Daniel Reedy | Aug 23rd, 2019
The Vegas Golden Knights had won three games in a row in resounding fashion, outscoring the San Jose Sharks 16-6. But the Golden Knights wasted a 3-1 series lead and squandered a 3-0, third-period advantage — conceding four goals in five minutes on their way to a (controversial but) severely disappointing overtime loss, ending Vegas’ sophomore year.
The playoff shortcoming followed a season in which the Golden Knights (obviously) succeeded in earning a playoff birth, but with only 93 points — which wouldn’t have been enough to reach the postseason in the Eastern Conference.
After an incredible debut season, Vegas failed to recapture the same offensive production, dropping from No. 5 to No. 14 in goals scored. The Golden Knights finished 10th in goals against, but they also struggled down the stretch on both sides of the man-advantage. Over the last two months of the season, they ranked 25th in powerplay and 30th in penalty kill. Had they not drawn one of the easiest schedules in the league, the Golden Knights very well might have missed the playoffs. Vegas has been waiting all summer to move on from 2018-19 to the upcoming clean slate.
Biggest Offseason Move
For the Golden Knights, it isn’t about who they got, it’s about who they kept. Vegas re-signed forward William Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth just under $6 million per year. For the cap-strapped Golden Knights, this was a necessity. Although Karlsson declined in every major statistical category, he was still a valuable producer. There are few players who can break out through the neutral zone at Karlsson’s pace and he will likely bounce back to improve on his 2018-19 totals of 24 goals and 56 points. His line with Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith is one of the fastest in the league and figures to be a formidable combination again in 2019-20.
When a team starts the offseason with negative cap space, it’s unlikely that they will make any external additions to their roster. The top “arrival” will be 20-year-old forward Cody Glass who has spent most of the last few years in the Western Hockey League with the Portland Winterhawks. In 239 games, Glass scored 94 goals and finished with 292 points. Scouting reports compliment his awareness, skill with the puck and two-way game. Glass will have a shot to earn a spot in training camp and will look to provide Vegas with some much-needed secondary scoring.
The money-challenged Golden Knights had to dump several role players this summer. Erik Haula spent most of the season recovering from a knee injury, but was a key middle-6 forward with the rookie Golden Knights, scoring 29 goals in 2017-18. Haula heads to the Hurricanes in exchange for a prospect (Nicolas Roy) and a fifth-round pick.
Colin Miller is another significant loss. The right-handed blueliner posted 29 points in 65 games but ranked 10th among NHL defensemen in Corsi rating (team shot differential when the player is on the ice). Miller was flipped to Buffalo for a pair of future draft picks.
Although he never actually took the ice for Vegas, 27-year-old “prospect” Nikita Gusev was a consequence of the Golden Knights’ cap struggles. The Russian forward posted 63 goals and 215 points in 173 Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) games over the last three seasons. Gusev was swapped for a couple of draft picks and could be a key contributor for the new-look Devils in 2019-20.
Vegas also lost two fourth-liners. Forward Ryan Carpenter signed with Chicago after totaling 18 points and a minus-6 in 68 games. Veteran penalty killer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare led Vegas’ forwards in short-handed minutes last season but will help lead Colorado’s new PK unit.
Despite the low point total, Vegas entered the playoffs as a favorite to win the Western Conference — and looked like it … for a few games. The Golden Knights dominated the Sharks to that aforementioned 3-1 series lead. Their lethal veteran line of Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty slaughtered San Jose for 11 goals in those three games. That trio should remain intact this season and, coupled with the Karlsson/Marchessault/Smith line, gives Vegas a strong top-6.
After that, Alex Tuch (20 goals, 52 points) was a major contributor last year and will need to be a big factor again if the Golden Knight’s bottom-6 is to provide sufficient secondary scoring.
Being ejected in that pivotal Game 7 will define Cody Eakin’s 2019-20 season, but the center recorded a career-high 41 points. However, his 22 goals were scored with an unsustainable 18-percent shooting percentage (10.5 percent average in years prior). He also was the only Golden Knight with a Corsi under 50 percent. While instigator wings William Carrier (No. 1 in hits per game) and Ryan Reeves (No. 1 in total hits) check opponents at league-leading rates, they provide very little offensive production. Vegas will need more depth scoring this season from lower-line players.
Despite choking on two breakaway overtime goals in Games 6 and 7 against the Sharks, Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a great regular season and was a big reason the Golden Knights finished 10th best in goals-against. In a division that features Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Mark Giordano, the Golden Knights’ back end is underwhelming. Shea Theodore was their top-scoring defenseman with 37 points, ranking just 34th among NHL blueliners and finished minus-4. Nate Schmidt will look to improve on his 30 points after missing 20 games last year due to suspension. Veteran checking-defensemen Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland offer very little offense (28 combined points) and were Vegas’ worst blueliners in terms of goals-against per time-on-ice.
The Golden Knights were good last year but will need to take a step forward in 2019-20, supported by more secondary scoring and more offensive production from the blueline — Tuch and Theodore just might be the guys to deliver that.
Vegas has a lot of offensive potential but as of now, looks like more of a “good” team than a “great” one. Playing in a division with the two shoddy southern-California teams should help though as the Golden Knights are likely to return to the postseason.
Playoff chances: Probable
Check out our other 2019-2020 NHL Team Previews:
Colorado Avalanche|Florida Panthers|Dallas Stars|Arizona Coyotes|New Jersey Devils|San Jose Sharks|Buffalo Sabres|Los Angeles Kings|Vancouver Canucks|Winnipeg Jets|Carolina Hurricanes|Boston Bruins|Ottawa Senators|New York Islanders|Minnesota Wild
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