After a season of shattering expectations and records left and right, the Golden Knights are looking to once again gain the edge that led them to the Stanley Cup Final. Who would have thought this time a year ago the Golden Knights would be looking to add some big names during the peak free agency season in the NHL? This offseason has some enticing potential moves that could put the Knights over the top and hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in Year Two.
Of course, Knights general manager George McPhee isn’t looking to show his cards if he is interested on a big acquisition like John Tavares or Erik Karlsson. However, before he makes any moves like that, he first has to deal with the expiring contracts already on the Knights first.
First off, McPhee must start with the unrestricted free agent contracts the Knights are in danger of losing. The Golden Knights have until July 1st to come to a deal with these players, or else other teams can make offers towards them as well,. The four players they have as unrestricted free agents (or UFAs) are James Neal, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, and Ryan Reaves.
According to multiple reports, McPhee has said that they extended contract offers to all three. McPhee also added that Reaves wants longer-term deal. Neal’s camp is staying silent, other than giving fans a deadline of July 1. Perron has publicly stated he wants to return, while Sbisa has stayed silent.
“So far, they haven’t been accepted, so we’ll see where the process takes us,” McPhee told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “But there’s a line there. You either have a deal or you don’t.”
Reaves, on the other hand, may not have tipped his hand but his wife certainly did with some suggestive social media posts.
Did Ryan Reaves' wife just tip us off that he's not coming back? (The answer appears to be yes) pic.twitter.com/aDiui5VBPV
— SinBin.vegas (@SinBinVegas) June 23, 2018
McPhee has made qualifying offers to all four of these players, according to Sheng Peng at Hockey Buzz. Realistically, it will be very difficult for George McPhee to resign all four of these players. Neal, Perron, and Reaves are 30 years or older, yet all of them want long term deals.
The David Perron situation is a bit of an enigma. Perron put up 66 points this season and led the team in assists, yet was scratched throughout the playoffs. When Golden Knights owner Bill Foley took him in the expansion draft a year ago, he said he saw Perron as an important piece of the team. He has a solid relationship with many of the players and is seen as a leader. Perron posted career high in assists and points this past season, but one of the main questions is can he keep up that level of production?
After seeing Perron being a scratch multiple times throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, including the final, many question if he will be back. Personally, as much as I love Perron’s tenacity, grit, and playmaking ability, I don’t see him coming back UNLESS he agrees to a lower contract than what he could probably get on the open market. It will be not easy to replace his production level at 66 points, but his injury history and abysmal performance in the playoffs may hurt his chances for a deal to be made. It truly is a coin flip whether or not he comes back, I can see it going either way. Prediction: Perron does not re-sign
Neal has maybe a slightly better chance to be re-signed because he has shown to be the more consistent option between him and Perron. Neal is a ten year veteran as well, but has scored twenty or more goals in every season. He has earned the name “Big Game James” or “Real Deal James Neal” because of his ability to show up when it matters. Neal, even though 22 less points than Perron, had 26 less penalty minutes than Perron and scored six goals in the playoffs to Perron’s one.
According to Nick Kypreos at SportsNet, Neal is looking for a long term deal at around $6 million a year. Does Vegas want to gamble with a long term deal for a player who has a little injury history and one that is already in his thirties? Realistically, I see Neal coming back IF he is willing to accept that money for a smaller term. Prediction: Neal does re-sign
Reaves came over to the Golden Knights mid season at the trade deadline and many fans have polarizing opinions about him. Some love the old school, hard-hitting, borderline dirty hits, gritty, and big body style of play he has. He brings a force to the Golden Knights they did not really have before he came to town. Other fans do not believe he fits into the style of play the Golden Knights play. A disciplined, fast paced game in which Reaves is not fast enough nor disciplined enough to make a positive difference.
His two goals in the playoffs, one of which sent the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, definitely help in his favor. However, in the regular season he was often a healthy scratch in favor of William Carrier, when he was healthy. Reaves, the 31 year-old right winger wants a long term deal. While he plays a style not many do in the NHL anymore, I don’t see him coming back. In large part because Carrier plays a similar style game, but is almost ten years younger and is faster. Oh, and his wife’s social media posts are quite telling. Prediction: Reaves does not re-sign
Lastly, there is Luca Sbisa. The 28-year-old defenseman spent a large chunk of the season dealing with injuries, so he only played in 30 games this past season. However, when he was healthy, he had a productive season for his standards with +/- rating of plus-8. Never been known to be an offensive machine, Sbisa’s game is more of the conservative, let his defensive partner pinch down more (mainly Colin Miller, the exact opposite style as Sbisa) kind of player. In Gallant’s system, Sbisa performed decently, but not great by any means.
Playing in 12 of the team’s 20 games in the playoffs, Sbisa’s lack of foot speed got exposed time after time by other team’s faster forwards. With young, solid defensivemen prospects such as Erik Brannstrom and Nic Hague waiting to get their chance to crack the NHL next year, Sbisa is expendable. Prediction: Sbisa does not re-sign
Overall, I see either Neal or Perron getting re-signed. The VGK have enormous cap space, but they cannot afford to lose that much production out of their second line for next season. Ideally, both Neal and Perron will resign, but that will be tough to accomplish due to their price demands and how they want long term deals. Maybe McPhee will work his magic and re-sign both, but he also has to look at other expiring contracts on the book for next season, such as Marc-Andre Fleury and William Karlsson. McPhee is going to have to look at his stars and locking them up for long term deals as well.
It’s George McPhee, the 2017-18 GM of the Year. Whatever he does, he has gained the trust of every VGK fan out there. I am willing to bet he will make the right decisions. Who knows? Maybe there is a large splash free agency signing in the near future as well. Maybe McPhee wins GM of the Year for 2018-19 as well. If he’s going to repeat his previous brilliance, he’s going to have to make some bold moves.
Looking at you Erik Karlsson and John Tavares.