Shea Theodore needed to get away after the Stanley Cup Final. Nothing says unwinding quite like going to Hawaii.
Taking in the palm trees and sandy beaches was probably the highlight of a summer for Theodore that turned out to be longer of a vacation than he would’ve liked.
The 23-year-old defenseman never intended to miss the start of Vegas Golden Knights training camp, let alone the first five preseason games. It became a growing possibility that Theodore, a top-four defenseman in Vegas and future cornerstone of the franchise, was going to miss time into the regular season.
That was, until the end of the first period Monday night when Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $36.4 million ($5.2 million AAV).
Theodore returned to Golden Knights practice for the first time Thursday rested, in shape and well paid. He’s also ready to play. Theodore will play in Vegas’ final two preseason games, coach Gerard Gallant said.
“It worked out well for both parties,” Theodore said. “It’s a process, definitely. It was different seeing the business side of it, it was my first time going through it. I’m excited to be back and it’s really fun.”
Theodore was a restricted free agent this summer. While Vegas tended to other deals — a one-year deal for William Karlsson, signing Paul Stastny, to name a few — Theodore waited ... and waited ... and waited.
What made the negotiations as convoluted as they would become, and as general manager George McPhee noted prior to the start of the Rookie Faceoff, was Theodore did not have arbitration rights. McPhee has said using arbitration as a tool of negotiation is a great way to come together on terms of a contract. It’s how Vegas got the two-year deal for Nate Schmidt done last year, and how it solved avoiding arbitration with Karlsson this summer.
“That was my agent’s job going into the summer, negotiating,” Theodore said. “He’s done it for a number of years. I just let him handle that.”
When training camp opened, the Golden Knights had to operate under the reality that Theodore was not going to join the team. Multiple national outlets reported Theodore and the Golden Knights were far apart on contract talks. To which McPhee promptly said, “how would they know?”
Deals for fellow RFAs like Darnell Nurse and Josh Morrissey seemed to set the parameters of what Theodore’s upcoming deal would look like — two years, roughly $3 million AAV.
McPhee said Monday that Theodore’s camp wanted to go two years, while Vegas was committed to getting Theodore locked up with a deal that would carry before his age-30 season.
“It was tough seeing everyone come here, get back together,” Theodore said. “I definitely missed it, but I stayed busy, stayed working out and stayed skating, so I feel good.”
That long-term commitment from the Golden Knights goes beyond Theodore’s deal being a cap-friendly contract, which it is beyond Years 1 and 2. It’s the belief Vegas has in Theodore and what his potential could be when entering his prime — perhaps that of a Norris Trophy winner. It’s a sign of good faith from the Golden Knights, fresh off that improbable playoff run, knowing Theodore can bounce back from a rough showing in the five-game series against the Washington Capitals — one goal, two assists, and a minus-3 rating.
Theodore said he spent time working on his on-ice skillset and put on some muscle at the gym, looking to take that next step in becoming the defenseman Vegas sees he can be.
“Talking with George and [assistant general manager] Kelly [McCrimmon], they believe in me,” Theodore said. “It puts the pressure on [me], but I like to thrive on that. I’m at the beginning of my career and I’m just getting better. Going forward, it’s going to be exciting to see where things to take off.”
The Golden Knights face the Los Angeles Kings on Friday and close the preseason Sunday against the San Jose Sharks, both games at T-Mobile Arena. Theodore is expected to be paired once again with Deryk Engelland this season. Theodore stated multiple times last season that he credits Engelland with his growth as a defenseman while learning leadership qualities from the 36-year-old veteran.
“He’s so talented offensively, skates really well,” Engelland said. “He quarterbacks the power play and is great defensively. He adds a lot to our team and we’re all happy to have him back.”
As for how quick it will take Theodore to get back to game shape, Theodore said he feels good and is ready to go. Gallant feels it won’t be an issue.
“I don’t think it takes much,” Gallant said. “He knows the way we play. Nothing’s changed from last year.”
But perhaps the best news of all for Theodore, other than being back with his teammates and gearing up for another hopeful deep playoff run, is he can return to living with Alex Tuch. No. 89 got a new house and No. 27 has a room waiting for him. It doesn’t look like he has to pay any extra in rent now that he’s the highest-paid defenseman on Vegas. That might change at some point.
What did change was Vegas’ outlook on the blue line from Sunday to now, which is the Golden Knights are better defensively than they were a week ago.
And between now and the next few years, Vegas is gambling on Theodore. If eyes weren’t on him in the Stanley Cup Final, they are now.
“I’m having fun,” he said. It’s good to be back with the guys.”