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Pacific Peeks: Vegas Golden Knights

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Vegas is vying for the Pacific Division crown.

Vegas Golden Knights center Paul Stastny (26) heads towards teammates to celebrate after a game-tying goal against the San Jose Sharks during the third period in game seven of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

In their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights were a team with something to prove. It was about establishing a franchise and letting the hockey world know that they were there. Two years later, the Golden Knights are simply pissed off.

Vegas feels like it was cheated out of another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup, its season cut short by what was arguably the most memorable moment in the San Jose Sharks’ playoff history. Vegas and its fan base are bitter about the Game 7 overtime loss in Round 1 of the playoffs and they’re entering the 2019-20 season with a chip on their shoulder.

The bitterness is likely what’s behind the league’s decision to start the regular season off with a home-and-home series between the Sharks and the Golden Knights. Opening night will happen on Wednesday, Oct. 2 in Vegas. Then two nights later, both teams face off again in San Jose for the Sharks’ home opener.

After the mini-series, there’s a break until Nov. 21 when the Sharks return to Vegas. They’re back in San Jose on Dec. 22 and then oddly, that’s the end of the regular season series.

Where we left off

As a Sharks fan, it’s easier to recollect where we last saw the Vegas Golden Knights. Reeling and shell shocked from the game that got away, the Golden Knights were cleaning out their lockers and calling for a change in the way league calls penalties.

I’m not getting into a debate that we’ve beaten to death. Should there have been a 5-minute major called? Should the Golden Knights have stopped the Sharks from scoring four goals in approximately four minutes? Was it anyone’s game in overtime?

What we were left with was a Golden Knights team that went all-in and lost. Suddenly, the team was in a salary cap crunch. League dominance comes at a price and for the Golden Knights, it was time to pay.

Vegas traded with the Ottawa Senators for forward Mark Stone at the 2019 trade deadline, giving up Oscar Lindberg, defense prospect Erik Brannstrom and a 2020 second-round pick. The Golden Knights didn’t waste any time signing Stone to a long-term contract. By March, the ink was dry on an eight-year extension worth an AAV of $9.5 million.

In the off-season, the team signed forward William Karlsson to an eight-year contract extension with an AAV of $5.9 million.

The two deals left Vegas well over the cap ceiling and they needed to shed some salary. In June, the team traded forward Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes for prospect Nicolas Roy and a draft pick.

On June 30, the team let a number of players walk in an attempt to get under the cap ceiling. Among them were former-Shark Ryan Carpenter and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

2019 Entry Draft

The Golden Knights stockpiled draft picks during the expansion draft, but had only one first-round pick to speak of during the 2019 Entry Draft. They used it to pick Peyton Krebs as the 17th overall pick in the draft.

Krebs immediately became one of the top young prospects in the Golden Knights’ system. Our friends over at Knights on Ice have ranked him number five on the 25 under 25 list.

In the second round of the draft, the Golden Knights picked up defenseman Kaedan Korczak with pick number 41. The pick originally belonged to the Sharks, but Doug Wilson, Jr. and company willingly traded the pick for a later pick in the second round and third round pick. Korczak is a big, young defenseman that’s solid in his own end.

Vegas rounded out its 2019 draft with forwards Pavel Dorofeyev, Ryder Donovan, Marcus Kallionkieli and Mason Primeau. They also drafted defenseman Layton Ahac and goaltender Isaiah Seville.

Roster

After the draft, the Golden Knights were still over the cap ceiling and they needed to shed more salary. They traded David Clarkson's contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Garret Sparks. The Leafs also received a 2020 fourth-round pick in the deal.

Vegas was also too far apart on a contract with young RFA Nikita Gusev so the team had to trade him. The Golden Knights received a pair of picks from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for the promising young forward. Guzev immediately signed a two-year, $9 million deal with the Devils.

Despite all the moves, the Golden Knights don’t look too different. This is the roster that Cap Friendly projects will start the season for Vegas.

Forwards

Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Brandon PirriCody EakinAlex Tuch
Tomas NosekCody GlassRyan Reaves

Defense

Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmit
Jon MerrillShea Theodore
Jimmy SchuldtDeryk Engelland

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury
Malcolm Subban

What can we expect in 2020?

The Golden Knights have a very strong roster and it’s a team that’s bitter about the way last season ended. I believe that those two factors will cause Vegas to start the season out strong and they will likely top the Pacific Division for a good deal of the season. I don’t see any potential drop off.

With weak division opponents, it should be easy for the Golden Knights to gather up the points needed to make another trip to the playoffs. Vegas has quickly put itself into a win-now mode and the team has the pieces to do it, but as Sharks fans know in the playoffs, anything can happen.