On March 22, the Vegas Golden Knights re-signed rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud to a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.45 million. Even in a hockey starved world due to the league-wide shutdown, this doesn’t seem like a needle-mover.
But, what if I told you that signing Whitecloud is going to cause ripples through the Golden Knights lineup in 2020-21? Ripples so big it will put an end to two original Golden Misfits’ time in Vegas, AND make a once-prized rookie a trade chip? Now, are you interested?
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Follow along as I make two easy guesses and one that might rub a few people the wrong way, in a big (6-foot-6) way.
What We Know For Sure
Since Peter DeBoer took over for Gerard Gallant on Jan 15, we learned immediately that what happened in Vegas before his arrival didn’t matter. He was going to build the lineup and play the players as he saw fit.
While he most notably juggled players on the top two forward lines, something Gallant rarely did, the changes on defense had more to do with playing time. It became apparent early on by the number of games Deryk Engelland was a healthy scratch, that the focus on defense was going to become aggressive and speed-oriented. With those changes, you can see the direction and look the Golden Knights’ defense will take. That is whenever we FINALLY get the NHL back.
OK, Who Goes?
Even with a very reasonable cap hit, Merrill has likely played his last game as a Golden Knight. He is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
With Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, Braydon McNabb, Alec Martinez, Nick Holden and now Whitecloud all signed, Merrill’s departure is based on a numbers decision aided by the number of young defensemen in the AHL in Chicago/Henderson ready to crack the lineup.
Engelland’s place in the Golden Knights’ book of lore was cemented on Oct. 10. While Las Vegas was reeling from the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States, he stepped up to the microphone at T-Mobile Arena and moved most of the 18,000-plus in attendance to tears with a simple speech that ended in “We Are Vegas Strong.”
“Father Time don’t wait for no one,” Dominique Wilkins famously said. At 37, time has caught up to Engelland. He’s still a very good penalty-killer, but the speed of the game at 5-on-5 is too much for him. He was a healthy scratch in 17 of 22 games since DeBoer took over as coach. With the new 5-man system, Engelland doesn’t fit the type of defenseman of the DeBoer’s Golden Knights.
Engelland is a true warrior and has said repeatedly that he has a couple more years in him. I hope he changes his mind. There is no doubt that the Golden Knights have a place in the organization for him. With their AHL affiliate starting play in Henderson whenever hockey resumes, this is the perfect time for the long-time Vegas resident to move into a management position. To become the icon that Golden Knights fans know him to be.
If you’ve made it this far and caught the hint above, this one should have been easy to figure out. Yes, this is going to anger many of the Golden Knights faithful.
This is nothing against Hague. In fact, he is going to be a fine NHL defenseman on a team with a system that benefits his unique skills. He has good instincts, a booming shot from the point and an above-average stick in the defensive zone. The knock on Hague is his skating and therein lies the rub. DeBoer’s system is not a good fit for Hague.
Since Jan. 15, Hague has spent most of his time watching games from the press box with us writers. As DeBoer implemented his new 5-man unit system, it became apparent that Hague struggled in the defensive zone. He never made any glaring errors and, in fact, for a rookie, played quite well for Gallant. But this is DeBoer’s team and his way.
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The upshot? Hague will bring a great return in a trade if the Golden Knights move on from him. There are many NHL teams that would be interested in his services.
So, there you have it. The Golden Knights signed a pending restricted free agent to a very team-friendly deal. Now, all of a sudden, Golden Knights fans have a much clearer picture of what the defense will look like in 2020-21 and beyond.
Agree with me?
Disagree with me?
Think I am out of my mind?
Let me know what you think in the comments and we’ll chop it up.
Certainly isn’t anything else to do for a while.