With their Stanley Cup celebrations far behind them, it’s time to take a look at how the Vegas Golden Knights roster will look over the next few seasons.
With every signing and trade made throughout the year, there is a ton of analysis that goes into evaluating how much each player provides relative to the amount they are getting paid. The NHL’s salary cap can be extremely difficult to navigate, and it’s imperative that management assesses how each decision benefits not only their current situation but their future success.
It’s important to note that a huge factor in the decisions for each player chosen on this list was based on the remaining years of their contracts and not how they are currently performing. Coming off of a Stanley Cup-winning season, it’s hard to talk negatively about any of the decisions previously made because they ultimately led the Golden Knights to where they are now.
With that said, let’s try to evaluate which contracts assigned to these Golden Knights players are going to provide the lowest and the highest amount of value as time progresses.
Worst Golden Knights Contracts
The Golden Knights’ goaltending carousel was incredibly stressful at some points throughout this past season, and a lot of it had to do with the absence of Robin Lehner. After the Golden Knights traded away Marc-André Fleury in the summer of 2021 in order to pave the way for Lehner to be their next starting goaltender, he had two injury-riddled seasons, which included him missing the entirety of their 2022-23 campaign.
The Golden Knights were fortunate that Logan Thompson, Adin Hill, Jonathan Quick and Jiří Patera all put together quality starts throughout the regular season in order to position themselves at the top of the Pacific Division standings. But it wasn’t the plan they had in mind two years ago.
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Lehner is carrying a $5 million cap hit over the next two seasons, and there are no clear signs on whether or not he’s ready to return to the NHL. He hasn’t played a game in almost two years, and it’s going to be tough for teams to justify taking on his contract if the Golden Knights were going to try and trade him.
Even if he is ready, the Golden Knights have clearly committed to Hill and Thompson as their two goaltenders for the 2023-24 season and will eventually make a decision on Lehner’s future with the team. It’s an incredibly unfortunate circumstance for the 32-year-old goaltender, who may even be forced to retire if he’s unable to recover and return to form.
It’s tough to put Jack Eichel on this list following his incredible playoff debut with the Golden Knights, but as the highest-paid player on this roster, his expectations are also sky-high.
He is one of 11 players in the NHL earning $10 million or more each season. Even if you were to take away Connor McDavid’s incredible 153 points, the average point production for those players in the 2022-23 regular season was 82.2. The only player who scored fewer points than Eichel (66) in this salary range was Jonathan Huberdeau, who had an extremely underwhelming first season as a member of the Calgary Flames.
While Eichel’s low point total during the regular season could be a result of his improved defensive game under Bruce Cassidy, his playoff production proves that he is capable of putting up points that make him worth his high cap hit. However, he has yet to play a full 82-game season, which has been a major factor that’s held him back from reaching the upper echelon of NHL scorers.
The Golden Knights have ultimately gotten what they’ve needed from Eichel as an elite number-one center, but it just might turn out to be at a higher price tag than they would’ve liked to be paying.
The biggest reason why Alex Pietrangelo falls on this list is because of his age. While he’s been one of the most important pieces to this Golden Knights roster since he joined the team in 2020, it’s hard to believe he will still be playing at an elite level by the time his contract expires following the 2026-27 season, when he will be 37 years old and still be earning $8.8 million a season.
Sometimes, that’s the unfortunate reality that comes with trying to make a big splash in the free agency market. With Pietrangelo being one of the most reliable and sought-after defensemen, the Golden Knights had to make an attractive offer that they believed would help their team win the Stanley Cup before his inevitable decline would occur, and they clearly made the right choice.
Best Golden Knights Contracts
Aside from what the Golden Knights will get from Chandler Stephenson in the final year of his contract this season, it’s worth noting just how remarkable of an acquisition this was. They gave up a fifth-round pick to the Washington Capitals to acquire him in 2019, and since then, only Jonathan Marchessault has recorded more regular season points for the franchise.
Stephenson is easily worth anywhere between $6-8 million with his production over the past two to three seasons. But the Golden Knights managed to get him on an incredible team-friendly deal signed in October of 2020, carrying a $2.75 million cap hit over four seasons. While his emergence as a top-six center may not have been anticipated when they initially traded for him or even when they signed him to that extension, the Golden Knights are reaping the benefits now.
He’s elevated everybody’s game around him, mainly Mark Stone, with his incredible pace and playmaking ability, leading the team in assists and over the past two seasons. He’s also finished second in points in back-to-back seasons despite being the seventh-highest-paid forward on the team and was second in playoff scoring this season with 20 points through 22 games.
All of the numbers support the fact that Stephenson is easily a top-five player on this Golden Knights roster, except for his cap hit. While he’s due for a major raise next summer, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be just as important to this team’s success in the 2023-24 season.
A 28-year-old top-pairing defenseman with a $5.2 million cap hit should be considered one of the most valuable contracts in today’s NHL, and that’s exactly what the Golden Knights have with Shea Theodore.
There are 65 defensemen who are earning more each season than Theodore, and there were only 13 with a higher points-per-game average (0.75) than him last season. He is their best puck-moving defenseman and is one of the most offensively gifted players on the whole roster, with nobody on the Golden Knights being on the ice for more even-strength goals over the last three seasons than him (178).
While he may not take on the tougher defensive matchups as Pietrangelo does, Theodore is still great in his own zone. His elite skating ability and hockey IQ have allowed him to grow into an incredibly dynamic defenseman, and he still flies under most people’s radars when considering the most impactful blueliners in the league.
With two more years left on his deal, Theodore is due for a huge raise, but the Golden Knights may have managed to get the best years of his career at an incredibly low cost.
While Paul Cotter has had a relatively small sample size at the NHL level, there’s a strong chance he becomes an everyday player in the Golden Knights’ lineup over the next few seasons, making his $775k cap hit through the 2026-27 season one of the most valuable contracts on the team.
Cotter put up 13 goals through 55 games played in his rookie season and had opportunities to play in a variety of spots throughout the Golden Knights’ lineup. At just 23 years old, he’s already established himself as a bottom-six forward with a high level of pace and physicality, along with a willingness to drive the net.
He has a very complementary style of play that, with the absence of Reilly Smith, might even earn him a chance to play in the top-six at some point this season with some secondary power play time. Cotter made his presence felt with each shift he had during the 2022-23 season, and if he is able to steadily improve his point production, this contract will undoubtedly be one of the best on the team, if it isn’t already.
It wasn’t easy to pick out what some of the worst contracts were on this list, especially coming off of a Stanley Cup-winning season. While the Golden Knights have actually managed to spend their money pretty effectively over the past few seasons, sometimes it’s important to step back and remember that nobody is thinking about how much each guy is making while they’re hoisting the most coveted trophy in hockey.
The biggest takeaway from these lists for Golden Knights fans should be that there is still a huge competitive window for this team, with a great balance of up-and-coming talent and solidified stars surrounding their roster. GM Kelly McCrimmon is redefining what it means to run an NHL team, and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the league adapts to their management style.