Only one playoff team ends its season on a win. That team gets to lift the Stanley Cup and proclaim themselves champions of the hockey world. For everyone else, including the Vegas Golden Knights, the year ends in disappointment. This series looks at who performed well – and not so well – for the VGK in the bubble.
You could begin and end this list with Shea Theodore. His production at both ends of the ice really separates him from the pack and leads all playoff performers for the Golden Knights.
Just look at the numbers: Led the VGK in assists (12) and points (19), tied for second in goals (7) behind only Alex Tuch. His plus-7 rating was second only to Alec Martinez at plus-11. He also led the VGK with 80 shots.
To me, an even more telling statistic is his placing second in TOI (22:24) to only Nate Schmidt. Theodore played all 20 Golden Knights playoff games and logged a lot of minutes in all situations. Theodore played in the big moments and played in them often.
Consider that only Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman has more goals by a defenseman than Theodore in this playoffs. Those two are the only names found in the Top-25 playoff goal scorers when it comes to defenders. When it comes to point totals, only Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen’s breakout 25-point effort is better among blueliners than Theodore’s 19 points.
Theodore showed us that he will be a core component of the Golden Knights D corps for years to come. At only 25-years-old, he should go nowhere but up.
In the 2020 bubble, Tuch doubled his career playoff output from 12 to 24 points. He led the VGK with eight goals and three game-winning goals. Tuch was also third with a plus-5 rating, tops among VGK forwards, and placed fourth with 12 points.
Not too bad for a guy who really didn’t have a settled line position during the round-robin. When he did get a chance to fill in for the injured Max Pacioretty, he didn’t look out of place. Tuch showed his potential to be a top-six scoring threat for years to come.
Another young Vegas player at only 24, Tuch showed that he could put pucks in the net despite the pressure of the post-season. It was also nice to see him rebound from a disappointing regular season with only eight goals and 17 points in 42 games.
When the Vegas sent a pair of second-round picks to the Los Angeles Kings for veteran defenseman Alec Martinez, I got excited. Many of the trades that put teams over the edge aren’t superstar acquisitions. They’re players brought in with a purpose. This was exactly that type of deal, meant to shore up the defense for a deep run.
The 33-year-old Martinez brought two Stanley Cup rings from LA and a veteran presence that was needed on a blue line with only two other defensemen over 30 (Deryk Engelland – 38 and Nick Holden – 33). His Corsi-For Percentage (56.9) and Fenwick-For Percentage (59.1) were up from his numbers in the regular season after the trade. He also led the team with a plus-11 mark while placing third in TOI at 22:05, just 19 seconds average behind Shea Theodore.
Vegas would do well to retain Martinez for a few more seasons to help promote growth and stability for developing defenders like Theodore, Zach Whitecloud, and Nicolas Hague.
The Stage is Set for Vegas to Run Away Early
When the Vegas Golden Knights saw the team’s schedule for this season, I’m willing to bet there were more than a few smiles in the front office. While no game in the NHL is a guarantee, the way the schedule breaks down for the VGK to start the season favors them jumping out to a lead that will be tough to overtake in the Honda West Division.
Looking at the first six games, it’s easy to see how the Golden Knights could potentially win all of them. Opening with a pair against the struggling Anaheim Ducks followed by four against an Arizona Coyotes team that will still be figuring out its new identity this season. the Golden Knights have it comparatively easy. Consider the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, the two best teams in the division outside of Nevada, face each other twice right away.
After those six games, a pair with St. Louis could yield a split. So let’s call it 7-1 at that point. After that, six more games against the bottom-dwelling California teams. Vegas will play two each against the San Jose Sharks, LA Kings and Ducks once more.
I’m not saying things always go perfectly. They often don’t. But it is possible that before the Golden Knights play four in a row against the Colorado Avalanche a month from now, they could potentially be 13-1, 12-2 or something resembling that mark. No other team in the HWD has that type of chance to jump out in front and Vegas needs to capitalize.
Here’s the other advantage for Vegas in starting with six games against perceptibly weaker opponents: the ability to lock in. Line combinations, defensive groupings, special teams. All the things you take time on in pre-season games. All things that every other NHL team didn’t have a chance to do because we had no pre-season. Vegas is fortunate to have those games on the schedule right away to dial things in just a little bit more over the course of two weeks of games.
