In a hard cap league, a player and his contract remain forever intertwined. Talent is always a welcome asset to have, but it’s impossible to view that talent in a vacuum without also taking into account the financial strain that said talent is placing on the team overall. In New Jersey, for example, Dougie Hamilton is producing at a level in line with what made him a top free agent last summer, but any evaluation of the Devils’ off-season addition has to factor in his $9 million cap hit.
In that very same vein, the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster boasts a wealth of talented stars, many of whom are being paid accordingly. Clearly, Vegas’ perennial playoff positioning reflects that its players are delivering, but it’s both fair and prudent to wonder about contract value on a team that is constantly tiptoeing around the upper reaches of the $81.5 salary cap, hasn’t returned to the Stanley Cup Final since its expansion season and now find the Pacific Division title slipping away.
With the club experiencing a bit of a lull as they’ve gotten passed by a Calgary Flames team with $10 million less in salary commitments, it seems like a logical time for a Golden Knights value rankings, examining the roster through the lens of players’ current contracts and anticipated future performance (read: age). For this exercise, we’re going best contract to worst while operating off of this salary chart and only evaluating players on the books beyond this season.
1. Shea Theodore – Four Years, $20.8 Million Left
It’s fitting that a Vegas original and foundational piece of the organization ranks first on here. Shea Theodore currently owns the 53rd-highest cap hit among NHL defensemen, yet sits 13th in league scoring among blueliners.
The best part of all: Theodore is just 26 and remains under contract through to roughly his 30th birthday. For $5.2 million per year, the Golden Knights may not quite have a Norris contender, but they do boast a top pairing d-man who is currently handling 23 minutes of ice time per game.
2. Chandler Stephenson – Three Years, $8.25 Million Left
The four-year contract extension afforded to Chandler Stephenson in October of 2020 seemed like somewhat excessive term for a player with 22 career goals to that point. Now, it looks downright prescient of the Vegas front office.
This season, Stephenson has been the leading scorer and most consistent presence on the Golden Knights, all while occupying just 3.4% of the club’s total cap. The only reason the 27-year-old isn’t higher is due to a lack of clarity over his future role once Jack Eichel enters the lineup.
3. Jonathan Marchessault – Three Years, $15 Million Left
Jonathan Marchessault doesn’t do much quietly, but he is quietly on pace to surpass his career-high of 30 goals this season, with a team-best 20 in 46 games currently. The popular winger is one of four players on the team (Reilly Smith, Robin Lehner and Evgenii Dadonov) sporting identical $5 million cap hits, but has arguably produced the most bang for those bucks.
It’s fair to wonder about the long-term outlook on Marchessault’s contract, given that he’ll be nearing 34 when it expires. But even a slight dip in production wouldn’t take much away from the Quebec native’s value, especially given what he’s already brought the Golden Knights and the intangibles he offers on a night-to-night basis.
4. Mark Stone – Six Years, $57 Million Left
If you’re just looking at Mark Stone as an injury-prone guy with a $9.5 million annual cap hit, then you may need to watch the games a little closer. The team captain remains an elite asset for his scoring abilities and Selke-caliber two-way play, even if we haven’t seen much of the real Stone this year.
That praise probably rings hollow amidst a frustrating, injury-marred season in which Stone has produced eight goals and 28 points in just 28 games and remains sidelined with a back injury, but the 29-year-old stands as an essential part of what is being built here and a rough season to date won’t change that.
5. Zach Whitecloud – Seven Years, $17.225 Million Left
Over the past two seasons, Zach Whitecloud has served as an absolute steal for Vegas, offering a steady back-end presence capable of moving up into the top-four at a cost of just $725,000 per season. Last year, he averaged nearly 18 minutes of ice time and even earned a fifth-place Calder vote.
While that bargain value won’t carry over beyond this season now that the 25-year-old has signed a well-deserved six-year, $16.5 million extension, the contract still looks like a pretty safe bet. Whitecloud is earning a bigger role this season while remaining an analytics darling and should only further solidify himself as a reliable stay-at-home defenseman.
