With the Golden Knights bowing out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the third round, many questions arose about why this team, which was the Stanley Cup favorite after knocking out the Colorado Avalanche, was unable to get through the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s not just that they couldn’t get through them, it’s that they really struggled, mainly in the goal-scoring department. With Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone essentially going ghost in the third round, the Golden Knights had to depend on their depth for scoring.
Now, if the Golden Knights were known for one thing this season, it was their depth. Vegas housed one of the most complete offensive, as well as defensive lineups, in the NHL. With names such as Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Mattias Janmark, Alex Tuch, Chandler Stephenson, and Riley Smith, occupying spots in the top-3 offensive lines, you would expect them to at least generate some solid offensive scoring chances.
Alas, that was not the outcome in the Montreal series, as it seemed the Golden Knights just couldn’t muster anything if their lives depended on it. It also didn’t help that they came up against a brick-wall who’s name was Carey Price. There’s no use in crying over spilled milk, but there are steps you can take to avoid it from happening in the future. With that in mind, our main focus today is the three key offseason situations the Golden Knights must deal with to ensure they do not repeat the same mistakes they made this year. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Scoring and Power Play
With the amount of star power on this roster, it’s surprising that they could not contribute more scoring to get through the Canadiens, a team largely considered inferior to the Western Division teams. Could it be that they had an “off” series? Who knows? What I do know, however, is that if the Golden Knights want to make it to the Stanley Cup Final in the years to come, they’re going to need a much better effort from their top-scoring men.
Take Stone for instance, who went goalless in the series. As the captain and heartbeat of this team, what he does and how he plays largely influences the rest of the team and how they perform. Well, the Manitoba-native didn’t serve as a good example, as he mainly looked flustered and frustrated during the entirety of the series.
During the playoffs, Stone managed to accumulate a mere eight points in 19 games, quite a disappointing number considering he put up 17 points in 20 games during the 2020 Postseason. The entirety of the blame should not be placed on the shoulders of one man, but when that one man is your captain, led your team in scoring during the season, and is the main driving point behind your team’s success, you have to play better.
What was even more disappointing was the lack of scoring that came from the depth. As depth forwards, your role is to pick up the slack when the stars aren’t contributing as they normally do. Most of the depth players were non-existent in the Montreal series, except Nicolas Roy (who I feel had an excellent series).
They say the proof is in the pudding, and something has to change for the Golden Knights. They just were not good enough offensively, plain and simple. When it comes to their power play, it was even worse, as they managed to register a 9.3 power-play percentage, the lowest from any team. During the regular season, it wasn’t any better, as it was a mere 17.3 percent, good for 22nd in the league.
They were able to get away with it seeing as they were restricted to intra-division play, but come next season when cross-division hopefully opens back up, they are going to pay the piper. With this in mind, what actions can they take towards rectifying the problem?
Well, in recent weeks, much has been said about the pursuit of Jack Eichel, and how the Golden Knights may potentially be suitors. Many see this as a possible solution to the Golden Knights’ offensive woes, but I beg to differ. Firstly, the asking price would be way too high for Eichel. Vegas would have to part with a first-round pick, two high-end prospects, and an established NHL’er. I’ve seen mock-up trades recently offering up Shea Theodore, Peyton Krebs, Brendan Brisson, and a first-round pick for Eichel. In my mind, that’s ludicrous.
Bringing on Eichel would not only disrupt the chemistry this team has built over the past four years, but it would also cause even more salary-cap headaches for the Golden Knights. Eichel carries with him a $10 million average annual value, something Vegas management will have to figure out how to work with before the season starts. This may mean having to deal with someone you don’t want but are forced to because of the cap issues.
All in all, I suggest the Golden Knights stay away from the Eichel trade rumors and instead go after some lovely free agents. The free-agent class this year is one of the best, as it houses a ton of star power. If the team wants postseason success, the first area they need to tackle is their third-line center position.
During the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, Janmark occupied that role, and did quite well. In saying that, he didn’t really have too many stand-out games and could easily be replaced. I wrote an article about this all the way back in March, but I still believe the Golden Knights should sign Erik Haula.
