On Tuesday, longtime NHL veteran Frans Nielsen retired from the game of hockey. Nielsen has no real connections to the Vegas Golden Knights. But his name being in the news gives me a perfect segway into a discussion I wanted to have this offseason regarding the VGK.
Nielsen is often regarded as one of the best players when it comes to the shootout. He is third all-time in shootout goals with 49 behind only Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
As some of you might remember, a thing that damaged the Golden Knight’s chances of making the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs was their inability to score in the shootout.
Shootout Sinks Season
The Golden Knights dropped three ever-so-important points late in the season to the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks. They went 0-17 in shootout attempts during that stretch.
Overall the Golden Knights had a 4-4 record in the shootout in 2021-22 only missing out on four points. But those four points made all the difference.
What would usually be a minor problem in a normal season became a season-threatening issue for the Golden Knights in 2021-22. The Stars beat the Golden Knights out for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with Dallas having 98 and the VGK only putting up 94.
Say what you want to say about the shootout. I won’t vouch for it myself. It’s essentially a skills competition that takes place just so games don’t go to double, triple, and even quadruple overtime in the regular season.
But no matter which way you slice it, points in the standings are awarded in the shootout, and every team in the NHL has to prepare themselves for this. As good as Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Max Pacioretty are at five-on-five, they just can’t seem to get it done in the shootout.
Eichel is 8-for-27 in his career, Stone is 3-for-14, Marchessault is 6-for-24 and Pacioretty is 8-for-34. Shea Theodore (8-for-17) and Nicolas Roy (3-for-6) seem to be the only reliable shootout weapons for the Golden Knights and head coach…. well whoever the next head coach will be.
Something To Improve On
To excel in the NHL you need to have players on your team that can perform at every area of the game. As strange as it is from normal play, the shootout is still an area of NHL hockey. Everyone on the Golden Knights, from Eichel, to Stone, to Brayden McNabb need to work on their shootout skills.
The Golden Knight’s blunders in the shootout late in the season did not singlehandedly cost them the season. But it did put them in a stranglehold on their chances.
The most reasonable way I think the Golden Knights approach this problem this offseason and into next season is simply to work on their shootout skills in practice more. Theodore should teach the class.
Maybe by next season, Eichel becomes a reliable shootout performer or someone like Brendan Brisson or Pavel Dorofeyev make the team, get the call in the shootout, and perform well.
Potentially Available Sharpshooters
But with it being the offseason and all, another route the Golden Knights could take could be acquiring a player with a history of solid shootout results.
Kyle Turris, Jason Spezza, and Sam Gagner are experienced veterans with expiring contracts this summer that the Golden Knights could take a look at. All have over 25 career shootout goals but are all nearing the end of their careers. Claude Giroux is also out there with 30 career shootout goals. Good luck managing that one under the salary cap.
Two reasonable names I could see the Golden Knights go after are Ryan Donato and Andreas Athanasiou who both have expiring contracts this offseason. Donato is 47.37% in his career shootout attempts and Athanasiou is at 42.86%. For comparison, Theodore’s career number is 47.06%.
These two players aren’t just shootout aces and can provide solid secondary offense. Donato put up 31 points this past season with the Seattle Kraken but is an RFA. Athanasiou scored 17 with the LA Kings. If the Golden Knights lose Reilly Smith to free agency, these players could be solid depth players.