The Vegas Golden Knights are past the halfway point in their season and currently enjoying a two-day break ahead of a big Thursday night tilt against the surging Colorado Avalanche (from “Avalanche extends winning streak to seven games with 5-1 victory at Arizona,” Mike Chambers, The Denver Post, 03/22/21), the last time this season they get more than a day between games.
With a brief momentum to exhale before a frantic sprint to the finish line that includes 26 games in 45 days and a looming April 12th trade deadline, it seems like high time for a THW writers’ roundtable. Joining me (BF) will be resident Golden Knights experts Brett Pickler (BP) and Michael Vidakis (MV):
1) What Is Vegas’ Biggest Area of Need Ahead of the Trade Deadline?
BF: As I wrote about a little while back, depth scoring remains an issue in Vegas. Keegan Kolesar finally got his first of the season on Monday, but the bottom-six regulars (Kolesar, Tomas Nosek, Nicolas Roy, Ryan Reaves and William Carrier) still have just seven goals between them. On a team that ranks seventh league-wide in goals per game, that stands out.
BP: The biggest need for the Golden Knights is consistent depth scoring. Other than Tuch, no player on the Knights’ third and fourth line is generating much offense. Cody Glass seems to find himself stuck without much momentum so making him a consistent part of the offense via trading another bottom-six forward could help. In fact, you could move him to the wing with Tuch and try to get Erik Haula back, as I’ve seen that rumor floating around.
MV: Vegas’ biggest need ahead of the trade deadline is bringing in someone down the middle to strengthen their center corps come playoff time. Names such as Haula, Riley Nash and Darren Helm come to mind. As Brett stated, aside from Tuch, the Golden Knights haven’t been getting much production from their third or fourth lines, so an investment in some depth pieces come trade deadline would be massive in boosting their Stanley Cup aspirations.
2) Who Could You See the Golden Knights Dangling to Facilitate a Deal?
BF: I don’t see a major deal materializing in-season and they don’t really have the cap space to add a big contract without sending out a valuable piece. So unless something unforeseen comes up, I don’t see any trade target looming that would inspire GM Kelly McCrimmon and Vegas executives to part with a high-level prospect. A trade would likely, then, come down to more middling prospects or draft picks. I could see them making their first-round pick available, as they have the New Jersey Devils’ 2021 second-rounder, which should only come a few picks later.
BP: I think you could see the Golden Knights take offers on Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith and Kolesar. The top two could clear cap space and bring in a lofty return, while Kolesar would bring a balance and consistency to the lineup.
MV: I could see the Golden Knights dangling some draft picks and some high-end prospects in order to easily facilitate their demands come trade deadline. Kolesar could see himself shipped out of Sin City, as well as young defenseman Nic Hague. He is enjoying a fabulous year but you kind of wonder if the Golden Knights would “dangle” him in from of teams in order to acquire someone who can help them “win now”.
3) What Is One Reasonable Trade You Could See Making Sense for Vegas?
BF: I’m eyeing Luke Glendenning and Bobby Ryan from Detroit. Both forwards are producing in depth roles for a pretty terrible team and on cheap, expiring deals. Ryan’s 13 points and Glendenning’s nine would put them ahead of all other Golden Knights’ depth forwards. Plus, Glendenning has a 63% face-off mark, an area where the Knights currently sit an underwhelming 18th in the league. But perhaps the best part is that, as depth veterans on expiring deals, they would likely not require much of a return cost.
BP: I could see the Golden Knights try to get a true third-line center or another piece to add to the fourth line to give them some more defensive boost. Derek Grant on Anaheim could fit in nicely on the Knights’ fourth or third line and he does have the ability to play on both the PK and PP.
MV: I recently wrote an article on this and believe with all my heart it should happen; Haula back in Gold and Silver. It makes so much sense, we need a solid third liner; he is a solid third liner, he has posted a 50+ point season playing for Vegas and he is a UFA come season’s end. The stars all align in this trade and I really think McCrimmon should make the call and get it done in order to ensure a smooth first two rounds in the NHL playoffs.
4) Who Will Be the Club’s No. 1 Center at Season’s End?
BF: In a perfect world, something finally clicks with Glass and he seizes that role. To date, though, while he’s certainly had his moments and offered tantalizing hints of his potential, we just haven’t seen the full package put together consistently. Until then, it’s pretty clear that Chandler Stephenson’s that guy. A mysterious injury recently may have raised some alarms, but Stephenson seems to be fine after missing just a couple of games and immediately returned to his usual spot anchoring the top line.
BP: The club’s number one center is technically Karlsson if you go by skill alone. However, the person playing on the top line should remain Stephenson. He has done well between Mark Stone and Pacioretty and is the driving force of their forecheck. Glass has the chance to but to keep line chemistry up, Stephenson should stay.
MV: First line center should remain whoever is playing best, and as Brett stated, Stephenson is doing exactly that right now. Sometimes it’s not the most skilled player who makes the first line but the one that has the best chemistry with your team’s star players and that is exactly the case with Stephenson. As long as he is producing, he should stay on the top line.
5) With Robin Lehner Back, How Do You See Pete Deboer Handling the Situation in Net?
BF: By going right back to Lehner on Monday, the clear indication is that the coach intends to still maintain a tandem in some capacity. But things are undeniably different from the start of the season, and you have to figure DeBoer will be quick to ride with Marc-Andre Fleury if Lehner falters or if there are any signs of recurrence in the Swede’s concussion issues.
BP: Well it seems like DeBoer has already gone back to the goalie split. For now, this is a good idea as they need to ease Lehner back in, however, I would say that the competition for the playoffs should start around the 40 game mark. And the playoff starter should be given the net for the last five games of the season (if there is no back-to-back).
MV: With Lehner back, I believe DeBoer will go back to the split and come playoff time, he should go with whoever played best during the final stretch of the regular season. In my opinion, Fleury should get the nod, but Lehner is no scrub and should be given his fair chance as well.
Are there any topics that we missed? Let us know in the comments if there’s anything else Vegas-related to cover, or feel free to let us know where our takes are way off! If you’d like to hear more, be sure to check us out on this week’s edition of The Hockey Writers Live!
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.