by: Bradley Robertson
There are currently 7 NHL teams that have no cap space or are slightly over this off-season. The Vegas Golden Knights are one of them. After eliminating both the Minnesota Wild and the favoured Colorado Avalanche Vegas was beaten by a Montreal team that played a patient game relying heavily on their goaltender, a big and physical defense core and a counter attacking style that Vegas never really figured out. Add that to the fact that the Vegas power play was powerless and the issues were plain to see.
Vegas had trouble sustaining an offensive attack when playing even strength in that series. Montreal’s aggressive penalty killing style confused them and led to very little scoring chances when playing with the man advantage. Montreal scored key goals off of turnovers caused by playing a patient style, not letting Vegas move freely up the ice. Vegas never adjusted well enough to counter what Montreal was doing to them.
This brings us to what Vegas needs to get over the hump. They have had plenty of success for a team that was only created through expansion 4 years ago. They have managed to make the playoffs in all 4 years of their existence and have played in a Cup final and 2 semi-finals. Their core is set but missing one key ingredient, that being another top line centre to play and succeed in their top 6 forward mix.
MOVES MADE THUS FAR:
Due to salary cap issues Vegas shipped off fan favourite and Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Marc Andre Fleury and his 7M dollar cap hit to the Chicago Black Hawks for a minor leaguer. They also moved enforcer Ryan Reaves to the New York Rangers for a 3rd Rd pick and little used defenseman Nick Holden plus a 3rd Rd pick to Ottawa for winger Evgeni Dadonov. Earlier in the off-season Vegas got in on a 3 team trade in which they ended up receiving young centre Nolan Patrick from the Philadelphia Flyers and seeing centre Cody Glass heading to Nashville. Vegas lost gritty centre Tomas Nosek to the Boston Bruins in free agency.
Vegas retained both top 4 defenseman Alex Martinez (yrs 15.75M) and trade deadline acquisition forward Mattias Janmark (1yr 2M). They also added back up goaltender Laurent Brossoit and forward Sven Baertschi. Along with the addition of Dadonov and Patrick that is all the heavy lifting management has done up to this point and as mentioned earlier the team has now spent to the cap.
Dadonov will fill in nicely as a replacement for injured forward Alex Tuch (shoulder surgery will keep him out for 6 months) and Brossoit is a capable back up goaltender for starter Robin Lehner. The defense core remains intact as well but do these additions and subtractions add up to getting over the hump and reaching greater heights?
IS IT ENOUGH?
I am not betting on it. This team still lacks a capable top line centreman and they are very difficult to find. Patrick is young (23 in September) and their should be significant upside to his game. Pencilling him in to a top 6 role though isn’t the answer for a team whose window of contention is wide open now. Centre Chandler Stephenson was thrust into a top line role between captain Mark Stone and sniper Max Pacioretty. He did an admirable job but he is basically a solid 3rd line centre on a Stanley Cup contending club. William Karlsson is a legitimate second line centre but a strong playmaking pivot is still not to be found on this roster.
Here’s a suggestion to management. Top centres are hard to come by but there may be 2 teams that possess what you are looking for and in the mood to deal. In order to make the money work the trade will have to include a couple of Vegas regulars. Calgary’s Sean Monahan and Nashville’s Ryan Johansen are both established centre’s who could step into the middle between Stone and Pacioretty and provide that line with a legitimate playmaking offensive threat that is lacking at the moment.
Vegas management has to be creative and find a way to bring in a better option for one of their top two lines. They have to know that they don’t match up through the middle with the other top teams in their division and conference. If this issue isn’t addressed properly then I don’t see this team making another long run in the playoffs next season.