 28 shots on goal. That’s Alex Ovechkin-level trigger-happiness.

Did you yawn at those numbers and that chart (how dare you)?

Well, just consider the sports-car-swagger it takes to make a move like this, which was foiled only thanks to a great save by Braden Holtby:

No one wants to hear this, but in the modern NHL, just about every scorer is going to be doomed by poor luck. Or a keyed-in goalie. Or hitting a litany of posts.

It’s only human to get frustrated, and surely Marchessault must be feeling that a bit. Especially since he’s rarely struggled since the Florida Panthers made the Internet-entertaining gaffe of including him with Reilly Smith during the expansion draft.

The concern would be if Marchessault started getting in his own head too much. If the shot totals and highlight clips are any indication, it seems like he’s plugging away admirably.

Now, sure, it wouldn’t hurt if Vegas found a way to reinvigorate their flow to the speedy, exciting levels they’re used to. Such tweaks would help diversify their attack and take a little bit of the burden off of that top line. It also wouldn’t hurt if Reilly Smith has a rebound contest after an up-and-down Game 3 of penalties and mistakes, and if William Karlsson could get a bit more involved in the attack. Both of those scenarios seem reasonable, and maybe likely.

After praising the hardhat work of the fourth line (Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, Tomas Nosek, and Ryan Reaves), Gallant stated that he wanted his top trio to channel energy from the regular season.

“To a point yeah for sure, Belly and those guys play straight line, they work hard, they contain pucks down low and the way they have been successful in this series has been outstanding,” Gallant said. “Do I want Marchy and them playing like Bellemare? No I don’t. I love Belly, he does his job the way he does it, but our first line has to play the way they have played all season long.”

Even with Barry Trotz’s defensive tactics gumming up the works, Marchessault has been the most consistent source of scoring chances for Vegas.

To some, such work might only count under “moral victories,” but Marchessault and his partners would be better off ignoring the noise and keep doing what they’ve been doing. The goals should come … although as Ovechkin can attest, playoff success can be a fickle beast.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.