Golden Knights’ second act shaping up to rival their first

1 Comment

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch had to have faith.

When the Vegas Golden Knights decided to send them to the minors at the start of last season, Theodore and Tuch chose to believe what general manager George McPhee told them.

”The message was that we were part of the future of this team and he definitely saw us in that long-term plan,” Theodore said.

Within weeks, they were back in the NHL as part of the fastest-starting expansion team in history and played significant roles in the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Each player got a long-term contract before he played his first game this season, and they weren’t alone as McPhee went about the process of turning Vegas from a one-year wonder into a perennial title contender.

He locked up 75-point forward Jonathan Marchessault through 2024, signed face-of-the-franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a three-year extension, inked defenseman Nate Schmidt to a six-year contract that begins next season, signed center Paul Stastny as a free agent and acquired big winger Max Pacioretty in a trade with Montreal. Those moves have paid off so far with Vegas five points back of first place in the Pacific Division and looking like its second act could rival its first.

”We have a couple guys signed long term, and it’s fun because it means that we have a core and we’re building something,” Marchessault said. ”You want to be part of a story as a hockey player, and it feels like we’re part of one here.”

The Golden Knights’ story was a fairy tale: A team that looked on paper like it would be among the worst in the league won its division and steamrolled to the final before losing to McPhee’s former team, the Washington Capitals, in five games. Marchessault said he felt in June like this team could be a legitimate threat for years to come.

McPhee’s job was to ensure that. The veteran executive who got to build the Golden Knights from scratch through a wildly successful expansion draft understood he had the benefit of not having to dig out from bad contracts. But he also shouldered the burden of drawing up a whole host of new ones after one season during which seemingly everyone overachieved.

”We did have a lot of work to do because most of the guys that we acquired were either free agents or were on one-year deals and their deals had matured and it was time to negotiate again,” McPhee said. ”And we just thought, we know what they are, we’re comfortable projecting what they will be in the future and we had the cap space, so why not use it now because cap space is like perishable inventory. If you don’t use it, it’s gone at the end of the year. We just wanted some cost certainty moving forward, so it would help us to plan for things better in the future.”

Fleury got $7 million a year, Schmidt, $5.95 million, Theodore, $5.2 million, Marchessault, $5 million and Tuch, $4.75 million. Fleury leads the NHL with 26 wins, Schmidt has played over 23 minutes a game since returning from suspension, Theodore leads Vegas defensemen with 21 points and Tuch and Marchessault are 1-2 on the team in scoring.

Beyond cost certainty, it was money smartly spent to keep morale up, raise expectations and get bang for owner Bill Foley’s buck.

”When you have a guy believe in you like that, sign you to that kind of a term, you don’t want to make him look bad and I think every night you want to go out and you want to play your best,” said Theodore, who is under contract through 2025. ”I think it’s been paying off for us and hopefully will in the future.”

Even though only wingers James Neal and David Perron and defenseman Luca Sbisa aren’t back from the core group that went to the Cup final, McPhee couldn’t stand pat and think success would repeat itself. He consciously added Stastny, Pacioretty and Nick Holden to replace the lost production and provide an influx of talent.

”When you’re a couple games away from winning, I think you’ve got to try and do whatever you can,” Schmidt said. ”You have to add something in order to beat the best teams.”

The way Pacioretty looks at it, McPhee wasn’t scanning the aisles. He was shopping off a specific list. They weren’t part of the playoff run – Stastny was on the Winnipeg Jets team that Vegas beat in the Western Conference final – but brought some more balance.

”They wanted guys like me and Stas to come in and play a little bit of a two-way game,” Pacioretty said. ”That’s how we want to help our team. We know that especially offensively that this team last year had guys who were relied upon every night to create. And we still want to be those guys coming in, but we also know that there’s areas on both sides of the puck that we can help this team.”

Injuries have hampered Pacioretty and Stastny so far, but they and the Golden Knights will really be judged in the playoffs. After falling three victories short of a championship, players feel like they have what it takes to win this time and for years to come.

