With so much data available to management, not to mention the general public, putting together a roster from what we all perceived to be the available players, was not only a fun exercise for us, but for this team as well. They had a vision in place, a design of a team that worked hard, skated well and was going to give it 110% every night.
Needless to say, they accomplished their mission and exceeded all expectations, both in the regular season (winning the Pacific Division) and in the playoffs (making it to the Stanley Cup Finals).
I would imagine that it was a tad heartbreaking to lose in the Cup Finals after such a good run this year, but one would have to think that they worked their asses off all season long and most of them haven't had a run like that in their careers, aside from Marc-Andre Fleury, so there's no real shame in just running out of gas. Not only did they win games, they shredded the competition and beat some playoff-made teams and players to get where they ended up... that's the most impressive part of it all.
Now... can they do it again?
Who saw William Karlsson coming? Not me, that's for sure. I had him projected for a measly 30 points, not quite knowing what to expect out of this team and their chemistry or what would happen when certain players got more ice-time than what they were getting with their previous NHL franchise. In Karlsson's case, it was a dominating season, finishing 30th overall in hockey pool scoring, scoring 43 goals and 78 points in all 82 games for the Golden Knights, leading the way for the team.
In total, Vegas had 14 players that qualified for hockey pool duty and that is something, since there were only nine taken at the draft this year, but of course, more were filled in as we went along in the season. Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, Reilly Smith, Erik Haula, James Neal, Alex Tuch and Tomas Tatar joined Karlsson among the pool worthy forwards in the season, while Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore and Deryk Engellend were all worthy defensemen as well. The Golden Knights had their injury problems in the crease in the first half of the season, but nevertheless, both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban played and won enough games to make the conversation this year.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
The Golden Knights have the potential of being a fairly competitive team, if the expansion draft mock-ups are any indication moving forward. Their real difficulty will be to come together as a complete unit in time, as they will be starting from scratch in the literal sense. An entire group of players, coming from different teams and different systems, all trying to learn the new systems and their new teammates as quickly as possible. Given that, it is seemingly improbable that they are going to make the playoffs, but certainly not impossible. Without a doubt, however, they will be exceptionally fun to watch, as the team develops before our very eyes.
I stand by how improbable it was that they were going to make the playoffs, with only two players on their roster at this time last year, but I wasn't blind to the fact that there was going to be a lot of players in that expansion draft that were going to make them not only fun to watch, but somewhat competitive as well. Who knew that they would be this competitive?
How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?
The buzz surrounding Vadim Shipachyov before he even signed with the Golden Knights was substantial, listed as the best player not playing in the NHL at the time. Talk about the shock about him not making the opening night roster and being shuffled off to the minors, before the long process of being released and heading back home to Russia for the year. What a serious disappointment.
2019 Pool Outlook
|Tomas Tatar||5.300||Brayden McNabb||2.500||Marc-Andre Fleury||5.750|
|David Clarkson||5.250||Nate Schmidt||2.225||Malcolm Subban||0.650|
|Jonathan Marchessault||5.000||Deryk Engelland||1.500|
|Reilly Smith||5.000||Jon Merrill||1.375|
|Cody Eakin||3.850||Erik Brannstrom||0.894|
|Erik Haula||2.750||Griffin Reinhart||0.800|
|Oscar Lindberg||1.700||Brad Hunt||0.650|
There's lots of work that needs to be done in the first summer, where the Golden Knights have a roster at the start of the off-season. Their current roster of 22 players above are missing some notable names and it will be after they sort some of those key names out, when we can start thinking more positively towards this Vegas team.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
Five of their pool worthy players are set for free agency this summer, likely to be looking for extensions before July 1st. William Karlsson, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore lead the potential restricted free agents, meaning that they don't quite have the leverage for the big deals, but they'll likely be compensated well this year.
Unrestricted free agency will be a tough nut to crack, especially with David Perron and James Neal heading towards the open market when the calendar flips over in a few weeks. Those two were important pieces this past season and it would be a shame if they moved on so quickly.
So, what do the Golden Knights have to spend? Well, that 22-man roster above, including David Clarkson, who is on the LTIR now and probably will be until the end of the 2020 season, comes in at only $50.6 million, still $4.7 below the cap floor for last season. $24.3 million below the cap ceiling from last season as well, so there will be money to spend this summer. How wisely can they spend it?
The Golden Knights have a stable of decent prospects already, thanks to having a ton of picks in last summer's entry draft. Their top pick from last year's draft does seem to be the closest to making the leap, as Cody Glass put up some pretty good numbers in the WHL last season. He may not quite have the build to step into the NHL, so say some o the scouts out there, but if his mentions of his work ethic mean anything, he'll be a Golden Knight before too long.
Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
Vegas doesn't have a 1st round pick in this year's draft, they moved their selection to Detroit in the deal that brought them Tomas Tatar, the regular healthy scratch through the playoffs. The Golden Knights do have seven other picks in this year's draft and they'll just be looking to stock the cupboards full of talent.
Detroit, on the other hand, looks like they can really start stacking up the defensemen prospects, since they don't have a great deal of them at the moment. With the 30th overall selection, I will have them select Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm, taking him for his dynamic skating abilities and his play on the rush.
The best way to describe the Golden Knights in 2018 was that they were the sum of all their parts, no matter how they acquired them and in what fashion. Now, with free agency looming and some questions that need answering, the outlook for this Vegas team is still way up in the air. Locking down their RFAs will be huge, Perron and Neal will add significant value once signed, but more moves can certainly happen for this team. They have a model from which they started from, which should allow for interchangeable pieces to come in and out. Work hard, play hard, you'll be on this team. With that being said, teams will be gunning for them this summer, withholding those pieces for bigger prices, so it will be tough on Vegas to repeat what they have done. They will remain a tough team to play against, but they set the bar awfully high, if they're looking to repeat.