This is the latest in THN.com’s continuing analyses of each NHL team`s off-season. Today, we’re examining the Vegas Golden Knights.
2021-22 Record: 43-31-8
Finish In The Pacific Division: 4th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $0 ($1.394,643 over cap ceiling)
Restricted Free Agents: Keegan Kolesar, F; Nicholas Roy, F
What Vegas Has: A new head coach in the well-regarded former Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy; a veteran defense corps whose members all are signed through the 2023-24 season; a legitimate No. 1 center in Jack Eichel; skilled forwards in Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson, Reilly Smith and William Carrier; A clear starting goalie in Robin Lehner
What Vegas Needs: Salary cap room, in the worst way, in the short-and-long terms; better luck on the health front everywhere in the lineup; an improved pool of prospects; an infusion of youth on defense
What’s Realistic For Vegas Next Season: Like many people who visit Las Vegas, the Golden Knights burst upon the scene a few years ago, spent all their money, and now are scrambling to dig themselves out of a hole. After setting a new standard for expansion teams by making it to the Stanley Cup final in 2018, Vegas has been unable to repeat that degree of success, and, last season, they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in their existence.
To make matters worse, the salary-cap-strapped Golden Knights have had to strip away some of their depth this summer, and even after unloading the contract of star forward Max Pacioretty to Carolina, and dealing veteran forward Evgeni Dadonov to Montreal for the contract of injured defenseman Shea Weber, Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon still is nearly $1.4 million over the cap ceiling, has only 16 players signed in total, and still has restricted free forwards Nicholas Roy and Keegan Kolesar to deal with. There’s a clear sense of retraction with this franchise, and considering they weren’t nearly good enough to compete for a Cup last season, that’s a serious issue.
Some may point to Vegas’ injury woes last year – they had less than half a full regular season with star center Jack Eichel, and veterans Mark Stone, William Carrier, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, Zach Whitecloud, Ben Hutton and starting goalie Robin Lehner all missed significant amounts of time – as a reason for their struggles, and that’s a fair point. Having them back at full strength undoubtedly will be beneficial, as will a new game-plan from incoming head coach Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Peter DeBoer this summer.
However, this is a relatively old lineup – Lehner is 31; three of their top six forwards are in their thirties, and four of their defensemen will be at least 30 by the end of next year — which means that there’s pressure on McCrimmon to push this team back into Cup contention right away. That’s why Cassidy was brought in, and after being unexpectedly fired by Boston after the year ended he’s accustomed to feeling the heat from upper management.
Ultimately, Golden Knights team owner Bill Foley clearly wants to playoff revenue and success immediately, and if you think their cap problems will get easier to handle down the line, consider: Vegas has just 15 players signed for 2023-24, and only $4.6 million in cap space. Something’s got to give, and for a team that’s spent only a half-a-decade in operation, that’s a quite odd thing to say. One way or another, it’s going to be an extremely intriguing season ahead for NHL hockey in Nevada.