I’ve been having some interesting conversations with Vegas Golden Knights fans since the end of the 2021 playoff run. Some of you are in favor of staying aggressive as the franchise has done in the past, making big trades for Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. This summer’s biggest prize is Jack Eichel, who would make a tremendous addition to a team that really needs a top center.
But I’ll admit I’m surprised by the number of fans I’ve spoken with who think the team is good enough as it is to make a run back to the Stanley Cup Final. Their arguments usually include references to being tied for the most points in the regular season, beating the team they tied (Colorado Avalanche) and advancing to the Stanely Cup Semifinal. They also argue the roster is loaded with talent and that it’s capable of taking one more step.
I can’t argue the talent level, as there is plenty of it up and down the lineup. I do have concerns about consistency up and down that lineup. Too often the scoring disappeared. As I’ve said before, maybe that points more to coaching than anything. But if you’re GM Kelly McCrimmon, where does that leave you?
Vegas is fortunate that there are few UFA contracts to deal with. The biggest is Alec Martinez, although forwards Mattias Janmark, Tomas Nosek and Tomas Jurco are also up. As of now, the VGK carries roughly $5.2M in cap room, and it depends on any moves made before free agency as to what they may or may not be willing to offer.
Even with that, Vegas has only 19 contracts in the hopper right now. That’s not enough for the team during the regular season and playing shorthanded is something I never want to see again. There will be changes for the Golden Knights, and it will require moving some salary around in a trade or two. To believe the team would be fine without some cap space is optimistic at best.
The good news is that there are players in the pipeline who will be younger and cheaper should they crack the lineup. We saw good things from Dylan Coghlan this year, although he is RFA this summer. Peyton Krebs, Cody Glass, Jonathan Dugan, and Pavel Dorofeyev could all make an impact up front. On defense Peter Diliberatore leads a talented crop of youngsters, and of course, there’s the heir apparent in net, Logan Thompson.
So it is possible that some of these players are ready to graduate to the next level. They may be regular players next season or shutting up and down from the Golden Knights to the Henderson Silver Knights. Either way, the team is looking good on the farm and could make a move or two simply to free up salary.
Acquiring a player like Jack Eichel is certainly a nice thought for the Golden Knights, but if they miss out on the big fish there are other moves to be made. The Golden Knights are in the middle of a win-now window and can’t afford to be timid. They need to plow ahead and make more waves this off-season, reloading and strengthening in positions of need. They need a top center, but also need more conversion from the power play. Defensively the team could be set, but if Martinez is lost in free agency there must be a backup plan. And in net, it remains to be seen if the VGK have the appetite to nickel and dime their way through another season because they have $12M in cap wrapped up in goaltending.
I appreciate the arguments that say this team is good enough to win a Stanley Cup. Perhaps even on paper, that’s true. But we don’t play the games on paper, and twice now the Golden Knights have gone home one step shy of playing for hockey’s ultimate prize. They must improve if they want to win the Cup, and that means change is coming.