Golden Knights Face 3 Big Questions in 2022 Free Agency

It’s free agency week in the NHL, and while the Vegas Golden Knights don’t expect to be among the more active teams once July 13 rolls around, there’s still work to be done. Cap space is tight, as it always is (especially once the official announcement is made on Reilly Smith’s new deal with the club). The organization faced the same challenge last offseason, but general manager Kelly McCrimmon still found a way to re-sign Mattias Janmark and add Laurent Brossoit to back up Robin Lehner.

Look, the situation isn’t pretty. The Golden Knights are more than $2.5 million over the $82.5 million cap, not accounting for Smith’s new deal. That does, however, include the LTIR-bound money owed to injured blueliner Shea Weber, along with the cap hits on the sidelined Brossoit and Nolan Patrick. McCrimmon has plenty of time to create some wiggle room and can remain over the cap until opening night of 2022-23.

That will surely be welcome news to fans of players like Keegan Kolesar, Nicolas Roy and Nicolas Hague, all of whom are waiting on new deals, as well as those who simply hope that Vegas does something to address a flawed, top-heavy roster. In the meantime, here are some of the questions that McCrimmon and the team’s front office will be navigating as free agency gets underway:

How Can the Golden Knights Shed Salary?

The Golden Knights moved quickly to begin addressing their cap issues this summer, trading Evgenii Dadonov and his $5 million salary between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Weber’s returning salary of roughly $7.85 million ultimately won’t count against the cap and puts the team just over $77 million in cap commitments for 18 players. Depending on Smith’s new contract and any further moves, more than $5 million in space is likely needed.

The obvious odd man out is Brossoit. Logan Thompson effectively rendered the 29-year-old unnecessary last season, outperforming him on a significantly cheaper contract. Subbing out Brossoit for the 25-year-old to be Robin Lehner’s backup would create approximately $1.5 million in savings, but Vegas would likely have to attach a sweetener to the $2.325 million still owed to the 2021 free-agent signee. If the cost to rid themselves of Brossoit is palatable, expect him gone.

Laurent Brossoit Vegas Golden Knights
Could Laurent Brossoit’s days be numbered in Vegas? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

We could see moves that would have a greater impact on the cap sheet, but those get complicated in a hurry. Take William Karlsson, for example. Many Golden Knights fans are probably ready to have the $29.5 million left on the Vegas Original’s contract off the books after hardly living up to it during his 12-goal, 35-point campaign. Of course, a salary dump would be a risky proposition for a 29-year-old former 40-goal-scorer, and the club would still need to replace a member of their top-six forward corps.

The same is true of Max Pacioretty, whose departure would carve out a whopping $7 million in space but would surely necessitate another large contract coming back. The 33-year-old, heading into the final year of his contract, was nearly a point-per-game player when healthy last season, but he only managed 39 games.

What About Vegas’ Own Free Agents?

Bringing Smith back was no small accomplishment, but there’s still plenty left to do. Given how heavily the club leaned on its depth last year, there’s a particular urgency to find a way to bring back Kolesar, Roy, Hague, and possibly Janmark and Brett Howden. If some or all of those players depart, then the focus will quickly shift to replacing them. Either way, McCrimmon will be a busy man.

The first three free agents, each of whom received a qualifying offer from the organization, figure to be priorities. Kolesar offered some offense and plenty of physicality in 77 games last season and should be relatively easy to sign, given his RFA status and depth role. Roy becomes a little trickier after his 15-goal, 39-point breakout but is still expected to return. Hague might attract outside interest (more on that in a moment), but Vegas would obviously want to hold onto a 23-year-old, puck-moving defenseman.

Evgenii Dadonov Mattias Janmark Nicolas Roy Vegas Golden Knights
With Evgenii Dadonov (left) out the door, the focus now shifts to free agents Mattias Janmark (center) and Nicolas Roy (right) (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The futures of Janmark and Howden appear less certain. Janmark had a disappointing season (nine goals, 25 points) on a $2 million contract, while Howden failed to find much of a groove after coming over via trade and didn’t receive a qualifying offer. Both unrestricted free agents could be replaced with inexpensive veteran help or possibly internal candidates in line for a promotion to the big club.

Although the Golden Knights still have questionable depth in their farm system, last season showed that internal options do exist. They could elevate Michael Amadio, Jonas Rondjberg, converted forward Dylan Coghlan or RFA Jake Leschyshyn into bigger roles, and possibly give a prospect like Pavel Dorofeyev or Brendan Brisson a shot with the big club.

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Is Vegas Worried About an Offer Sheet?

If there is an uptick in offer sheets around the league this summer, Vegas is among the chief candidates to be targeted, along with the Calgary Flames (Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane), Dallas Stars (Jake Oettinger and Jason Robertson, and Toronto Maple Leafs (Rasmus Sandin). Just don’t hold your breath, given both the rarity of offer sheets and the fact that the last one – the Carolina Hurricanes’ vengeful $6.1 million deal for 12-goal man Jesperi Kotkaniemi – didn’t work out so well.

Nicolas Hague Vegas Golden Knights
Given his age and potential and the team’s cap issues, Nicolas Hague could be an offer sheet candidate. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Still, that doesn’t mean the Golden Knights’ front office won’t be sweating early on. With a booming shot and defensive accountability, Hague has shown flashes of potential as a top-four mainstay on the blue line. Vegas knows this better than anyone and would love to keep the Kitchener, Ontario native in the fold. Of course, they already have over $26 million dedicated to the backend alone (not including the $7.8 million owed to Weber), so there’s a limit to what they can spend to retain him.

As with the league’s 31 other clubs, there are plenty of balls in the air and paths for the Golden Knights to take in the coming days. Shopping Brossoit seems like the clearest path to adding cap space, but trading a Karlsson or Pacioretty would open up options that extend far beyond depth signings. Ahead of a big season that might shape the future direction of the franchise, there’s lots of work to be done as free agency opens.

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