If the VGK capitalize and get off to a fast start, there’s no way anyone in the HWD will catch them.
Why Five Defenseman For The Vegas Golden Knights?
The Vegas Golden Knights are going into tonight’s game with only five defensemen and 13 forwards instead of the usual 6+12=18 setup for skaters.
Why? The answer is simple. Cap compliance.
By dressing Keegan Kolesar and his $725k salary, the Golden Knights will barely clear the bar and get under this season’s $81.5M salary cap. After signing Alex Pietrangelo in the off-season and trading away Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt, the Golden Knights were still a sliver over. So they waived Nick Holden and were able to shave another ~$1M against the cap. The problem is, they don’t have a sixth defenseman they want to dress who makes what Kolesar does. So 13 forwards it is.
Vegas will have to do similar juggling all season long, but GM Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t seem concerned. McCrimmon cited the workhorse time on ice numbers of both Shea Theodore who led Vegas in that category last year, and Alex Pietrangelo who led the St. Louis Blues in the same category. Perhaps rotating five defensemen and giving more ice time to the workhorses will bode well for Vegas. If there’s a season to do it, one that only lasts 56 games as opposed to 82 might be the one to do it.
Keep an eye on how the defense fares over the first two or three weeks of the season. If things go well, expect to see this setup more often than not for the Golden Knights.
Four Bold Predictions For The Vegas Golden Knights
When we say bold predictions, we mean BOLD.
Vegas Hockey Now is very big on keeping things real and giving you the unfiltered analysis – good and bad – on the Vegas Golden Knights.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t think big like Golden Knights fans either. If everything were to go right this season, what great things could happen? This isn’t a list that includes ‘the team will be good this season’ on it. This is shooting for the moon and having fun doing it. Here we go.
Prediction #1 – Major Hardware
This is the year the Golden Knights add more hardware to the trophy case, but not something they’ve won before. With two legitimate Norris Trophy candidates on the roster in Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore the VGK will be in the conversation all season long when it comes to defense. The only worry I have is one player cannibalizing the other because they’re on the same team. I’ve seen it happen.
That said, I’m predicting Robin Lehner puts forth a Vezina-winning campaign this year. Partly because he’s been nominated before and is fully capabale, but also look at the defense in front of him. I fully expect Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury to capture the William Jennings Trophy (fewest goals against) this season, and Lehner should be making room for his first Vezina Trophy.
Prediction #2 – Chandler Stephenson, NHL All-Star
No, there wont’ be an All-Star Game this year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the NHL won’t hand out selections. Even if it ends up being post-season First and Second Team All-Stars, Stephenson will be on the list. Playing between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, we predict a huge season for the pivot that sends folks scrambling to pick him up in fantasy leagues across North America. He hasn’t looked out of place whatsoever and that’s even with Pacioretty flying around like he has wings on his skates. This line will be electric and Stephenson is literally in the middle of it all.
Prediction #3 – Vegas Has Highest-Scoring Defense in the NHL
A reach? We don’t think so. Pietrangelo and Theodore will obviously play a big role in this, but don’t overlook the rest of the defenders. Plus, Pete DeBoer likes an active defense jumping up into the play to make things happen offensively. It makes for a nice attacking blend of hockey that helps the Golden Knights keep other teams back on their heels. Offense from the defense will be a tremendous bonus on a team that has one of the best top six forward groups in the NHL, and could potentially boast one of the best power plays this year.
Prediction #4 – The Stanley Cup Comes To Vegas
I’m not buying the Colorado hype. I think the entire East Division is going to beat itself to a pulp. Tampa Bay is the most likely Stanley Cup opponent and they’ll get Nikita Kucherov back by then (no cap in the playoffs). So don’t kid yourself, this isn’t going to be easy. But Vegas is deeper than Tampa up front and on defense. While I definitely give the edge in special teams and goal to the Lightning, I believe the Golden Knights have what it takes to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to The Strip this season. You heard it here first!
So there you go, four bold predictions for this season. What are your predictions? Tell us in the comments… Golden Knights or otherwise!