3 Golden Knights Who Probably Won’t Return Next Season

The dawn of a new year offers an opportunity to reflect on what was and look ahead towards what will be. For the Vegas Golden Knights, much of the present focus centers on this season — can they hold on atop the Pacific Division? How do things work with a healthy Jack Eichel? What will the postseason bring?

Looking even further ahead, the Golden Knights have a complex, challenging and interesting offseason ahead, regardless of their 2021-22 on-ice results. It is this summer where Vegas’ tight cap will truly be tested, forcing tough decisions and probably expediting the departure of some key contributors and familiar faces. The Eichel trade cost Vegas the services of Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, along with draft picks. But we likely haven’t yet seen the full cost to acquire the $10 million man.

As we delve further into 2022, let’s take a look at three current Knights who aren’t likely to be around by the time the calendar flips to 2023.

Reilly Smith

The Eichel blockbuster already brought an end to the tenure of one Vegas original in Tuch; could it lead to the exit of another? Losing Reilly Smith would represent another blow to a Golden Knights fan base that has already seen too many favorites move on. It doesn’t help that the 30-year-old currently ranks as the club’s second-leading scorer.

But really, Smith’s inclusion here is something of a no-brainer. Assuming the pending unrestricted free agent commands something in the neighborhood of his current $5 million cap hit, it would represent the organization’s largest expiring contract by a wide margin. As general manager Kelly McCrimmon has shown, there are always ways to massage the cap and make salaries work, but with nearly $79 million already committed for next year and plenty of holes to fill, it won’t be easy.

Perhaps McCrimmon could instead find a taker for Evgeni Dadonov, whose identical $5 million annual cap hit extends through to next year. Still, that scenario assumes that a) Vegas somehow takes on little to no money beyond this season and b) Smith can, indeed, be re-signed for $5 million or less. The latter point may prove tricky with the former Florida Panther on track to challenge his career-high of 60 points.

Because of that production and his critical role as a three-zone player and long-standing member of the ‘Misfit’ line, losing Smith in free agency might actually be a preferable option (from “Exploring the Golden Knights’ trade options to become cap-compliant when Jack Eichel returns,” Jesse Granger, The Athletic, 12/31/21). After all, keeping the team’s all-time leading playoff scorer around after the trade deadline for a critical postseason push is likely more beneficial than any assets returned in a trade could be.

Alec Martinez

Eichel’s contract isn’t the only one that will eventually have to emerge out of long-term injury reserve (LTIR) and, thus, begin counting towards the cap. Alec Martinez suffered a nasty cut to the face by a wayward skate back on Nov. 11 against the Minnesota Wild and has been slow to recover, ultimately landing in LTIR on Dec. 28. We obviously wish nothing but the best for the veteran defender and hope to see him back soon, but his return isn’t without complications.

Alec Martinez Vegas Golden Knights
Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last summer, the Golden Knights kept Martinez in black and gold with a three-year, $15.75 million contract. That contract, with a $5.25 million annual cap hit, looks somewhat regrettable at the moment for a player who has mustered just three assists in 11 games and will turn 35 later this year. After all, it’s not like Vegas has oodles of cap room to burn.

Related: Golden Knights’ McCrimmon Will Need Creativity Upon Eichel’s Debut

Granted, this is a pretty harsh assessment for a guy who has won over fans with his tough, hard-nosed defensive play. But Vegas simply can’t afford to be sentimental or look at any roster decisions from any lens beyond simple on-ice value. And with Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore sticking around to log the big minutes and Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague ready to move into larger roles, the importance of even a healthy Martinez — or unrestricted free agent Brayden McNabb — is brought into question.

Laurent Brossoit

Since being signed as a free agent in the offseason, backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit has provided exactly what the Golden Knights needed. He’s got eight wins in 11 starts while sporting respectable numbers (.900 save percentage (SV%), 2.78 goals-against average (GAA) and is holding down the fort with Robin Lehner still sidelined by a lower-body injury incurred during the club’s Dec. 20 game against the New York Islanders.

Laurent Brossoit Vegas Golden Knights
Laurent Brossoit, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Brossoit’s numbers look all well and good, save for one. The $2.325 million cap hit that he sports for this and next season hardly seems unreasonable, but it’s a luxury that Vegas likely can’t afford. It’s no ‘$12 million in cap space allocated to two goalies’ inefficient, but it’s fair to wonder if Logan Thompson, currently sporting a .929 SV% and 2.53 GAA in the AHL, is ready to offer similar production at under $1 million.

When it comes to Vegas, the simplest path has rarely been the chosen path, so don’t expect offseason cap finagling to be as straightforward as lopping off these three contracts and moving on. Instead, breaking down the potential need to jettison these three valuable players highlights the complex roster management that McCrimmon has in front of him in the short and long term. Here’s hoping Eichel is worth it.

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