In the NHL’s most unusual season ever, free agency looms large and every potential deal is a big one. As it appears Alex Pietrangelo, Taylor Hall, Torey Krug and others are headed for new homes the Vegas Golden Knights have some work of their own to do as they look to return to the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, the Marc-Andre Fleury Trade Rumors continue to swirl.
The Fleury Trade Rumor Carousel Keeps Spinning
Perhaps one of the most persistent positions for trade rumors is goaltender. We know the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be dealing a goaltender, likely Matt Murray. Lately, there’s been a new thought swirling that Marc-Andre Fleury could be bought out by Vegas and return to the Penguins. While a source indicates it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fleury back in a Pens uniform, a buyout doesn’t seem likely because it in no way helps the Golden Knights unless the NHL offers an amnesty buyout option this summer due to the flat cap. The chances of that happening appear to be slim and none, but you never know.
If the NHL does offer teams one buyout, Fleury is an excellent candidate for it because of his $7M cap hit this year and next. That space would be massive for Vegas when it comes to Robin Lehner’s rumored but unconfirmed 5 year/$5M per deal plus if you’re going to lure Alex Pietrangelo to Sin City it’s going to take roughly $9M a year.
At this point, any team that acquires MAF in a trade must have cap room and the need for a veteran goaltender. Enter the Ottawa Senators, who announced earlier today that they will not offer a contract to 39-year-old Craig Anderson. The Sens have 30-year-old Anders Nilsson for one more year at $2.6M and 25-year-old Marcus Hogberg for one more year at $700k before he hits RFA status.
More importantly, they have a massive $39.6M in cap room to play with. Keep in mind the Sens only have four forwards and four defensemen signed right now, but they have six forwards with RFA status meaning they won’t have to shell out a ton of money. Only Scott Sabourin and Matthew Peca up front plus Ron Hainsey on D are UFAs of note. The Senators also announced today they would move on from veteran rearguard Mark Borowiecki.
The move would also be a positive PR move for a team that has struggled to generate goodwill among the fanbase in recent years. Fleury would get to finish his career closer to home and at full value. Plus he would provide some needed leadership for Ottawa.
Also of note, the Senators own three first round picks (3, 5, 28) and an incredible 13 picks in total for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. If Vegas doesn’t want to bring back salary in any way, there’s always the possibility of draft picks and/or prospects. This could be one of those rare hockey trades where both sides could get what they need.
The NHL Awards were given out earlier this week and VHN took a shot at predicting the winners with mixed results. I will say that Connor Hellebuyck and Roman Josi winning is well-deserved and criticizing them is ridiculous.
Also in the “dissapointing” category for VGK fans is that Golden Knights players were mostly absent from the voting. Of note, Shea Theodore did finish sixth in Norris voting with one third place vote, seven fourth place votes and 13 fifth place votes. Robin Lehner also finished sixth in Vezina voting thanks to one second place vote good for three points, but that almost ranks as a courtesy vote from his Islanders-nominated season.
In what could be considered a surprise by many Roman Josi takes the Norris as best defenseman. I had the pleasure of watching Josi play when I was calling games for the Nashville Predators. Do yourself a favor next season and when Nashville is on spend some time focusing on him. He is extremely intelligent and has tremendous vision and anticipation in all zones. Josi’s ability to read and react is among the best in the game.
Connor Helebuyck deserves this award, because in so many ways he was the glue that held the Winnipeg Jets together. If it wasn’t for his playing out of his mind Winnipeg would have been at the bottom of the heap for most of the season. Consider that from the time the Jets played their last playoff game in the spring of 2019 until opening night they lost four starting defensemen. That’s incredible to me. Throw in the circus that was the Dustin Byfuglien affair and it’s a wonder the Jets were able to produce the results they did. I know there are some who would argue a goaltender shouldn’t win MVP honors but I have no problem with calling a goalie the most important player to his team across the league. No one else plays all 60 minutes.
This past summer I had to run my brother’s fantasy hockey draft because he had to work late. Advantage Greg. As I was text updating him throughout the draft, I sent the message “Congratulations. You’ve just drafted the NHL Rookie of the Year Cale Makar.”
I covered the Frozen Four in Buffalo, NY (and that seems like another lifetime ago now) and watched the young defenseman from UMass dominate in all zones. I also remember after the Minutemen were eliminated the sad look on coach Greg Carvel’s face when I asked him about Makar. Carvel said all the right things about how incredible Makar was and the standard “we’ll see” if he comes back, but odds are his bag was being packed for Denver that night.
The reason I love Makar as the Calder winner is because he is the best all-around player in the rookie bunch. Not only does he produce offense but he’s great in his own zone as well, so rare for someone so young.
