Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!!!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year if you’re an expansion hockey franchise with plenty of cap space looking to make a splash in their inaugural season. I don’t care if it’s odd to wear a wool Santa Claus suit during the summer in the desert, but at high noon on July 1, the NHL free agent signing period begins.
Now, don’t mistake this excitement for giving the Vegas Golden Knights the green light to chase the most sought-after free agents on the market with big money contract offers, because its highly unlikely they’ll come to Vegas.
However, the market will enable the Golden Knights to sign building block veterans who are committed to making Vegas a viable NHL franchise. This strategy will help give Golden Knights GM George McPhee the time to build a franchise through the entry draft and develop those prospects in the minors before they earn a chance to compete in the NHL.
I don’t know what will be under the Knights’ Christmas tree on this faithful day, but I guarantee there will be plenty of speculation and rumors leading up to the free agent frenzy.
Let’s take a look at a couple of unrestricted free agents on my Knights’ Christmas wish list:
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Buffalo Sabres
This is probably the last opportunity for Dmitry Kulikov to show himself as a top-four NHL defenseman. A back injury shortened his season, and he played only 47 games scoring five points with the Sabres last season. He will be one of the youngest (26-years old) unrestricted free agents on the open market this summer, making him a very interesting reclamation project for any organization.
The Knights could offer Kulikov a low-risk, one-year deal that forces him to earn a roster spot in the preseason. He has too many all-around skills to be sitting on the sidelines. Sometimes, a player needs a change of scenery to fulfill his true potential and Vegas could be that opportunity.
Nick Bonino, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Nick Bonino’s scoring numbers aren’t flashy, but his value to the lineup deserves a much bigger role on the ice. Bonino was stuck in a situation with the Pittsburgh Penguins where he played behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at the center position, which buried him on the depth chart.
The Golden Knights can offer an opportunity that few teams can provide: a chance to become a top line center. He has the skills to kill penalties and score big goals in key games. Plus, Bonino’s experience will help to instill a winning attitude inside the Knights’ locker room.
Martin Hanzal, C, Minnesota Wild
No question that Martin Hanzal is ready to take on a bigger role at this point in his NHL career, as he’s a big center who knows how to score goals. It’s impossible to find a player as talented under the age of 30 on the open market this summer.
It will be interesting to see how he performs under the spotlight because Hanzal struggled during his time as a rental acquisition with the Minnesota Wild last spring. The Knights would expect him to become a major minutes-eater, and his playmaking ability guarantees him a spot on the power play. Consistency will be an issue and whether or not Hanzal can come up big in the clutch.
Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose Sharks
Patrick Marleau is a marvel in today’s NHL as he keeps producing impressive offensive numbers at the age of 37. He scored 27 goals last season, which makes him an ideal candidate on a short-term deal for the Knights. Marleau could become that secondary scorer that expansion teams often to fail to acquire in their inaugural season.
Marleau has the experience to provide guidance and stability early on, while the younger players on the Knights’ roster search for their own identity. He is set to reach a lofty milestone, as Marleau is seven games away from 1500 NHL contests in his career. With 508 goals scored, Marleau easily becomes one of the top goal-scoring options for Vegas next season.
Jaromir Jagr, F, Florida Panthers
Let me preface this by noting that I’m aware I’m wasting everyone’s time with this wish, but Jaromir Jagr is Elvis on skates. Signing Jagr would legitimize the Golden Knights as an NHL franchise until the youngsters are ready to take over the reins. The crazy thing about this idea is that he produces enough to play on the Knights’ top scoring line.
Jagr is a name that every sports fan is familiar with, and suddenly Vegas becomes one of the top NHL road attractions next season. People will flock to arenas all across North America to catch a glimpse of this ageless wonder. Let’s not forget that Jagr hopes to play competitively until he’s 50. Since he’s only 45, that guarantees him at least a four or five-year deal, right? If I had the chance, I’d tell Jagr that Florida is a great place to retire, but…just kidding Panther fans.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy