(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.
Better or Worse: Far worse.
The Golden Knights cringed under a cap crunch during this offseason, losing intriguing KHL import Nikita Gusev, valuable scorer Erik Haula, and underrated defenseman Colin Miller while getting table scraps in return.
Luckily, the Golden Knights have been feasting lately, as Mark Stone is really only getting started after being a late addition around the 2018-19 trade deadline.
Strengths: The Golden Knights’ forward group is remarkable. Stone basically elevates Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to the equivalent of a top line, and Vegas already had one (or, at worst, a strong “1B”) in Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. They also have a top-six-quality winger in Alex Tuch if someone goes cold or gets hurt. Few teams can match that group, and it remains resounding that Vegas built this group up so quickly.
Bonus points if Cody Glass ends up making the team and getting meaningful minutes.
When he’s hot, Marc-Andre Fleury can still steal games for his team.
Weaknesses: It sure feels like the Golden Knights are rolling the dice a bit in net, though. Fleury turns 35 on Nov. 28, and their backup options leave a lot to be desired. That netminder situation sometimes resembles a wobbly Jenga tower.
While I like Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore, and believe the latter may have “another gear,” it’s fair to wonder if the Golden Knights’ defense is a stride or two behind the NHL’s best. They’ve done well to craft a pretty good defense in a short time, but that group isn’t as impressive as their forwards.
Gerard Gallant has made some magic, but like with any NHL head coach, he has his quirks. If he indulges in leaning too much on Fleury, Ryan Reaves, and Deryk Engelland, it could be to the Golden Knights’ detriment.
[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Gallant won the Jack Adams in 2017-18, and has managed to bring Vegas to two playoff berths in as many seasons. About the only glaring criticism you can muster (beyond those smaller aforementioned quirks) is that maybe — just maybe — Gallant could have done more to settle his team down after Cody Eakin drew that notorious major penalty in Game 7 against the Sharks.
Overall, Gallant is pretty safe, although the Golden Knights aren’t shy about spending, so they expect to be a contender. Let’s put Gallant at a two.
Three Most Fascinating Players: Theodore, Glass, and Stone.
Theodore had a cancer scare a few months ago, and thankfully, it sounds like he took care of that matter. Here’s hoping that he’s 100 percent to start the season, because he’s a blast to watch.
Glass is intriguing as a prospect who could, ideally, give Vegas another weapon — if he makes the team.
After a tumultuous final season with the Senators and trade to Vegas, Stone gets to settle in. This could be a good time for those in the hockey world who didn’t already know it to clue into something: he’s probably even better than he’s hyped up to be.
Playoffs or Lottery: With a weak Pacific Division in mind, the Golden Knights should be focused on winning a Stanley Cup, not merely making the playoffs.
It’s strange to say this so early in the team’s existence, but a trip to the lottery would be as disastrous as owing an old mob casino a bunch of money.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.