A big piece of the Vegas Golden Knights’ offseason has been resolved, as pending free agent defenseman Alec Martinez inked a three-year extension with the club on Monday, days before hitting the open market. Now, after retaining Martinez, adding center depth with Nolan Patrick and Brett Howden and, of course, unloading the contract of Marc-Andre Fleury, the heavy lifting is done and only minor tweaks likely remain.
By now, Golden Knights fans are no strangers to the looming presence of the salary cap hovering over everything they do, even with Fleury’s $7 million off the books. And with over $50 million already committed to the 2023-24 roster, don’t expect this cap tight-rope walking to stop any time soon, especially with only moderate increases to the $81.5 cap level expected for the foreseeable future.
At the moment, the Golden Knights have about $7.2 million worth of breathing room under the cap, with Patrick, a restricted free agent, still in need of a contract while Tomas Nosek and Mattias Janmark are set to hit the open market and a vacancy has suddenly opened up in net. General manager Kelly McCrimmon may not be done, but the 2021-22 roster is coming into clearer focus.
How the Roster Looks
The good news for the Golden Knights: the blue line appears set (well) ahead of the 2021-22 season. The club returns the entirety of a defensive corps that THW ranked fifth league-wide last season. That means Alex Pietrangelo, last summer’s marquee addition who finally found his elite form late in the year, will be back. That also means Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and rising youngsters Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague, are also returning.
Up front, the addition of the former No. 2 pick Patrick for Cody Glass looms large (once he’s under contract, that is). He could ultimately see time as the No. 1 center, playing between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty and moving Chandler Stephenson back down the depth chart.
If they can count on Patrick centering a top line, the bottom-six quickly comes into clearer focus. That would leave Stephenson to center Alex Tuch and, potentially, William Carrier on a third line, while Howden could replace Nosek on a fourth line that likely features Keegan Kolesar and Nicolas Roy. Ryan Reaves could remain another depth option, or the club could gain some flexibility if they somehow get his $1.75 million off the books.
What’s Left to Do
Apart from a pie-in-the-sky run at Jack Eichel, the rest of Vegas’ off-season projects to come in the form of touch-ups here and there. For depth purposes, Nosek and Janmark both showed enough to be worth bringing back. Or if not them, then perhaps a cost-effective veteran like Ryan Getzlaf could be a fit.
Of course, there’s still the not-insignificant matter of a backup goalie to be addressed. Lehner is certainly suited for more than tandem duty with the reigning Vezina winner, but the Swede has only started 50-plus games twice in his career. The combination of Lehner and Fleury may have been an excess luxury, but the club still needs a capable No. 2.
Thus, the Golden Knights join a busy goalie market that now includes the recently bought-out Braden Holtby and Martin Jones.
While the Fleury trade is understandably drawing more attention, don’t discount the importance of the Martinez signing in assuring a level of stability, even without Flower back. For as great as he was during his time in Vegas, he should ultimately prove easier and cheaper to replace with a backup netminder than Martinez would with another top-four defenseman.
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.