”As our owner said at the beginning of the year, we just don’t want to be a winning team. We want to have a winning franchise,” Marchessault said. ”Last year we really felt like we have something special, and we have some unfinished business.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jets prepared for Western Conference showdown vs. Golden Knights

5 Comments

Patrik Laine hasn’t forgotten how the Western Conference Final turned out. After the Winnipeg Jets topped the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1, 4-2, the NHL’s newest expansion team didn’t lose again in the series en route to a place in the Stanley Cup Final.

So when the Golden Knights visit the Jets Tuesday night at MTS Centre, some revenge will be on the minds of Laine and his teammates.

“Obviously, they kicked our ass in the playoffs,” Laine said Monday. “We want to win [Tuesday] and get the two points.”

The two points will be huge for either team as the Jets, who have played the fewest games (45) among the top three teams in the Central Division, look to extend their division lead, and the Golden Knights try to remain red-hot and chip away at the Calgary Flames’ lead in the Pacific Division.

Both teams have a pair of tests this week after the conference final rematch Tuesday. Vegas heads home to welcome a Pittsburgh Penguins team on Saturday that’s playing very well. Winnipeg hops on a plane to visit the Nashville Predators on Thursday.

“The games will bring their own intensity,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “Against the teams that aren’t right now in the playoff picture, our record is spectacular. So we haven’t taken anybody lightly. The challenges for us these next two games aren’t that. It would be playing well against good teams when you’re in the middle of a pretty good grinder missing some guys (Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien, Nikolaj Ehlers). Not excuses.”

Tuesday’s matchup will also be the first time Paul Stastny sees his old pals since leaving in free agency during the summer. After an October injury kept him sidelined for two months, the 33-year-old forward has resumed compliling the points and has 13 in 18 games this season.

Stastny’s return has certainly helped Vegas in their second year to maintain the successful results they experienced in 2017-18. A slow start to the season has turned into a two-month run that’s seen them take 43 out of a possible 56 points over their last 28 games (20-5-3).

Maybe another rematch in mid-May is in the cards?

“Now they look as powerful, if not more, than they did at any point last year. They’re a year further into their program,” Maurice said. “They still have that real veteran team. They don’t have a lot of kids in that lineup. And they’re deep. They’ll go four lines all night long.”

————

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.

Reaves, Carrier play Santa, elf to spread Christmas cheer

Getty Images

Ryan “Santa” Reaves and William “Elf” Carrier were out spreading Christmas cheer on Saturday afternoon.

Reaves, decked out in a Santa suit, and Carrier, who had his elf garb on, greeted kids in style as they rolled in on a carriage with two ponies dressed as reindeer leading the way.

“Santa is going to roll up to the rink and bring some kids that, maybe, don’t have the luxury of coming to a hockey game, bring them some toys, some VGK swag and tell them they’re coming to the game,” Reaves said in a video done by the Golden Knights.

Gotta believe it was hot in both of those suits, being the desert and all.

We’re not sure if Reaves will make it as a singer once his career is over.

Santa, however, he might have a shot at.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Watch all four episodes of ‘Desert Gold,’ NBC Sports’ digital series about the Golden Knights

Getty Images

As part of a four-part series chronicling the first-year success of the Vegas Golden Knights, NBC Sports created “Desert Gold,” which took a look at the Stanley Cup run the team had in its inaugural NHL season. It also provided an in-depth look at the relationship between Las Vegas tradition and the Golden Knights.

Episode 1 – The Golden Knights and their fans detail how the team lifted and healed a heartbroken city after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

Episode 2 – A look at the birth of the Golden Knights with a behind-the-scenes look at exactly what it took to bring a professional sports team to Las Vegas.

Episode 3 – Taking a closer look at how the Golden Knights created and designed a spectacle that would exceed all expectations in the entertainment capital of the world.

Episode 4 – Explaining how the Golden Knights found success with a roster of quality players with the drive to always improve.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

————

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.

————

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.

Reaves: Autographed photos of Wilson injury destroyed

40 Comments

However you feel about Ryan Reaveshit on Tom Wilson, the fallout hasn’t been pretty.

