Up to this point, the Vegas Golden Knights’ rocky 2021-22 season has been largely about the sidelined. A host of lineup regulars, including Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson and Zach Whitecloud have missed substantial time due to injury, with many remaining out. Even the club’s blockbuster trade for Jack Eichel can’t escape the ominous injury reminder, with the former Sabres star still months away from returning to the ice post-neck surgery.
But with the Golden Knights continuing to struggle with consistency amidst an uneven 11-8-0 start that currently has them outside of a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, the absence of some notable departed depth from a year ago has also been felt. Sure, Vegas has newcomers of their own, but Nolan Patrick is also among those injured while Evgenii Dadonov and Brett Howden have had trouble responding to the challenge of larger roles further up the lineup.
Players like Chandler Stephenson and Nicolas Roy are doing what they can to keep the Golden Knights competitive, but man would it be nice to have some cap casualties back in red and gold. With that in mind, let’s check in on some of the key off-season departures and how they’re faring in their new homes.
No, Marc-Andre Fleury was never going to help address Vegas’ depth issues upfront, but how can you not start with the reigning Vezina winner and franchise cornerstone over the club’s first four years of existence?
In fairness, the organization hasn’t yet felt the full effect of Fleury’s departure. Robin Lehner’s been healthy (!!!) and perfectly serviceable in his first year firmly entrenched as No. 1 in the Golden Knights’ net. While his 3.01 goals-against average could use some trimming, the 30-year-old has faced a league-high 503 shots while still maintaining a .913 save percentage. The Swede has also filled in for his former crease mate as a respected voice of encouragement in the room.
For his part, Fleury hasn’t exactly been a pillar of consistency in Chicago, although things are looking up. After a nightmarish start that saw the soon-to-be 37-year-old take the loss in seven of his first eight games for the Blackhawks, the Flower has won four straight, including a 40-save shutout in Vancouver. He also responded to a humiliating performance against his former Penguins teammates (four goals on 10 shots in just 11 minutes before getting pulled) with a 42-save victory earlier this month.
Fourteen games into his new chapter on Broadway, Ryan Reaves is bringing the New York Rangers exactly what the Golden Knights knew he would. He’s not scoring (one assist thus far) or playing much (9:58 of ice time per game), but he’s still managed to inject a certain swagger through his charisma, not to mention a valued intimidation factor for a team that found itself at the mercy of Tom Wilson last season.
To date, Reaves has only picked up one fight – a one-sided mauling of Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Pezzetta – and a mere 11 penalty minutes. Still, the mere presence of the 34-year-old has had a considerable on-ice impact, helping the Blueshirts out to an 11-4-3 start to the year.
Vegas was never going to be able to justify carrying Reaves’ $1.75 million cap hit while playing him less than 10 minutes. But that doesn’t mean that fans won’t pine for a player known for providing his team with the value that won’t necessarily appear on the scoresheet.
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The early returns on last summer’s intriguing “change of scenery” trade that saw Vegas’ Cody Glass and Philadelphia’s Patrick dealt for each other in a swap of former top-10 picks looking for a career reset have been… underwhelming. Patrick is nursing an undisclosed injury that has kept him out of all but four games, while Glass wound up in Nashville, where he’s seen action in just two NHL games with the Predators before being returned to the minors.
At this point, no one is getting what they want out of the deal. Heck, even Ryan Ellis, whom the Predators sent to the Flyers to land Glass, has been hurt all season. But while Nashville surely would prefer to see the 22-year-old former Golden Knight in the NHL, his 11 assists in 13 games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals show that he’s honing his play-making abilities at a time when Patrick remains idle on the sidelines.
There is nowhere on the ice that has been more affected by Vegas’ injury bug than down the middle at center. Eichel hasn’t debuted, Karlsson and Patrick remain out and Peyton Krebs was shipped off to Buffalo, forcing Chandler Stephenson into the No. 1 role and leaving Nicolas Roy to drive the offense alongside Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. It would certainly be nice to have Tomas Nosek back.
Nosek joined the Boston Bruins in free agency, where he’s been a stable presence among the bottom-six alongside another former Knight, Erik Haula. His two goals and four points don’t jump off the page, but he brings a reliable, two-way game. Plus, he would still represent an upgrade over the current bottom-six fill-ins down the middle, Adam Brooks and Jake Leschyshyn.
Barring what we see from Krebs and Alex Tuch in Buffalo, Vegas hasn’t lost any critical personnel since the end of last season. Still, the grass is always greener on the other side, and understandably, some Golden Knights fans might look longingly at one-time contributors now suiting up for other organizations. It’s a perpetual part of the sport, but it might just sting a little more right now.
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.