When it comes to Shea Theodore, his time will come. Theodore is among a crop of young defenseman including Calder winner Cale Makar and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes that will dominate the defensive landscape for years to come. At some point, he’s going to win a Norris or two if his growth continues.
Leon Draisaitl showed he was the real deal when he found himself without game-breaking linemate Connor McDavid. While many expected Draisaitl’s output to drop, it did anything but. His scoring title is well-deserved as is his winning both the Hart and the Lindsay, which is the player-voted MVP. That speaks volumes about the season he had.
Oddly enough, Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry received one vote for fifth from TSN’s Renaud Lavoie, who spoke to PittsburghHockeyNow’s Dan Kingerski about why.
What do you think? Does Fleury end up in Ottawa? Let us know in the comments.
Could Vegas Make Room for Patrik Laine?
Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets have been having relationship problems for a little while now. He wants top-line minutes. There’s rumors he won’t show up at training camp if not traded, which have been denied by his agents. The Jets have looked at trading him but still say he’s a big part of things there. There’s a lot of meat on this bone.
Winnipeg already has great chemistry on its top line of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Laine plays the right side like Wheeler. Wheeler’s deal is for an AAV of $8.25M, Laine’s $6.75M – not that salary is everything, but it matters. Laine figures to see an improvement in his circumstances with former Golden Knights center Peter Stastny returning to Winnipeg, but will it be enough to placate him?
Reality vs. Perception
If the perception of being a top-line center is really what bothers Laine most, Winnipeg does not appear to be the place for him. Odds of him getting his shot ahead of Wheeler when that line gels so well are slim and none. If it’s more a question of production perhaps Stastny’s return helps. But if he’s still banging the bars of his cell and wanting out, could the Golden Knights make room on the roster for him?
First thing’s first – are you willing to move Mark Stone to the second line and make Reilly Smith your third line right wing? Smith moving down potentially could work if Nicholas Roy ends up at center on the fourth line instead of Tomas Nosek. There’s also the unlikely possibility Roy or Nosek become the odd men out at training camp. But let’s stretch our necks out here and say the lines look like this:
Marchessault – Karlsson – Laine
Pacioretty – Glass – Stone
Tuch – Stephenson – Smith
Carrier – Nosek – Reaves
Looks great right? That’s a really loaded top six, even top nine. If I’m a VGK opponent I have a nervous breakdown trying to gameplan against that. You can’t defend three solid scoring lines all game long. So right now, we’re getting excited because in terms of manpower we can make this work.
Now the other massive question – how in the cap world do you fit him on the roster?
To start the season, you could potentially move Robin Lehner to LTIR because of his shoulder surgery. Even though VGK GM Kelly McCrimmon said he expects Lehner ready for camp whenever that might be, it doesn’t mean he might not end up on that list.
So if that happens, you save $5M against the cap. Now the Golden Knights need to find another chunk of change, and this is where I’m going to ask you to follow me.
In return to the Jets, I send one of Alex Tuch, Reilly Smith or Jonathan Marchessault. Hey, if we’re going to make this work, sacrifices must be made.
It might be easiest to look at Tuch and his down year last year and say “that guy” out of those three. But I might say Marchessault is the piece I dangle and here’s why.
Since his 30-goal peak with Florida in 2016-17, Marchessault’s goal totals have quietly descended each year. His first year in Vegas he potted 27 (and a career-high 75 points), then 25 in 18-19 and 22 last year albeit in just 66 games. Plus at 29, there figures to be some age-related decline in a player as well. He is now entering year three of a six-year deal with a $5M AAV and will be 33 when the deal ends in 2024.
If you package him with a prospect, or perhaps a draft pick the Jets might make a move. There’s also potential to swap other minor pieces that help Vegas salary-wise towards the bottom end of things. So it could happen if you’re willing to shake up the roster.
Does It Make Sense?
Laine is a streaky scorer, one capable of incredible runs but also of disappearing for chunks of time. Is his mercurial performance based on his unhappiness in Winnipeg? Would a move to Vegas – the proverbial “change of scenery” – help? Could the anticipation of being on a team geared up for several more deep runs into the playoffs fix a lot of the problems?
All good questions. All hard to answer. Laine is young (22) and certainly has some maturing to do. He’s cleared the 50-point barrier in all four of his NHL seasons including an impressive 63 points in 68 games last year. His minus-24 from the 18-19 season was gone last year, replaced by his typical high single-digit plus rating. And he’s a deadly power play producer as well.
Then there’s the matter of his contract. This is the final year of a two-year bridge deal but at the end of it he will still be RFA in 2021. So there’s some team control there. He’ll also be due something around his current $6.75M AAV unless things drastically change cap-wise or in his performance. Finally, you’re trading a player with term for the uncertainty of an expiring RFA deal.
