Although his numbers don’t jump off the score sheet, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is an integral member of the Vegas Golden Knights. Over the past two seasons, Bellemare has been one of the most reliable constants for the Golden Knights, serving as an assistant captain since their inception. As an impending Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), Bellemare’s future with the team remains uncertain. George McPhee and the Golden Knights’ brain trust have to determine if the 34-year-old still has a place on the team.
Quite frankly, it would be unwise to let a player like Bellemare walk in free agency. Since his selection in the 2017 Expansion Draft, Bellemare has played a total of 145 regular season games with the Golden Knights. Over his two seasons, the fourth-line center has scored 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points, fairly modest numbers. It goes without saying, that 30 points in two seasons is certainly replaceable, but players like Bellemare provide value beyond the traditional stats. Knights On Ice writer Ryan Quigley spoke very highly of Bellemare following the Expansion Draft, calling him the ultimate teammate.
His impact was felt in Philadelphia in the three seasons prior to his arrival in Vegas and he has once again carved out a role for himself. A natural leader, Bellemare was given an A on his chest during the team’s inaugural season. In that magical season, the Golden Knights claimed the Western Conference Championship, eventually losing in the Stanley Cup final to the Washington Capitals. Strong veteran leadership was regularly pointed at as a contributor to the success of the self-proclaimed “Golden Misfits”. Multiple players spoke highly of the locker room camaraderie, both last season and in their current campaign. Hardworking players tend to be “team guys” and they contribute exponentially to that synergy and locker room morale.
His Penalty-killing Is Invaluable
Despite the modest point totals, Bellemare plays an integral role, on a game-by-game basis for the Golden Knights. Together, mainly with Tomas Nosek, he has served as the top penalty-killer for the club. Over the past two seasons, no forward has logged more ice time than Bellemare while down a man. His 296:16 of penalty kill time is 38:13 more than the next forward, top-liner William Karlsson. Coming off of a very team-friendly contract, resigning Bellemare to continue filling his exact role shouldn’t cost the team much, in terms of dollars or years.
His current contract was signed back on March 1, 2017 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. His deal was for two years at a total of $2.9 million, a $1.45 million average annual value (AAV). Resigning a guy like Bellemare can easily be done for another similar deal. Bringing him back for two more seasons at an AAV of $1.5 million is reasonable for both parties and falls in line with similar signings around the league. Matt Nieto of the Colorado Avalanche is a much younger winger, with far less experience and got a similar deal done this past offseason.
Bellemare Is Solid on Faceoffs
Only one other player has a better faceoff percentage than the assistant captain over the past two years, that being Nosek. Both he and Nosek are versatile enough to play the wing and down the middle. Nosek could essentially be used to replace Bellemare as the top PK center, without losing too much in terms of draws.
If the Golden Knights went that route, they would need to rely more on Reilly Smith and Karlsson, as full-time penalty killers. Nosek and Karlsson are both up for a new deals following this season. Nosek is far easier to control, as an affordable, Restricted Free Agent (RFA). Karlsson, on the other hand, will be heading into his second-straight off-season as an RFA. Last season, he was coming off of a 40-goal campaign and saw a huge pay raise. It will be interesting to see how negotiations go between Karlsson and the club this time around. Compounding the penalty-kill needs, fellow killer Ryan Carpenter finds himself in the same boat as Bellemare, as a pending-UFA.
If Nosek were the only free agent coming back, the Golden Knight’s could still head into the 2019-20 season with enough personnel for an effective PK. Cody Eakin, Paul Stastny, Nosek, and Smith could easily make up the two units, without a significant drop-off in efficiency. Smith and Stastny fill important roles in the top-six for the Golden Knights and both log power play time. Relying on both to play in all situations could be a risky move.
His Value Exceeds His Cost
Although he is on the back-end of his career at 34-years-old, Bellemare can still be an asset to the Golden Knights. His leadership, penalty-killing and low cap hit make him an ideal fourth liner for the team. Limiting a potential extension to two years allows the team a chance to reassess their position in the near future. His defensive contributions are what keep him in the lineup, but he is in no way devoid of offensive talent. Just take a look at this goal he scored last season.
In the current landscape, where GMs are afraid to commit too much term to players over 30, a two-year bridge deal works perfectly for both sides. For the time being, Bellemare will continue to play an important role for the club, once he gets back into the lineup full-time from an undisclosed injury. Best believe, if the Golden Knights make another long playoff run, the play of their fourth-line center will be a contributing factor.