Prior to this now extended Christmas break, the Vegas Golden Knights were rolling having won eight of their last ten. The team just had their five-game winning streak snapped against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Still, the Golden Knights are now tied for first in both the NHL’s Western Conference Standings and in the Pacific Division.
This emergence to the top comes after the Golden Knights struggled out of the gate. The team started the 2021-22 season 1-4 and floated around a .500 record with early injuries to top players like Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and William Karlsson.
Since then the team has gotten a plethora of players to return from injury and they have made an impact on the Golden Knights roster. Pacioretty has scored 11 goals since his return, and Stone now has 23 points in 19 games. Karlsson’s presence has reunited the Golden Knight’s misfit line of Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault which has been stellar as well.
The Golden Knights are coming into their own as we enter the final days of the year. But you can never have it all, and there is always something any team can improve on. So in the spirit of the holiday season let’s go over what the Golden Knights should have on their Christmas wishlist for Santa this year.
No More COVID-19
Let’s start with the easy one, no more COVID-19 delays, something every team in the NHL should be wishing for this year. The NHL recently extended its holiday break to try and stop the spread of COVID-19 in the league. The league now has to reschedule over 50 games including the Golden Knights matchup against the Los Angeles Kings that was supposed to happen tonight.
The NHL has also dropped out of the 2022 Winter Olympics as a result of this. This opens up a three-week period in February for the league to reschedule games.
About 18% of active players in the NHL are in COVID-19 protocols right now. Last game we saw both Alex Pietrangelo and Evgenii Dadonov unavailable to the Golden Knights as they were placed in COVID-19 protocols. The thing that should be at the top of every NHL team’s wishlist this season is for this outbreak to die down and for all players in protocols to make their return.
The other thing that just about every team in the NHL can wish for is for injured players to come back fully healthy. Robin Lehner and Nicolas Hague missed the last game against the Lightning due to nagging day-to-day injuries. With a five-day break without not only games but practices and team workouts as well, hopefully, these players can be back to 100% when play resumes.
Along those same lines, Alec Martinez and Nolan Patrick are still out for the Golden Knights. Head coach Peter DeBoer expects Martinez to be back after Christmas. Martinez has the last 21-games with a facial laceration. He took a skate to the face back on November 11th against the Minnesota Wild and required 50 stitches.
Martinez has not been skating with the Golden Knights but Patrick has been. The 23-year old forward has only played four games this season and last played on October 22nd. Patrick recently shed his red no-contact practice jersey and has been participating in Golden Knights practices.
Last but not least there is also captain Mark Stone who left Tuesday night’s game against the Lightning. Stone ran into Mathieu Joseph in the first period and crawled to the bench but remained in the game. After scoring two goals, the captain left the game and did not return.
For the Golden Knights getting Stone, Martinez, Patrick, Lehner, and Hague as well as Dadonov and Pietrangelo will be a huge boost to the team.
But the biggest name on the Golden Knight’s current injury list is Jack Eichel, who was acquired by the team in early November. Eichel underwent successful artificial disk replacement surgery on November 12th and is skating in North Carolina in his rehab process.
The timetable for Eichel to make his debut has seen a wide array of different reports. Some say that Eichel could join the team as early as late December, others see his return not until late February. Whatever the case may be, the Golden Knights are getting an elite-level NHL centerman with Eichel.
On the flip side of things, the Buffalo Sabres are expected to welcome Alex Tuch to their lineup once play resumes. Tuch was the main part of the Eichel trade that went the Sabre’s way.
For the Golden Knights, they can only wish for a full and healthy recovery for Eichel and also that the superstar centerman doesn’t disrupt any of the team’s chemistry as they gear up for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Adding Eichel to the lineup will cause some problems for the Golden Knights in terms of roster management. The Golden Knights are expected to be over the NHL’s salary cap by around $8 million when Eichel returns. Due to this, some sort of deal to move out cap space is bound to happen for Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
While the Golden Knights are certainly not wishing for players to be exiled this Christmas, they will need to have a sacrificial lamb to bring in Eichel.
Recent NHL trade speculation has been on guys like Reilly Smith and Evgenii Dadonov, who both make $5 million. Even then, the Golden Knights will have to shed more salary with potentially someone like Brayden McNabb, Will Carrier, or Mattias Janmark.
Personally, I am under the assumption that Dadonov will be one of the names to go. Even though Smith is going through a 10-game goalless drought, he is still an integral part of the Golden Knights offense and it doesn’t make sense for McCrimmon to trade a player that can help the team win a Stanley Cup.
While Smith would net you the far better package in a hypothetical trade, the Golden Knight’s main asset that they want back is simply cap space for Eichel. Dadonov, to me, looks like a player that can get you just that.
The First Stanley Cup in Franchise History
Last but not least the biggest thing to wish for this holiday season for the Vegas Golden Knights is the big prize itself. The Golden Knights have been one of the most successful franchises in the NHL recently as a recent expansion team nonetheless. But they still have yet to reach the ultimate goal and win their first-ever Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon has assembled an elite team featuring the likes of Stone, Pacioretty, Eichel, Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stephenson, Pietrangelo, Theodore, Martinez, Lehner, and much more.
It will be up to the players on the ice to determine if the city of Las Vegas can celebrate a Stanley Cup in the spring. One thing is for sure though, and that is that the Golden Knights are Stanley Cup Contenders and are going all-in to win the greatest trophy in all of sports.