With the offseason in full swing aside from the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final, it’s time to examine what each squad will need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at the Golden Knights.
There’s never a dull moment in Vegas. That thought often applies to the city in general but it also certainly applies to their hockey team. The Golden Knights made a big change in-season to land Jack Eichel which set off a cascade of frequent LTIR placements to keep compliant down the stretch. With a banged-up roster, they came up just short of the playoffs, resulting in a change behind the bench. Between that and their cap situation, GM Kelly McCrimmon has a lot on his plate over the coming weeks.
Hire A New Head Coach
Let’s start with an obvious task. For the second time in their five years of existence, the Golden Knights made a coaching change when Peter DeBoer was dismissed last month after less than three seasons with the team. Vegas certainly didn’t do poorly with him in charge as the team posted a .650 points percentage during the regular season while making the third round of the playoffs in the two seasons before this one. But after missing the postseason this year, an outcome few would have expected in the fall, the change was made.
There is no shortage of veteran coaches available and with Vegas clearly in win-now mode, few expect them to look at a first-time option. Barry Trotz and Bruce Cassidy stand out as two potential candidates although other former NHL bench bosses will be considered as well.
There is plenty to like about where Vegas sits. They’re a perpetually competitive team with a strong nucleus that’s under contract for a while. Spending is certainly never an issue as well. If you’re a coach that’s looking for a spot to try to win right away, this opening may be the most desirable around the league which is good news for McCrimmon as he looks to find his next head coach over the next few weeks.
Free Up Cap Space
Then there’s the other obvious task this summer. Vegas has been dancing around the Upper Limit of the salary cap for several years now with a continual expectation that it’s going to come back to get them soon enough. The challenge for McCrimmon this summer will be freeing up some space without significantly hurting the core.
Let’s look at where things stand. They have $200K in cap space and need to sign at least three forwards and have a healthy backup goalie with Laurent Brossoit having some uncertainty after having hip surgery this summer. Considering the minimum salary remains $750K, there’s clearly some cutting to be done.
The obvious candidate is Evgenii Dadonov. The winger was traded to Anaheim back at the trade deadline without Vegas realizing that Dadonov’s no-trade clause was still in effect and the Ducks were on it. Eventually, the deal was rescinded. To his credit, the 33-year-old didn’t let it be a distraction as he had 16 points in 16 games after the deadline. However, he had a fairly quiet season overall with 20 goals and 23 assists in 78 games, production that is relatively low compared to his $5MM AAV. While the Golden Knights don’t have a deep prospect pool to trade away from or many high draft picks, they’ll need to attach something to get a team that’s on Dadonov’s allowable trade list to take on the final year of his contract.
With Eichel in the fold, Vegas now has a top-line center while Chandler Stephenson has established himself as a quality second option. That could put William Karlsson in some jeopardy. At $5.9MM for the next half-decade, that’s a high price to pay to have premium depth down the middle. He’s coming off a quiet season (35 points in 67 games) but with strong centers always in high demand, there should be some interest on the trade front and it’s worth noting that Karlsson can only block a trade to ten teams.
As for a blueliner that could fit the bill, Alec Martinez is coming off an injury-plagued year that saw him suit up just 26 times. With Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb being proven options on the left side of the back end, Martinez and his $5.25MM for two more years might be a potential cap casualty although he also has trade protection and can block a trade to a dozen teams.
Reilly Smith is set to hit the open market this summer and there is mutual interest in an extension. At a minimum, one significant salary will need to be moved (likely Dadonov) but if they want to keep Smith in the fold, a second one will need to be moved out unless McCrimmon plans to get very creative with his LTIR usage once again.
Nicholas Roy had a breakout season in 2021-22, further bolstering their depth down the middle. After putting up just 15 points in 2020-21, he had 15 goals this season along with 24 assists. He also upped his faceoff percentage to 48.8%, an increase of 4% from the year before. He took a regular turn on both the power play and penalty kill, helping his ATOI improve to a career-best 16:16 per game. That’s quite a nice platform season as Roy enters restricted free agency this summer with arbitration eligibility for the first time.
Between that and Vegas’ cap situation, Roy could be an offer sheet candidate this summer if a deal isn’t done early. With the new thresholds, a team could offer Roy $4.2MM ($4MM more than the Golden Knights have in cap space) and only owe a second-round pick in compensation. For a 25-year-old with two years of team control remaining, that’s more than a reasonable price to pay. With that in mind, McCrimmon will want to try to get this contract done sooner than later if possible to avoid any risk of an offer sheet and also ensure one of his core youngsters will stick around.
Look Into Adding Goalie Depth
Injuries were an issue for Vegas last season, particularly between the pipes. Robin Lehner missed time with four separate injuries spanning 23 games and underwent successful shoulder surgery following a rather bizarre set of events where reports had him needing surgery with DeBoer insisting his starter was available to play. Brush, meanwhile, had hip surgery last month as well. Accordingly, there are some question marks (if Brossoit is still around and not traded as cap relief).
Vegas does have Logan Thompson who did a nice job down the stretch for them and as he’s now waiver-eligible, it’s safe to say he’ll be in the NHL picture.
The Golden Knights have a pair of goalie prospects signed for next season in Jiri Patera and Isaiah Saville but neither have seen NHL action. If they have an injury with the big club – a likely scenario based on recent history – having a veteran option with AHL Henderson that has some NHL experience would be a worthwhile investment. Experienced third-string goalies often bounce around and Vegas should be adding one to give themselves an insurance policy heading into training camp.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.