Reaves was ejected from the Vegas Golden Knights’ 5-3 win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, and that ended up being the extent of discipline, as he was not suspended. Wilson needed to be helped off of the ice following that check; it was an ugly sight, as Wilson’s helmet came off during the fall, leaving him without protection when his head hit the ice.

In the locker room after the win, Reaves addressed the hit as such: “[H]e was looking at his pass and ran into a lion in the jungle.”

It’s bad enough to say that in the locker room after the game, when emotions can still be high, and before it was essentially confirmed that Wilson suffered a concussion.

The ill-advised decisions didn’t stop there, however, as Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Ian Oland reported that Reaves autographed photos of the aftermath of the hit for a company named “Inscriptagraphs.”

The Washington Post’s Scott Allen tracked down some screengrabs of Inscriptagraphs’ Instagram page (say that five times fast), noting that the company described the autographed photo as “the must-have Christmas gift of the year.” Yikes.

Inscriptagraphs

If nothing else, Reaves & Co. realized that it was not wise to go down that road.

As the first sign that cooler heads prevailed, the Inscriptagraphs website took down the listing. Reaves told Jesse Granger of The Athletic that he did indeed sign those photos, but eventually had a change of heart, prompting them to be destroyed. It was noted that the photos were destroyed:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Ed Graney had a bit more, including Reaves hinting that it’s not unusual to sign bad things?

“I’ve signed a lot worse, but in this age of social media and concussions, and the fact (Wilson) was hurt, you never want to see that,” Reaves said. “I called the guy (at Inscriptagraphs) right away, and we took care of it before it got out.”

Vegas Golden Knights PR rep Eric Tosi also told ESPN and the Washington Post that they “were not distributed and they have been destroyed.”

One would think that this will be the end of this sordid saga, beyond Wilson’s recovery process stemming from that concussion, as the two teams won’t meet again during the 2018-19 regular season. With Reaves avoiding supplemental discipline, it’s tough to imagine more coming from this.

Keeping this ugly story in the headlines does bring to mind the NHL’s wider confusion with supplemental discipline, though.

With Matt Dumba avoiding a suspension for a highly questionable hit in Thursday’s Flames – Wild game, it’s sometimes difficult to work out through the league’s muddled messages about what “the line” really is. It’s something Capitals players discussed following that Reaves hit on Wilson Tuesday, as Granger reported (sub required).

“Who knows anymore? I don’t feel like anyone knows what’s going on anymore,” Brett Connolly said. “I don’t know if it was to the head or the top of the shoulder, but it’s still one of those hits they’re trying to get out of the game. They have a tough job, those refs. It’s a quick game. They have a tough job and they’re trying to call it the way they’re being told from people a lot higher than me and you. So we’re just trying to as players figure it out too. It’s tough.”

Connolly hits on a point about hits by Reaves, Dumba, and Wilson too: there are a lot of frame-by-frame breakdowns of checks that blur the line. Was the head the primary point of contact? Did the offending hitter’s skates leave the ice? How late was it?

But are we losing sight of the big picture by diving into the hyper-specific details?

Capitals coach Todd Reirden believed that Reaves was targeting Wilson all game long, and the situation devolved into that hit. As we learn more about the impact concussions have on the lives of athletes (and everyday people), you wonder if the league might need to take less of a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to these “feuds.”

Sure, there’s a “nature of the beast” element to all of this, as hockey’s a violent, physical game. Yet, plenty of these hits can feel predatory in nature. Was an offending hit really a hockey play? Perhaps the Department of Player Safety needs to consider setting new precedents about how they police interference, as just one example of contexts when dangerous hits can happen. The league should at least consider common sense ways to try to cut down on these cloudy, borderline situations.

It’s unclear how long Wilson will be sidelined with this concussion. The winger (who scored 14 points in 11 games in a red-hot run returning from his lengthy suspension) missed Thursday’s Capitals win against the Coyotes, and the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan believes that Wilson will miss Saturday’s action, too.

He’s currently labeled day-to-day, a descriptor that’s even hazier than the league’s stance on borderline hits.

Hopefully NHL players will be more clear-eyed when it comes to how they conduct themselves following controversial hits in the future, though.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV 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.