Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for…hockey is back, Las Vegas! Like all of you I’m sure, this summer felt so much longer than the previous summer when the Golden Knights came three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup and are back for a third shot at the crown.
Last year left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, from the fans, to the players, and ownership. A lot has happened over the offseason as fan-favorites departed from the VGK, a newly promoted general manager in Kelly McCrimmon, and a plethora of rookies battling it out for only a few spots on the roster.
Let’s recap the offseason, just in case you were busy watching baseball, football, or counting the days tweeting “Is it October Yet?” Yes, it is finally here! Opening night is tonight against the San Jose Sharks inside T-Mobile Arena at 7:30!
Offseason Departures And Signings
Vegas entered the offseason with a litany of issues regarding their salary cap. “We don’t have salary cap issues” George McPhee stated over summer. Colin Miller, the right-handed shot defenseman was traded to Buffalo to free up cap space for two draft picks. Erik Haula was traded to Carolina for Nicolas Roy, and a fifth round draft pick in 2021. Highly coveted russian Nikita Gusev, who never played a game in a VGK uniform, was traded to New Jersey for a third and second round pick in. Gusev was a former MVP in the KHL in Russia, who’s rights were acquired by VGK in the expansion draft. Gusev finally came over to the NHL when the Knights were in the playoffs last season. Pierre Eduoard Bellemare signed an offseason deal with Colorado as Vegas could not afford to re-sign him. Ryan Carpenter also signed an offseason deal with Chicago.
William Karlsson inked a team friendly 5.9 million AAV deal for eight years. Here is a list of Vegas’s roster with their contracts. https://www.capfriendly.com/depth-charts/goldenknights
Note that Vegas’s top six forwards are under contract for at the very least until the 2022 season. This team is ready to win now, and the players understand that.
“There aren’t too many new faces” Alex Tuch stated. “Management has really put a lot of trust in us going forward and keeping our core together.”
“It was too long of an offseason” Jonathan Marchessault stated in an interview. “I think everybody’s super excited and everybody looks really in shape, so I think everybody can’t wait to start.”
In the midst of the offseason came a troubling blow that reminded us all that hockey is merely a game. Vegas’s own Shea Theodore was diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly after Vegas was eliminated from the playoffs. This was all thanks to a drug test at the IIHF Worlds tourney in Europe. He has made a full recovery and is already a full participant throughout VGK’s training camp and preseason.
Battle Of The Rookies
The core is set, but with all of those departures listed above that opens the door for a couple possible spots for some rookies, or players who did not get a chance to play much last season, a chance to not only crack the roster, but to be an every-day NHL player. With Colin Miller leaving that opened up a spot on the blue line. Could it be Nick Holden who is looking to rebound after a disappointing season last year? He is on the opening night roster, we shall see how short of a leash Gerard Gallant has for him.
Then the list of rookies trying to crack that blue line included Jimmy Schuldt, Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff, and Dylan Coghlan. If your money was on Jimmy Schuldt, the Hobey-Baker finalist from a year ago out of St. Cloud State, then go play some roulette and put something on 4 because he is the on the opening night roster. Schuldt was able to get into a game last year at the end of the season, and even logged an assist in the game too. Lastly, players like Valentin Zykov, Brandon Pirri, and Will Carrier are looking for more consistent roles this year to hopefully make a formidable bottom six forward group.
Of course we cannot forget about Cody Glass, Vegas’s first ever draft pick. Glass is on the opening night roster and is projected to be on the second line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. That’s pretty good company. Even Sharks captain Logan Couture had high praise for the rookie.
“He’s a good player, he’s going to be a very good player.” Couture stated after VGK beat the Sharks 5-1 in their last preseason game. “He’s smart, the way he sees the game, he’s creative with the puck. I like him as a player just from the two games I’ve played against him.”
VGK Season Preview And Expectations
Fate would have it that the very team who ended the Golden’s Knight’s season last year is the same team the Golden Knight’s will open their first two games against, the San Jose Sharks. This is quickly becoming one of the most intense rivalries in the league. Two playoff meetings the last two years, over 100 penalty minutes in a preseason game, and two of the arguably best teams in the western conference. No better way to start the season off.
The Golden Knights are ready to make another run for the Stanley Cup this year with most of their team returning. Sports books have them at opening up at 7/1 odds, only the Tampa Bay Lightning have better odds at 6/1, per VegasInsider.com. I don’t think it is a stretch to say they are a favorite to win the division, considering the odds for them to do so are -110. San Jose and Calgary are closely behind them. What if we take it a step farther and say expectations should be to win the western conference? Again, not a stretch, and you know the players have a bigger expectation in mind. My prediction for the season will be Vegas versus the Stars in the West, with Vegas winning and facing the the Washington Capitals. Yep, let’s get a rematch.
First thing though is the Knights will have to focus on game one of 82. Here is what a possible projected opening lineup will look like.
Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith, Pacioretty-Glass-Stone, Pirri-Stastny-Zykov, Carrier-Nosek-Reaves.
Blue line pairings get a little tricky because it is unclear what Gallant plans to do in that six spot, but if Nick Holden is in over Jimmy Schuldt, I expect it to be: Schmidt-McNabb, Theodore-Engelland, and Merrill-Holden.
Alex Tuch is starting the season on injured Reserve, out “week-to-week” with an upper body injury, and Cody Eakin will most likely not be in the lineup as he is “day-to-day” with a lower-body injury.
The ice is set, the fans are ready, the players are excited, and you know T-Mobile Arena will be sold out, ready to blow the roof off of the building. Here’s to a great year Knights fans! Go Knights Go!