After a very successful expansion draft that saw the Golden Knights acquire multiple assets to build the team they have today, time has caught up to them and now they need to pay their players. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, and Marc-Andre Fleury all have new contracts kicking in this season.
All of these new contracts have forced general manager Kelly McCrimmon to make some trades this offseason and let some key players go via free agency.
Erik Haula to the Hurricanes
The first trade that McCrimmon pulled off to save cap space was moving center Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Nicolas Roy and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2021. Haula has one year remaining at $2.75 million while Roy comes in a shade over $700,000 on his entry-level contract.
Haula had a career year in Las Vegas during his first season with the club, posting 29 goals and 55 points. He then suffered a very scary knee injury in early November of his second campaign and was forced to miss the rest of the season as he recovered from surgery.
He was not a game breaker for the Golden Knights, but he accomplished what was asked of him; he could kill penalties, create offense, and win a big face-off. He is a good hockey player, but not a great one. And because of that, he was the first casualty of the offseason.
Roy is a big kid (6-foot-4) and could make the team because of his cheap contract and to help replace some of the grit and toughness they lost when Ryan Carpenter and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare left as free agents.
He came up big for the Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers last postseason, scoring 15 points in 19 games. He is a reliable center that plays a strong 200-foot game.
Colin Miller to the Sabres
The second move that McCrimmon made was trading defenseman Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 second-rounder and a 2022 fifth-round pick.
This trade freed up almost $4 million in cap space and although he was the all-time franchise leader for defensemen in points with 70, the Golden Knights have plenty of options on the backend to fill his spot with.
Nicolas Hague is one defender that has the ability to jump up to the parent club this season. A former second-round pick, the Canadian scored 13 goals and 32 points in his first year as a pro and added 11 points in the playoffs. Hague also brings intimidation with his size, registering at 6-foot-6.
Zach Whitecloud was a college free agent signing in the summer of 2018. In his first year in the pro ranks, he scored 28 points but came in clutch during the playoffs with another 15. He is more of a defensive defenseman and would be able to eat more of those tougher minutes.
Jimmy Schuldt is another college free agent, having spent four seasons at St. Cloud State. He is the oldest of the three and even though he has no professional experience, his hockey IQ and pace of play may be the easiest to transition to the show.
Team Free Agents
Free Agency started on July 1 and a couple of Vegas’ depth players had to move on because they did not have the cap space to re-sign them. Guys like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Carpenter have signed long term deals with other teams and even though these guys won’t be seen on the score sheet every night, they will be missed on the ice doing the little things and in the locker room.
Tomas Nosek and Brandon Pirri were retained and signed to team-friendly deals so both players will play bigger roles on the team this season.
The Golden Knights sit at $78.925 million after David Clarkson’s $5.25 million gets placed on LTIR, leaving them about $2.5 million to sign three more players (two defensemen and one goalie) to fill out their roster.
Options to Create More Space
One of their prized prospects, Nikita Gusev, needs to sign a new contract too, but the two parties are far apart in their negotiations so he is a player that can be packaged with a current contract to make more space.
A few of the players that could be on the move:
- Cody Eakin – Eakin has one more year on his contract at a $3.85 million cap hit and would be the easiest to move. He has been one of the best third-line centers in the league the last two seasons and with him being an unrestricted free agent next summer, he won’t strap a team’s salary cap for multiple years.
- Reilly Smith – Smith will be in his third season of a five-year contract that has a reasonable $5 million cap hit. He is a smart player that can play a number of roles: scoring winger, shutdown forward, penalty killer, and clutch producer. In his last 33 playoff games, he has 36 points.
- Jonathan Marchessault – The all-time team leader in assists (82) and points (134), Marchessault has five years left at a $5 million cap hit. He is an emotional leader for the team on and off the ice, not afraid to throw his body around on the ice while driving the team-branded Lamborghini off it.
Replacements at Forward
The Vegas prospect pool is filled with players who are ready to compete for an NHL job and they are on entry-level deals or cheap prove-it contracts.
Valentin Zykov led the AHL in goal scoring two seasons ago and is in the final year of his one-way contract.
The team’s first ever entry draft selection, Cody Glass, is turning pro this season and scored 15 points in the Chicago Wolves’ run to the Calder Cup after he finished his final season in the WHL.
Keegan Kolesar is a big winger who provides physicality and a soft pair of hands around the net. He is a good option to study under Ryan Reaves as he is in the final year of his contract and likely won’t be re-signed next summer.
The Golden Knights have already exceeded expectations in their first two seasons, but that is still not good enough for team management. Their ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup.
Even though they are in a tight spot salary cap wise, the team has a great mix of stars playing on fair value contracts and young guns breaking into the league on rookie contracts. The success of the scouting staff has enabled them to pay certain players and replace others when needed; that is how you build a consistent winner.