6. Max Pacioretty – Two Years, $14 Million Left
Okay, let’s state the obvious here: this season has pretty well re-affirmed every risk involved with paying significant money to an aging player, even if that player is a very good one. Max Pacioretty broke his foot early in the season and then underwent wrist surgery during the holidays, suiting up for just 24 games to date.
And yet, the production of the 33-year-old in those 24 games – 15 goals, 12 assists – speaks volumes about what he still has left in the tank. As new linemates Pacioretty and Eichel fully gel on the club’s dynamic top line, the 33-year-old could be even more dangerous.
6. Brayden McNabb – Four Years, $11.05 Million Left
The contract extension signed by Brayden McNabb at the end of January came as something of a surprise, given that the 31-year-old seemed expendable with four other defensemen signed for multiple years beyond this one. You can still argue whether it’s prudent to already have nearly $25 million in cap commitments tied to the 2023-24 blue line, but looking at McNabb’s contract based on stand-alone value makes it easier to understand.
McNabb doesn’t do anything particularly flashy, but he’s a steady, reliable and responsible back-end presence whose been a top-four mainstay since being selected in the Expansion Draft. That he’s on the wrong end of 30 might elicit some concern, but the three-year term and stay-at-home nature of his game should limit the risk of age-related decline. Locking up a defender you can send out against opposing top lines at under $3 million seems like good business.
7. Robin Lehner – Four Years, $20 Million Left
The early returns on Robin Lehner as the Golden Knights’ undisputed No. 1 option between the pipes have been good but not great. Lehner’s 2.86 goals-against average (GAA) and .907% save percentage (SV%) are perfectly solid numbers, even if they won’t steal many games. It’s worth noting that former teammate Marc-André Fleury has performed slightly better, although probably not enough to offset the $2 million difference between their respective cap hits.
What’s encouraging is that Vegas continues to reign atop the Pacific Division even as Lehner performs below his peak potential. And $5 million seems like a fair price to pay for a goalie backstopping his team to a division crown. It’s not the Vezina-caliber play of Fleury from a year ago, but then again, Vegas also isn’t committing $12 million in cap space to its goalies.
8. Evgenii Dadonov – Two Years, $10 Million Left
With so much big name talent on the Vegas roster, it’s easy for others to sometimes get overlooked. Very quietly, Evgenii Dadonov is making his off-season trade acquisition in exchange for Nick Holden and a 2022 third-round pick look like a savvy one.
For $5 million this year, the 32-year-old Russian winger has provided some much-needed stability. Dadonov is one of just five Golden Knights with a double-digit goal total and ranks fourth in games played this season.
9. Jack Eichel – Five Years, $50 Million Left
Easily the toughest choice to project on here in a list full of them. Two games isn’t anywhere close to a sufficient sample size to predict how Jack Eichel will fare across the duration of his heavy contract, even if one did produce his first goal in roughly 13 months.
Holding him to the standard of other eight-figure cap hits around the league presents a daunting challenge, given that he’s one of 13 players in that exclusive club this season (his cap hit matches that of Anze Kopitar and Sergei Bobrovsky, both of whom are having stellar seasons). Some may be tiring of all the Eichel coverage, but it isn’t an overstatement to suggest that the early stages of his Golden Knights’ career could represent a true franchise turning point.
10. Nolan Patrick – Two Years, $2.4 Million Left
Unfortunately, injuries have robbed Nolan Patrick of any chance to show that a fresh start in Vegas was what the 2017 second overall pick needed to spark his career and realize his potential. The 23-year-old is back in the lineup now – and showing flashes of what he’s capable of – but has already missed a whopping 33 games (from ‘Golden Knights center flashes skills with highlight-reel goal’, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 01/26/22).
Nevertheless, a high ceiling, young, 6’2″ center on a reasonably cheap contract will almost always hold at least some value. Should the Golden Knights reach a point where they’re struggling to find a place for Patrick in the lineup and/or really need $1.2 million worth of cap wiggle room, there would likely be a number of teams at various stages of development who can offer cap space and ice time.
