As it stands today, the Vegas Golden Knights have 19 players on the roster. Twelve forwards, five defensemen and two goalies. With more players left to sign and potential trades to be made, they have roughly $5.2M in open cap space. It’s definitely not enough room to re-sign everyone from last year’s team who might be UFA or RFA this season.
Something has to give. Someone has to go. But who?
I’ve seen my share of war rooms and have talked to a lot of executives on trade deadlines or draft days. It’s taught me a few things:
1 – Whatever the coach, GM, agent, or player say at the moment may be true. It may not. But even if it is true, it’s only true for that moment. Five minutes later it all could change.
2 – Everyone has a contingency plan. Don’t believe anyone who says “we never considered another course of action” when it comes to personnel moves. They’ve considered the alternatives. There is usually a strong Plan A unless there’s a divided house over how to proceed on something. What team management tells you at that moment is the strong Plan A, but there’s always a B, C and maybe even a D. The corollary to this is if management won’t tip its hand that’s because either there is no strong Plan A or you’re touching on something that could affect the plan if revealed.
3 – Not everyone agrees on what’s best for the team, and it can get political. I’ve seen the house divided regarding players to trade for or draft. I’ve seen a team stay stubborn and after deciding they want a specific player go ask internal advice on that player that came back negative. Then make the deal anyway because that’s what they had already decided. You give the power to one person for a reason: accountability. Ultimately that person must decide to go with their gut or compromise.
4 – Relationships are everything in the game. When you feel like your team has a typical “trade partner” or two that’s because of the relationship between the two decision-makers. Trust matters when making deals and swapping assets. You might be sold a defective product once, but if you are, you’re never going back to that store again. It’s also the reason I don’t think you see many offer sheets. No one wants to cross someone else. They might need their help later on.
Given all of these things, it also helps to have a strong vision and culture in your organization. If you don’t, it’s easy to get lost along the way.
GM Kelly McCrimmon has been unflinching in his determination to do what he feels will make the team better. Between the moves George McPhee made when still wearing the GM hat and McCrimmon, the Golden Knights have been aggressive, trading prospects for quality current NHLers and building a winning nucleus in Vegas. Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez and Robin Lehner were all added to bolster a squad that showed the potential to compete for the Stanley Cup on a regular basis right out of the gate.
Now, the Golden Knights are in a situation where cap room is tight and moves will likely have to be made in the form of trades to open up cap room and keep some of the more desirable players. Here’s a look at how players might be viewed via the trade block this summer.
Up front, there’s a lot to like about the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s tempting to look at every contract or player and justify why they should stay. But if there’s anything I can say for how GM Kelly McCrimmon has gone about making moves, it’s that very few players should get comfortable.
Note: This applies only to players currently signed to a contract. Also, Cody Glass is not considered to be on the roster in this exercise.
On defense, there’s a big decision looming with Alec Martinez. I think Vegas is where he ends up, and it might take a three-year deal to make it happen. If the contract can be strong in the first two seasons perhaps with a lower number in year three to help pull the AAV down, that might work. Remember, cash is different from cap. That said, he’s not included here.
I’m Listening: Brayden McNabb – Total Cap Space $2.5M
This is the most-talked-about situation on the team. Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner are a lot of money tied up in two starting-caliber goaltenders. They support each other and have become friends. Fleury is the face of the franchise and has full owner support in his request to stay and retire as a Vegas Golden Knights icon. Lehner was signed to a deal that was meant to declare him the starter for the next five years, and then a combination of inconsistent play and injuries saw him a clear number two choice this year.
There is no easy answer or category for either of these guys. If someone calls, I’m listening. But I don’t know if they’re actively being shopped. Either way, this will be a really tough situation and the VGK might just have to suck it up for one more year… or move a goalie and get Logan Thompson into the NHL rotation a year early.
Total Cap Space $12M
The contracts (not players) I think Vegas would most like to offload are Fleury, Reaves, Smith and McNabb. This has less to do with the players themselves as opposed to the space those deals take up against the cap. Fleury’s deal has nothing to do with actual on-ice performance, while I think the other three contracts would be better values with more return. That said, these are my four most-likely-to-be-moved guys because of money.
After that, I think you have to give up another big deal to get something big back. Marchessault and Stephenson are those players for me. Marchessault I put here because he’s $5M in cap for another three seasons, while Stephenson is $2.75M for another three years. I think Stephenson has been a tremendous value for the VGK, but if they’re going to acquire a top center, he seems like the odd man out. If Stephenson stays and the Golden Knights go for a big-time overhaul, then perhaps Karlsson has his name floated as the guy to go. He’s $5.9M for the next five years, and while I think that’s a perfectly adequate contract for him and his production, it represents the room that might be needed for the last big fish.
Finally, I do think that for whatever reason at least the coaching staff has already passed judgment on Cody Glass and he will be shopped. I like Glass and I’ll continue to be a supporter of his. I know he didn’t have a five-on-five goal and his skating has to improve, but those are things that can be improved on. You can’t make a guy smarter or give him better hands and Glass is good to go there. He also scored all four goals on the power play and has a nose for the net. Players willing to pay that price and show success in those areas are hard to come by. I think he could become a Patric Hornqvist-type player, and Patric is a guy I always want on my team.
Expect the Vegas Golden Knights to make moves and be active leading up to the draft and free agency. Keep in mind some teams may want to make moves prior to the expansion draft to make decisions easier on who to protect, and others may stall to see who is taken by the Seattle Kraken. The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft takes place on July 21, 2021.