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Free Agent Wishlist: Golden Knights have cap space to make a splash

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What do the Golden Knights need to address in free agency? Who best fits those roles?

NHL: New York Islanders at Calgary Flames
New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) skates during warmup
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

After coming up just short of the perfect season, the Golden Knights will have tons of cap room this summer, even after (expectedly) re-signing the important restricted free agents on the roster. Bill Foley, owner of the Golden Knights, seems eager to use that cap space, which means George McPhee has some work to do.

The Golden Knights could use help at a number of positions, as seen during the Stanley Cup Final. There are intriguing free agents at those positions. Here’s what the Golden Knights need most.

Center

After watching William Karlsson essentially disappear in the Final and Erik Haula only score nine points in the playoffs, the Golden Knights could use a playoff performer, a center who adds depth down the middle and can continue to produce 100 games into the season. That doesn’t mean the Karlsson line needs to be split up, but it does mean the Golden Knights need more.

Option 1: John Tavares

Tavares is the most exciting player in this year’s pool of free agents, and is one of the best free agents to test the waters in a long time. Tavares is no lock to move on from the Islanders, but if he does leave his current team, he’ll likely want to join a winning club.

The Golden Knights can win. They got to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, and that was without Tavares. Add him, and the Golden Knights become one of the best teams in the league, if they weren’t already.

Tavares scored 37 goals and 84 points in 82 games this season, and has 272-349—621 in 669 career regular season games. In the playoffs, Tavares is at a .92 points-per-game pace. He’d be an excellent addition to the Knights in both the regular season and playoffs.

Option 2: Paul Stastny

Stastny was the second-line center for the Winnipeg Jets after the trade deadline, and supported an excellent line. He’s shown the ability to be a good support center, posting 220-426—646 in 824 games. This season, he registered 53 points, including 16 goals, in 82 games between the St. Louis Blues and the Jets. In the playoffs, Stastny netted six goals and 15 points in 17 games, and has a .69 point-per-game pace in the postseason.

Stastny could help support the Knights’ second line and could give the Knights better depth down the middle. He won’t provide the same explosiveness as Tavares, but he would give the Knights better depth, and will come at a much cheaper price.

Defense

The Golden Knights needed more from their defense throughout the Cup Final. Even though the defense stepped up in the regular season while Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt, they couldn’t do the same thing in the playoffs when he wasn’t on his game. Getting a game-changing defenseman could help solve that.

While most of those defensemen would come via trade instead of free agency, there are a number of D-men out there that can step up.

Option 1: John Carlson

Carlson played well against the Knights in the Stanley Cup Final and helped shut down their potent offense. While there could be some bad blood between Carlson and the Knights —let’s just say things got emotional between the two sides — he’s an excellent player who could add to the Knights’ blue line.

He also has experience playing with Nate Schmidt, and the two could become a dynamite first pairing. Carlson also showed the ability to lock down high-end players, and that was much needed for the Knights. He would be an expensive addition, but potentially a worthwhile one.

Option 2: Calvin de Haan

de Haan is not a first-pairing defenseman, which is what the Golden Knights really need. What he is, though, is a better version of Deryk Engelland or Brayden McNabb — a lock-down defenseman who can put up some points but adds skating and great defense to a team. He’ll be cheaper than Carlson by a country mile, and could be a consistent presence in the top four.

He’d be an ideal defensive partner for a player like Shea Theodore, and while Schmidt and McNabb would likely have to remain the top pairing, the second would become much better defensively.

Wing

The best options at wing for the Golden Knights are likely to re-sign players already on the team. David Perron and James Neal would need new contracts, but either could be worth keeping around at the right price.

Here are some of the other options the Knights could explore on the free agent market.

Option 1: James van Riemsydk

Van Riemsdyk is coming off a 36-goal season, marking his second campaign with at least 30 goals. He’s just 29, which means he has a few more productive seasons left than either Neal or Perron. He can play on a first line or a third line and could give a boost to the Knights’ power play.

The bad side of Van Riemsdyk is that he needs defensively-capable linemates, and the Knights have two lines with those players; the first and the fourth. Van Riemsdyk doesn’t fit on either of those.

Still, playing him with the right linemates could give the Golden Knights an explosive goal scorer on a good line. He’s a year younger than Neal, and has scored more goals each of the last two seasons. Giving the Golden Knights that productivity could be dangerous.

Option 2: Michael Grabner

Grabner had 27 goals this past season (his second straight season with that number), including 25 even-strength goals and two more shorthanded. He’s got heaps of speed, which the Golden Knights can work with, and has the ability to play on the penalty kill.

However, more than a few of Grabner’s goals came on an empty net. He had one 4-on-4 goal and 17 at 5-on-5. That means seven came via the empty net. 18 goals is still nothing to scoff at, but his numbers get a bit skewed.

Still, the speed factor that Grabner would add to the Golden Knights is nothing to scoff at, and he can help improve the penalty kill. He’d be another shorthanded scoring threat for Vegas, along with William Karlsson.