Bringing back Haula makes complete sense for both sides; he plays center, had the best season of his career as a member of the Golden Knights in 2017-18 (55 points), and is a cheap signing. Why wouldn’t Vegas take a chance on signing him for another two years? With a cheap contract, they have more to gain than to lose.
Another signing the Golden Knights should look into is Mike Hoffman. Hoffman is your prototypical sniper; he’s great with the puck, has a blistering shot, and has a goal-scorers knack around the net. With the team needing help on the power play, why not bring in a man who scores the majority of his goals there?
Over his 10-year career in the NHL, 67 of Hoffman’s 189 goals have come on that power play, which accounts for 36 percent of his goals. If I am a member of Golden Knights management, I would seriously consider looking into adding Hoffman to the roster, as he would be yet another depth addition, and may help solve some scoring problems.
No other situation amongst the Golden Knights may be as confusing as their goaltending situation. The team houses two No. 1 goalies. One is Robin Lehner, the 29-year-old Swede who had an okay season, as he went 13-4-2 with a .913 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.29 goals-against average (GAA). Much more was expected of Lehner considering it would have been his first full season as a Golden Knight, but through his fight with injuries, and the play of Marc-André Fleury, there wasn’t much room for him to flourish and develop his game.
As I mentioned above, Fleury’s play was outstanding this season. How great was it? It was great enough to get him the Vezina Trophy, beating out the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer. Fleury went 26-10 in 36 games this season, posting six shutouts, as well as a .918 SV% and a 1.98 GAA.
Some of the most impressive stats that surround Fleury’s Vezina-winning season are quite astounding. For starters, this was the first time in his 17-year career that the Sorel, Quebec-native was able to capture the award for the league’s best goaltender. Secondly, the 36-year-old managed to only allow two goals or fewer in 25 of his 36 starts. Lastly, he is now third on the NHL all-time list in goalie wins, behind only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
With a Vezina-winning goalie on the roster, you’d expect the decision to be clear — stick with Fleury. However, It’s not so cut and dry as the Golden Knights have had cap issues in the past, and will probably run into some as well heading into next season. Vegas needs to make a decision. Do they want to stick it out with Fleury, who is going to be 37 next season, and carries a cap hit of $7 million, or do they stick with Robin Lehner, a younger and promising goalie who would benefit from starting a majority of the games?
Some pundits may think that the Golden Knights should keep Fleury on even if Lehner does become the starter in coming seasons, but why would you want to allocate $7 million of your cap to a backup goalie? Last season they decided to keep both on, and with good reason. However, this offseason a tough decision will need to be made as salary cap space will be needed to acquire some depth. Whatever happens, just remember that, just like any other enterprise, the NHL is an entertainment business, and teams will make a decision based on how much they can make off their team moving forward. I absolutely love both these goalies and wish they could both stay, but unfortunately, that’s not the way the NHL works.
What’s Eating Cody Glass?
The first-ever Golden Knights draft pick has yet to make his mark in the NHL, as many believed this was the year he would do just that. After being relegated to the press box for most of the playoffs, it was clear that Golden Knights management felt Glass would not lend to a winning formula, something I would have to agree with.
The 22-year-old Manitoban has had the past four years to develop his game in the juniors and minors, but still to no avail. With fellow 2017 Golden Knights draft pick Nick Suzuki doing wonders with the Canadiens, it’d be hard not to compare their growth.
What could it be that is leading to Glass’ ever-so-slow development? Is it a lack of top-line minutes with the Golden Knights? Is it the way he was managed in the minors? Could it be he isn’t adaptable to the Golden Knights’ style of play? We can’t be too sure, but what we do know is that management needs to figure out what to do with him, fast!
If I were the Golden Knights I would give him the benefit of the doubt this season, and let him play one more year. If he picks up his production, keep him on. If not, try and find a potential suitor who would want a young prospect. For some reason, Glass reminds me of Curtis Lazar. Lazar had huge hype around him upon being drafted, but never quite lived up to the expectations. Could this be the case with Glass? Who knows, but if I were the Golden Knights, I would try to figure this out as soon as possible.
There we have it, a look at three things the Golden Knights will look to figure out this offseason. With free agency opening up on July 28, you already know management will have their hands full for the remainder of the summer. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to seeing what they do.
What do you think about these situations? Let me know in the comments below!
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.