The Vegas Golden Knights will not be a good hockey team this season. There was some hope that the NHL’s newest team would be competitive right away, stemming largely from the league’s kinder procedures in this year’s Expansion Draft.
Vegas arguably had access to the best pool of players available to an expansion team in NHL history, but that didn’t translate into a strong roster. Here’s the Golden Knights’ projected starting depth chart, courtesy of Roster Resource:
Vegas is a team with some nice pieces sprinkled throughout (Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, and most of their top six forward group, in particular) and may even give some teams trouble. But their roster, at least in my eyes, doesn’t resemble a good team.
That’s a good thing, though, and General Manager George McPhee has smartly constructed a flexible roster. McPhee took on bad contracts, namely Mikhail Grabovski’s and David Clarkson’s, in order to gain two additional first round picks in this year’s draft. In all, Vegas selected 12 players in the draft, including five in the first two rounds.
McPhee may not be getting the return he expected for the team’s surplus of defensemen, as David Schlemko and Alexei Emelin were only able to fetch picks in the 2019 draft. But, Vegas has 17 picks in the next two drafts, including 12 in 2019. They’re likely to add to that total, as nine 2018 unrestricted free agents are currently on the roster. None of their salaries exceed $5,000,000, and only two have no-movement or no-trade clauses (James Neal and Jason Garrison).
Jonathan Willis made the case for Vegas to tank this past December over at Bleacher Report, and McPhee is following that proposed plan to a ‘T’ so far:
The important thing here is that the Golden Knights be cold-blooded about this from the start. The delusion of being competitive immediately should not be entertained. Rather, the play here is to accumulate young assets, and the best way to obtain a critical mass of those is by leveraging the team's cap space during these cellar years.
McPhee’s moves won’t pay off this year, and probably won’t next year, either. That’s okay, as the Golden Knights need to play the long game. So far, they’re doing just that, and McPhee has begun building the foundation for a contender in Sin City. They won’t be very good this year, but are set up well to be just that in the not-too-distant future.
A Note on the Roster
Technically, everyone on the roster is an arrival. But, I don’t want to cheat you, dear reader, so I’ve compiled a list of every incoming player nonetheless. Players that were traded will be listed under ‘departures’. Players yet to sign new deals with Vegas are listed under ‘unsigned,’ even if they were selected in the Expansion Draft.
LW Erik Haula (Expansion Draft, Minnesota Wild)
C William Karlsson (Expansion Draft, Columbus Blue Jackets)
RW James Neal (Expansion Draft, Nashville Predators)
C Cody Eakin (Expansion Draft, Dallas Stars)
RW Jonathan Marchessault (Expansion Draft, Florida Panthers)
LW Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Expansion Draft, Philadelphia Flyers)
RW David Perron (Expansion Draft, St. Louis Blues)
LW Oscar Lindberg (Expansion Draft, New York Rangers)
C Brendan Leipsic (Expansion Draft, Toronto Maple Leafs)
RW Teemu Pulkkinen (Expansion Draft, Arizona Coyotes)
LW William Carrier (Expansion Draft, Buffalo Sabres)
RW Tomas Nosek (Expansion Draft, Detroit Red Wings)
D Clayton Stoner (Expansion Draft, Anaheim Ducks)
D Luca Sbisa (Expansion Draft, Vancouver Canucks)
D Jason Garrison (Expansion Draft, Tampa Bay Lightning)
D Deryk Engelland (Expansion Draft, Calgary Flames)
D Colin Miller (Expansion Draft, Boston Bruins)
D Jon Merrill (Expansion Draft, New Jersey Devils)
D Griffin Reinhart (Expansion Draft, Edmonton Oilers)
G Marc-Andre Fleury (Expansion Draft, Pittsburgh Penguins)
G Calvin Pickard (Expansion Draft, Colorado Avalanche)
D Shea Theodore (Trade, Anaheim Ducks)
LW David Clarkson (Trade, Columbus Blue Jackets)
LW Reilly Smith (Trade, Florida Panthers)
C Mikhail Grabovski (Trade, New York Islanders)
D Jake Bischoff (Trade, New York Islanders)
RW Alex Tuch (Trade, Minnesota Wild)
RW Keegan Kolesar (Trade, Columbus Blue Jackets)
C Vadim Shipachyov (two years, $4,500,000 AAV)
C/RW Reid Duke (three years, $925,000 AAV)*
RW Tomas Hyka (one year, $710,000 AAV)*
RW Paul Thompson (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
C T.J. Tynan (two years, $650,000 AAV)*
RW Stefan Matteau (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
D Brad Hunt (two years, $650,000 AAV)*
D Chris Casto (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
G Oscar Dansk (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
G Maxime Legace (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
C Marcus Kruger (Trade, Carolina Hurricanes)
D Trevor Van Riemsdyk (Trade, Carolina Hurricanes)
D Marc Methot (Trade, Dallas Stars)
D Alexei Emelin (Trade, Nashville Predators)
D David Schlemko (Trade, Montreal Canadiens)
LW Chris Thorburn (St. Louis Blues; two years, $900,000 AAV)
G Jean-Francois Berube (Chicago Blackhawks; two years, $750,000 AAV)
C Connor Brickley (Florida Panthers; one year, $750,000 AAV)*
D Nate Schmidt (RFA)
*Denotes a two-way contract.
Up next: Way-too-early predictions on the Pacific Division, from yours truly, and a chance to make your own.