Hockey in Las Vegas? It will never work.
A year ago people would throw comments like that around and many would agree, and almost nobody would take the time to build a case against it. After one season the Vegas Golden Knights have put that debate to rest for good. Instant success was gratifying, if unexpected, for both the front office and the fans. The question is where do they go from here?
Current odds to win the 2019 Stanley Cup:
- Vegas Golden Knights +1000
The team that takes the ice this coming October and raises its first banner – Pacific Division Champions 2017-2018 – will look a lot different than the one who fell in the Stanley Cup final to the Washington Capitals. Players who were acquired in the expansion draft, and destined to be dealt for future assets at the trade deadline, instead became fixtures on a playoff team on a magical run.
Now the bill comes due. Instead of having even more high picks to add to their impressive stockpile, the Knights will most likely lose at least one of David Perron and James Neal for nothing. This isn’t to say that they should have been traded, I’m not insane. In fact I think the Knights should have recognized how fortunate they were to be in the position they were and added even more firepower.
The price to acquire Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline was exorbitant when compared to other prices paid in the market, and the kicker was he was a frequent healthy scratch in the post season! It’s not a popular opinion to criticize the reigning coach of the year, or reigning GM of the year, but something is amiss if you are scratching someone you just gave up a first, second and third round pick for. My main gripe, and I’m sure it’s shared by more than a few Knights fans, is that the package that acquired Tatar surely would have been more than a starting point towards getting the real prize at the trade deadline Erik Karlsson. They may still get him this off season, but last year’s opportunity, and last year’s roster is never coming back.
Realizing they were ahead of schedule and acting on it would not have been foolish or impulsive. Once you find yourself at the top of the standings you need to “shoot your shot” and improve the team on the ice in as many ways as possible. I would have considered adding Thomas Vanek, who ended up being traded to Columbus. The cost was a non prospect in Tyler Motte, and the Blue Jackets even dumped Jussi Jokinen’s salary in the process. He was an ideal fit due to his power play prowess, and I believe he will be on the list of players they consider in unrestricted free agency beginning this Sunday.
The confidence George McPhee had in coach Gerard Gallant, and the confidence they both had in the teams system definitely worked against them in key spots. Waiver wire pickup Ryan Carpenter and trade throw in Ryan Reaves were consistently in the lineup over more skilled teammates, and were also on the ice in high leverage situations in playoff games. Even the most vocal supporters of Reaves and players of his skill set should be able to admit he is not best suited to defending a lead with three minutes to go, or being on the ice down a goal in an extra attacker situation. Sometimes a role player scores a goal in one of those instances or blocks a shot late in a game in another, and the coach is praised endlessly. I’m of the opinion that in the long run, those decisions cost wins, and in this case probably cost them their best chance at a Cup.
Entering this off season Vegas has more cap space than they could ever spend. Even if they signed Neal and Perron to market rate extensions – $6 million for Neal and $5 million for Perron – they would still have enough room to sign any unrestricted free agent they desire. Considering the holes they have in their roster, and the style of play Gallant employs, I’ll take an educated guess at the players they will pursue.Their most likely targets will be wingers Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner, Tobias Rieder and J.T Brown.
Barring an extremely rare offer sheet, Vegas’ defence should remain intact. Colin Miller and Shea Theodore theoretically should attract offers as restricted free agents, but history tells us it’s unlikely. They probably have room for one more addition with Luca Sbisa slated to leave as an unrestricted free agent. The defense market is extremely thin this summer, but a depth addition like former Ottawa Senator Fredrik Claesson or former New York Islander Brandon Davidson fit the bill. This is assuming that their best prospects Erik Brannstrom and Nicolas Hague are slated to begin the season in the AHL.
In goal is where the most significant decision will be made. As of July 1st playoff hero and face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury will be eligible to sign a contract extension, one year away from unrestricted free agency. With Malcolm Subban occupying the backup position, no real prospects knocking on the door, and a very underwhelming free agent goaltender market, their options are slim if they don’t extend Fleury. If George McPhee elects to let him play out his contract year, he could be joined on the market by some interesting names. Fleury’s age and injury history, especially his recent history with concussions, makes the term and dollar amount of his next contract a bit of a guessing game.
A slight overpay on a short term deal is something I would expect to happen shortly after July 1. Something in the range $7.5 million per year for three years would vault him into the top five for goalies without completely undermining the franchise’s ability to improve like Carey Price’s $10.5 million cap hit for the next eight years which begins this year. That will also provide a comparable for Pekka Rinne in his negotiations with the Nashville, and a bench mark surely to be surpassed by Sergei Bobrovsky, either by Columbus, or whoever wins the bidding war for his services in free agency in 2019.
From a futures betting perspective, it seems more than a little bit crazy that a Knights team who entered last year between +20000 and +50000 is now coming in at +1000. Obviously, they proved that they aren’t a doormat in the Western Conference, but with the pieces they’re likely to lose I think they should be trading somewhere around the +4000 mark.