The Below the Ice crew brings you; NHL: 31 for 31
This year as the clock ticks down towards the NHL season, the writers here at BTI will be bringing you our preview of all 31 NHL teams, in 31 days.
What happens in Vegas, ends up on the internet. Today we finish off the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights
1st in the Pacfic, 3rd in the West, 51-24-7 (109 points), Lost in Stanley Cup final to Caps (6 games)
What a cinderella story it was in Vegas’s inaugural season, they set the record in both wins and points for a teams first season in the NHL, on route to making the Stanley Cup final that no one saw coming.
Everyone wrote Vegas off before the season last year. It looked as if it was a team of 3rd liners all huddled together, a team that could be competitive but would never make the playoffs, or so we thought.
Geroge McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon made out like gang-busters getting 2/3 of their first line, (Reilly Smith, Jonathon Marchessault) and their head coach Gerard Gallant all for free from the Florida Panthers.
They would also get eventual 40 goal scorer William Karlsson from the Columbus Blue Jackets, a player who’s previous career high in goals was just 9. I could spend all day talking about who they stole from where and who looked great but that require me to do a write up on almost every single player.
Teams made clear mistakes in the expansion draft, especially when protecting players. Thanks to Vegas I don’t see the future GM of Seattle getting many handouts from other GM’s around the league.
- June 29, Extended Ryan Reaves 2-years, $2.775AAV,
- June 30, Signed Paul Stastny 3-years, $6.5AAV, Nick Holden 2-years, $2.2AAV
- July 12, Extended Marc-Andre Fleury 3-years, $7AAV
- August 3, Signed RFA William Karlsson 1-year, $5.25 million
- September 10, Traded Nick Suzuki + Tomas Tatar +2nd-round pick for Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Zachary Fucale
OFFSEASON GRADE: A-
Vegas loses their 3rd and 5th highest scorers from last year, James Neal and David Perron but they were never the long term plan with the team anyway.
Not to be discouraged they went out and picked up Paul Stastny from Free Agency and Max Pacioretty via trade. Both Stastny and Pacioretty are upgrades on Neal and Perron as Vegas gets even scarier over the offseason.
Defensemen Nate Schmidt is out 20 games following a suspension for taking a banned substance and I would like to see Vegas make a trade for a d man before the season starts. Getting ahead in the standings early is going to be so important in a division that saw San Jose, LA and Calgary all make significant moves.
78GP: 15G, 22A
If there was one person who benefits from the departure of James Neal its Alex Tuch.
With Neal gone Tuch, turning 22, is set to cement his spot in Vegas’s top-6. Tuch last season had positive possession numbers and a Corsi over 53%, those numbers may be hard to increase from but if its sustainable, with better line mates, Tuch production offensively has the potential to blow up.
2018-19 projection: 23G, 30A
61GP: 6G, 23A
Last year Shea Theodore started the season with the Golden Knights AHL affiliate, Chicago Wolves, after just 8 games Theodore scored 11 points (5G,6A) before being called up to the team for the rest of the season.
Theodore was another gift given to Vegas, Anaheim had to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft due to a NTC given to Kevin Bieksa two years prior.
While he was impressive during the regular season the playoffs was Theodore’s real coming out party, on route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance, Theodore lead Vegas’s defence in scoring putting up 10 points in 20 games.
He has already proven that he can play top pair minutes, he averaged the second most time on ice for Vegas behind Nate Schmidt. At just 22 years old, Theodore showed the poise and skill that it takes to become a #1 defensemen in the NHL.
2018-19 Projection: 12G, 32A
DUE TO REGRESS
82GP: 43G, 35A
Karlsson came out of NOWHERE for the Vegas Golden Knights last season.
Coming off a season in which he scored 6G, 19A, Karlsson over tripled his production jumping up to 78 points. His 43 goals also ranked 3rd in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Laine.
Kalrsson is due to take a step back because I do not believe his 23.4% shooting is sustainable even at a more realistic number like 16% Karlssons goal totals drop from 43 to 29.
35 assists last season was also a career high for Karlsson that I don’t see him topping.
2018-19 Projection: 25G, 33A
77GP: 27G, 48A
Jon Marchessault was gifted on a platter to the Vegas Golden Knights. A 30-goal scorer the year before (shooting 15%) and only making $750,000, many were surprised that he was left unprotected during the expansion draft.
This year won’t be easy for Vegas, teams will no longer see them as the lowly expansion team anymore but as a fierce competitor in the West. Trapped in a division that could have as many as 5 potential playoff teams, Marchessault will have to gear down and play a more defensive game or see the team crumble.
Marchessault also had a career year when it came to assists largely due to William Karlsson career high 43 goals, 22 of which Marchessault had on assist on. Because I believe Karlsson will have a down year that also means a down year for Marchessault, his previous career high in assists is 21, while i expect him to surpass that total, I do not see him getting to the 40 assist mark this season.
2018-19 Projection: 26G, 35A
4th in the Pacific, 7th in the West, 97 points
This year Vegas will come back down to Earth after having one of the most storied runs in a franchises first ever season.
While the team is still built for the future with many young assets the Golden Knights still don’t have what it takes to win now, especially in a jam packed Western Conference.
Vegas will still make the playoffs this year, most of the core is returning other than Neal and Perron but the additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty legitimizes the Knights chances at another post season berth.
A lot of other teams in the West got better, Vegas did too. For me they are still not a playoff lock and more than likely a bubble team heading into the last month of the season.
Vegas who we have finishing 7th and LA 8th, play each other in LA, to end both their seasons, a game I believe will have playoff implications in a tight Western Conference.
Come back tomorrow when we continue making our way through the West, now into the Central Division, starting with the Chicago Blackhawks.