11. William Carrier – Three Years, $4.2 Million Left
Calling William Carrier the prototypical fourth-liner can be something of a backhanded compliment, but there’s true value in that designation, as well. Though the 27-year-old’s contributions may be difficult to spot on a game-by-game basis, they remain statistically evident, where he holds a positive effect on the club at five-on-five. Is that worth $1.4 million per year in a hard-capped league for the next two seasons? Hard to say.
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The problem in paying long-term money to a player like Carrier is it takes away spots that could otherwise go to cheap, young plug-and-play guys. To be clear, Carrier is a step above that, but it’s fair to wonder whether there’s more value in paying him for 11 minutes a game or giving that role to, say, a Jake Leschyshyn at nearly half the cap hit.
12. Dylan Coghlan – Two Years, $1.525 Million
In the grand scheme of NHL salaries, $762,000 is relative peanuts. Still, even end-of-the-roster salaries need to be earned, and Dylan Coghlan wasn’t doing that over the first portion of the season. The 23-year-old blueliner appeared to lack confidence early on and registered a negative plus-minus in eight of his first 14 games, even in sparse duty.
Encouragingly, head coach Pete DeBoer’s trust in Coghlan seems to be increasing as he improves, culminating in 25 minutes of ice time in place of an injured Whitecloud against Montreal on January 20. Still, it’s a pretty small sample size, so nothing’s guaranteed, as we saw when Coglan was leapfrogged by journeyman Ben Hutton earlier this year.
13. Michael Amadio – Three Years, $2.275 Million Left
File this one under “meh”. Michael Amadio has bounced around four different organizations over his five-year career and seems like the kind of player that can be extracted from the waiver wire when necessary. The two-year, $1.5 million contract extension he signed in January didn’t seem wholly necessary, but it showed that the Golden Knights like what he brings as a two-way depth player and the terms make the deal unlikely to ultimately prove regrettable or immovable.
They say that when it comes to jobs, showing up is half the battle. While that’s not entirely true when it comes to playing in the NHL, it is worth noting that Amadio has more games under his belt for Vegas this season than Pacioretty, Patrick or Alec Martinez. Having a guy who the coach trusts in a limited role at a near-minimum salary has at least some value.
14. William Karlsson – Six Years, $35.4 Million Left
The eight-year contract extension signed by William Karlsson in 2019 continues to be something of a roller coaster experience – and there are somehow still five more years left after this one. The club’s gamble on long-term cost control for a rising asset has looked savvy (16 points in 19 games last postseason) at times and onerous at others.
At the moment, however, things are certainly in more of a valley than a peak. With 18 points in 36 games, Karlsson stands tied with Brett Howden, a pending restricted free agent (RFA) who is averaging eight fewer minutes of ice time and earning nearly five million less this year.
15. Laurent Brossoit – Two Years, $4.65 Million Left
Laurent Brossoit‘s numbers as Lehner’s back-up (.903% SV%, 2.70 GAA) have been fine and roughly in line with his career averages and he’s certainly proven necessary with the Swedish starter’s injury woes. But the $2.325 million owed to the 28-year-old next year already looks problematic, especially in light of how many contenders aren’t spending the same money on their own back-ups.
From bargain bin options like Calgary’s Dan Vladar and Florida’s Jonas Johansson ($750K each) to slightly cheaper options like Carolina’s Antti Raanta and Colorado’s Pavel Francouz ($2 million each), most top teams seem to be allocating less cap space to their second-stringers while getting generally comparable production.
16. Alec Martinez – Three Years, $15.75 Million Left
Having spent the past two months on LTIR, Martinez and his $5.25 million cap hit haven’t really hurt the Golden Knights from a cap standpoint aside from lightening owner Bill Foley’s wallet a bit. That said, it’s awfully tough to be optimistic about the two remaining years to come on the blue liner’s deal, as he earns $10.5 million more while nearing age 37.
No, the eye laceration that is currently keeping him out of the lineup isn’t age-related, but his challenging recovery back from a lower-body injury earlier in the season could be. Generally speaking, no goals and three assists in 11 games is a disappointing output for Martinez however you look at it. Maybe the former Los Angeles King gets his game back in time for the postseason, but for now the contract that Vegas signed him to in free agency looks rather regrettable.
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.