Tis the season to be jolly as there is a festive atmosphere ringing throughout Las Vegas this holiday time. And why not, the city’s expansion hockey franchise is in the midst of a historic inaugural season, but the Vegas Golden Knights have a holiday wishlist just like everyone else.
Some of the holiday gift suggestions are easily obtainable, while others are nearly impossible to ever be fulfilled. However, if all can be secured, then they will make this year even more memorable. Let’s have some fun and dream a little bit.
Golden Knights Need a Healthy Marc-Andre Fleury
The Knights starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury appears ready to return to the lineup on a full-time basis after sustaining a concussion in a home game against the Detroit Red Wings on October 13. Fleury passed all of the protocol tests before gaining clearance to practice and play with the team. It’s unclear how many consecutive games he can play at first, but the hope is for him to be physically ready to take on a full schedule by the end of the year.
The biggest concern with Fleury’s return is coming back too soon and sustaining another concussion, which increases the chance of enhancing any lingering symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. The Knights medical training staff will have a difficult job of judging if any regression with his play is a direct result from the head injury. Their final diagnosis will be aided by observing Fleury’s cognitive skills, which includes his sleep habits, interaction with others inside the locker room and the ability to recall scouting reports.
Severe concussions do create a sense of hysteria that surrounds a franchise as the fear of increased media scrutiny into the club’s practice of treating head injuries goes under the microscope, especially if a player returns to action too soon and immediately sustains a second concussion. Everyone is in agreement that Fleury is the best choice for the No. 1 goaltender position, but only if he can play at least four times a week. If not, then the Knights need to look for a more reliable option.
Sign William Karlsson to a Contract Extension
The Golden Knights recently signed defenseman Brayden McNabb to a 4-year/$10 million contract extension, which led to immediate speculation on the next player to receive a similar deal. The prerequisite is pretty simple, it will be a player that offers on-ice skills worthy of being the centerpiece of the franchise to build around.
Often, contract extensions are the first logical steps in building a Stanley Cup contender, McNabb was going to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, now he becomes a building block in the Knights blue line moving forward. The next logical candidate for a contract extension is center William Karlsson, who is currently second behind forward Jonathan Marchessault in the team’s scoring leader chase with 27 points this season.
Karlsson has easily surpassed his career-high (9 goals in the 2015-16 season) in goals by netting 15 in 32 games this year. The Knights cannot overlook the fact that he has develop into a key offensive contributor who can create lineup mismatches on most nights. The evolution of Karlsson’s game has benefitted greatly from the increased ice time with Vegas, which wasn’t an option during his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There’s no rush to have a deal in place before the holidays, but it should become the front office’s main priority once we head towards the All-Star break. Golden Knights general manager George McPhee must determine if Karlsson is a legit top-six forward before signing him to a long-term contract extension. If his on-ice progression continues to ascend, then Karlsson becomes one of the best bargains in the NHL.
Play Better on the Road
If there is one blemish on the Knights incredible start is their road record, which is currently 8-7-1. Under no certain circumstances is this bad except when comparing it to their incredible home record (13-2-1).
The effort on the road has been inconsistent at best. The same scenario has taken place in each road loss where the first two periods are evenly played before disaster occurs in the final period.
In 16 road games, the Golden Knights have given up 50 goals, but an alarming 26 goals in the third period. Too often, a close game turns into a frustrating loss because of defensive breakdowns and costly penalties that put them in difficult situations in crunch time. Also, the Knights offensive firepower seems to disappear late in tight road games.
Yes, you can accuse me of being nitpicky here, but let’s nip the problem in the bud before the problems spiral further downward. The remedy is simple: play 60 minutes of smart hockey each night on the road, especially in your own zone. It’s important to make right plays and never allow your opponent to have a man advantage in front of your own net.
The skeptics are confident in predicting the Knights ability to remain competitive has run its course. However, there’s plenty to like with this promising group, but the Golden Knights are at least a few seasons away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender. This year’s roster is quite good and could become a problem for any higher-seeded team that draws them in the playoffs this coming spring.
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