I wait on Laine, but keep him on my radar. There’s every possibility that if he’s unhappy and has a rough start to next season his price might decline a bit. And if the Golden Knights could potentially bring him in with only part of his remaining cap hit instead of the whole thing, that allows a bit more flexibility as the inevitable player movement and injuries of the season take hold. I could see him in Vegas Gold, but perhaps not until real games are being played again.
What do you think? Would you make the move now? Wait? Or not do it at all? Let us know in the comments.
Nate Schmidt to Vancouver for 3rd Rounder
The Vegas Golden Knights have some breathing room salary cap-wise after dealing defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2022 3rd round pick.
-Yr 2/6 $5.95M Cap Hit
-7G 31P in 59GP
-51.2% 5v5 GF, 52.7% DFF, 53.2% Corsi
-Rep'd by Matt Keator WINhttps://t.co/RHlBnKgdej
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) October 13, 2020
Draft picks have been the new currency of choice for teams trying to get under the salary cap limbo stick, and Vegas pushing this choice off to 2022 is the smart move. Stockpiling draft picks further down the road will help the club as attrition occurs over the next few seasons due to a deflated cap and roster churn.
In the meantime, it also allows room for new signing Alex Pietrangelo. The move leaves Vegas $973k over the cap with 21 players on the roster.
Are the Golden Knigths done? Was Nate Schmidt the last move? Let us know in the comments.
A Scout’s Take on Pietrangelo to Vegas; Schmidt to …?
Alex Pietrangelo is close to signing with the Vegas Golden Knights, as soon as perhaps tonight, according to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic.
Hearing a deal between Alex Pietrangelo and Vegas could be getting close. A decision/announcement may come as soon as tonight.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 11, 2020
Insider consensus suggests that the 30-year-old defenseman will sign a seven-year contract — the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement — at about $9 million dollars per year.
The Vegas Golden Knights currently have about $1.875 million dollars in salary cap space, so there must be a corresponding move at some point this off-season. Teams are allowed to be 10 percent over the $81.5 million dollar cap during the off-season.
Candidates for an eventual cap-clearing move include Marc-Andre Fleury (two years left at $7 million per), Nate Schmidt (five years left at $5.95 million), and Alec Martinez (one year at $4 million). Earlier in the week, the Vegas Golden Knights managed to off-load Paul Stastny and his one-year, $6.5 million dollar ticket to Winnipeg for a draft pick and Carl Dahlstrom.
According to Andy Strickland, Schmidt will be sent to Florida:
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) October 11, 2020
However, David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period interjected:
Follow up on this… Told that a Schmidt trade is still in place, but contrary to reports, he is not going to Florida. Stay tuned. https://t.co/jM2WUlX3yE
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) October 11, 2020
But will Pietrangelo be worth the cost?
Pietrangelo finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting this year, his third time finishing in the top-five over a distinguished 12-year career with the St. Louis Blues. The long-time Blues captain also led St. Louis to the Stanley Cup in 2019.
The Vegas Golden Knights may also be “just one player away.” In their first three years in the league, Vegas has made a Stanley Cup Final, and most recently, they reached the Western Conference Final last month.
Teaming Pietrangelo and fellow elite blueliner Shea Theodore will give the Golden Knights an enviable one-two punch from the back-end.
But it’s always dangerous to give a 30-something a maximum contract, as we saw with the contract that the San Jose Sharks gave Erik Karlsson last summer. Karlsson struggled relative to his lofty standards, and San Jose missed the 24-team playoff.
I reached out to an NHL scout to get his sense about Pietrangelo’s place among the top defensemen in the league and how much decline he forecasts over the life of the contract:
“Right now, he’s a borderline top-10 defenseman.
“I mean he’s an elite defender — don’t get me wrong.
“Just thinking out loud, I have Victor Hedman, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, and John Carlsson higher right now. Then you have Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Charlie McAvoy, and Ivan Provorov coming.”
However, the scout didn’t see anything in Pietrangelo’s game that would suggest a precipitious drop. Using Karlsson as an example again, the Sharks superstar had been slowed by ankle and groin surgeries in two of the three years before San Jose re-signed him. The likely future Vegas Golden Knights’ No. 1 defenseman doesn’t have any such red flags.
“The point I’m trying to make is there are so many good defensemen out there. So top-10 will be real tough to maintain.
“I would imagine a decline even if it’s marginal.”
As I like to say, pay for the first four years, pray for the last four years. If Pietrangelo is indeed that final piece for a Stanley Cup, the cost will be well worth it for Vegas.
Despite all the reports about Alex Pietrangelo, I can confirm that he hasn’t made a decision and I don’t expect there will be one tonight
— Carlo Colaiacovo (@CarloColaiacovo) October 12, 2020