It’s official. The Vegas Golden Knights are a real-life hockey team. With uniforms and everything.
On a day when the high temperature in the Las Vegas Valley shot all the way up to 113, team owner Bill Foley and general manager George McPhee announced the 30 players that will help field the inaugural roster for the NHL’s 31st franchise.
Plus players added via trade on Wednesday night. Minus players subtracted via trade the rest of the week. It’s been a wild few days, get caught up.
With these three it’s clear where everybody ranks. Vegas gets a little bit of everything. Stockpiling goalie assets to flip later didn’t happen as some suspected. That strategy was implemented on the Vegas blue line. Can this trio get the Golden Knights off on the right foot? I’m a fan, so I’m going to say yes.
Arguably the most curious pick of the night when first announced, the acquisition of New York Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube was cleared up pretty quickly after his name was called. The Islanders are the only club that elected to protect three forwards and five defensemen ahead of the expansion draft. That wasn’t enough protection for Islanders general manager Garth Snow.
To get this deal done and steer McPhee away from the Islanders Snow wanted to hang on to, the Golden Knights selected Berube and were compensated with New York’s 2017 first-round pick, their 2019 second-round pick, and defenseman Jake Bischoff. They also had to absorb the contract of forward Mikhail Grabovski, who has one year and $5 million remaining on his deal. Vegas used the pick they received in this year’s draft on Erik Brannstrom at No. 15.
Clear as mud, right? Of course, we’re not going to know who got the better end of this deal for a few years. Right now though, it looks like a mutually beneficial transaction. The story here is the protection and the picks, as both McPhee and Snow accomplished their goals. As for Berube, it’s not difficult to see where he fits in. He’s been a third-stringer most of his career. It’s unfair to call him a bad goalie; we’ve had just 21 games of observation across two seasons with New York. Of the names we know today, though, he’s the clear number three in Vegas.
The clear number two in Vegas is Calvin Pickard, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche. His past season was one filled with uncertainty. Twenty-four games into the 2016-17 campaign, top goaltender Semyon Varlamov saw his season come to an end thanks to hip surgery. Pickard saw his workload spike, as he appeared in a career-high 50 games.
There was plenty of discussion in advance of the expansion draft about which Avs goalie would be protected by Colorado GM Joe Sakic. Some were of the opinion that Sakic could safely expose Varlamov as McPhee would be disinterested in that addition due to the nearly $12 million that he’s still owed. Comparably, the price tag for Pickard is $1 million, and he’ll be a 26-year-old free agent at the conclusion of next season.
It a bit of a polarizing pick, and not everyone in attendance at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday was ecstatic. I like it. In February, Foley described VGK’s evaluation system as assigning players “gold,” “silver,” or “bronze” status. Pickard works just fine as a silver player. I can’t argue that he didn’t underperform last season, just like every player that pulled on a Colorado Avalanche sweater. What I know though is Pickard saw the ice plenty, and at only 25 years old is being afforded the opportunity for a new start learning under one of the game’s top goaltenders for the last decade.
And we’ve reached that goaltender. Marc-Andre Fleury is the first face of the Vegas franchise.
What can be said that hasn’t already been said? The number-one overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft has now been assigned the toughest task of his career: moving the Golden Knights into hockey relevancy. Fleury’s a two-time All-Star and three-time Stanley Cup champion. With the emergence of Matt Murray, Pittsburgh made the right decision in cutting Fleury loose. Vegas made the right decision in adding him to its inaugural roster.
A roar rolled through T-Mobile Arena when Fleury’s name was called. It’s a fantastic place for Foley’s squad to start. What’s left in the tank for Fleury, who appeared in 38 games last season? We’ll see. Winning a ton of games right from inception is never going to happen for an expansion franchise. With a player like Flower, though, the Vegas club is afforded instant credibility. Long-term success will be built through the draft. Fleury ensures that climb isn’t going to start from the cellar.