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NHL 20 Golden Knights Franchise Series: Vegas falters in Season 2, but intrigue awaits

After a ridiculous first year, Vegas misses the playoffs but makes a big deadline acquisition and stocks up in the draft.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a couple of weeks since we went through the virtual world of the Vegas Golden Knights. If you need a refresher of that ridiculous Year 1 sim, read here.

Year 2 of our NHL 20 franchise mode series had a lot to live up to. With hopes of building off the Western Conference Final appearance as the No. 8 seed, the Golden Knights’ best bet was to be as aggressive as possible in free agency.

Let’s recap the offseason.

Golden Knights trade Paul Stastny to Capitals

For Vegas to execute such a plan of having their cake and eating it too, the tough decision was made to move on from Stastny’s contract — the final year with a $6.5 million cap hit — and get some value out of it. Cody Glass’ ascension to the top six appears to be ready. The Golden Knights send the veteran center to Washington for a 2021 first-round pick and a third in 2022.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Robin Lehner first says no, but then signs long-term deal with Vegas

With that extra cap space from the Stastny trade, the Golden Knights secure their goalie tandem, giving Lehner a six-year, $30.9 million contract ($5.15 million AAV). Lehner won a Game 7 in the playoffs last season, but did not get another opportunity after losing two chances to close out Minnesota in the second round. There’s no denying he’s going to be relied on to win some games in the future.

Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo drag through free agency

As the days passed, the Golden Knights still had money to spend. The top names were still on the board. The Philadelphia Flyers pulled a multi-year offer for Hall, while the Vancouver Canucks were hot on Pietrangelo from the beginning. He was commanding $10.5 million per year, but the Canucks were tending to their own free agents, like Jakob Markstrom.

Pietrangelo waited a week before finally agreeing to a one-year deal with Vancouver, putting him on the same blue line as Quinn Hughes.

With the Flyers out on Hall, the Golden Knights made a one-year offer on Hall. Vegas came with an offer just under his asking price of $8.5 million, but a surprise team emerged — the San Jose Sharks signed Hall to a one-year, $9.1 million deal. Good news: Vegas didn’t break the bank for top-tier free agents. Bad news: They’re off to division rivals.

Mark Stone wants out?

Along the way, NHL 20 insiders broke news that Stone was looking to be moved. Losing ice time in the first two rounds of the playoffs were factors in wanting out, but it was to protect Stone from further injury after fracturing his jaw in the first round. Stone was assured from Golden Knights general manager Big Mac that such decisions would not happen this time.

Regular Season

Record: 37-37-8

Finish: Last place in Pacific Division

Playoffs: None

The expectations the Golden Knights placed on themselves after Year 1 were not met in Year 2. Vegas finished with 82 points and did not make the playoffs in a competitive Pacific Division.

Vegas couldn’t break through when needed. A 9-14-3 start highlighted by the new fourth-line’s woes did not help. No matter who was at center between Nick Cousins, Nicolas Roy or Tomas Nosek, they struggled. Drake Caggiula was signed as a depth option but turned out to be one of the best offensive options on that line. He also wasn’t good defensively, either.

Marc-Andre Fleury’s save percentage did not crack .900 all season, and Lehner eventually become the everyday starter. By February, Vegas was 19-25-6 with playoff hopes looking bleak. The thought of selling at the trade deadline became plausible, until the Golden Knights went 9-3-1 in their next 13 games leading up to the deadline. They’re only seven points out of a wild card spot. Jonathan Marchessault continues to be a valuable offensive weapon, and while there’s thought to offload Reilly Smith or Alex Tuch for draft capital, Big Mac restrains himself.

Big Mac browses the market and sees the Dallas Stars — the same team Vegas upset in the first round last season — have put Vegas favorite Joe Pavelski on the block. With a need for a for-sure option at center in the top nine, Vegas packages 2020 first-round selection Josh Williams, a second- and third-round pick in 2022 to the struggling Stars for Pavelski and a third-round pick in 2021.

The move is an amazing one for Vegas. Pavelski, who finished with 66 points on the season, had 20 in 19 games. By March 22, the Golden Knights were 35-33-7 and three points behind the Coyotes for the second wild card. But Vegas faltered with four straight losses, including a 6-3 thud to Arizona that knocked them out of playoff contention.

The Sharks won the division for a second consecutive season at 109 points. The Oilers (100), Canucks (95) and Flames (93) follow suit.

Final Stats

Top point getter: Mark Stone (76 points). Despite a rough end to the season, Stone’s tone toward the organization improved. Lower your torches and pitchforks.

Goal leader: Max Pacioretty (36). Building off his 37-goal campaign in Year 1, Pacioretty continues to be great with Stone. Can the Golden Knights find the right center to put between them? Is it Cody Glass? William Karlsson? A certain restricted free agent that will be mentioned later?

Under-appreciated star: Jonathan Marchessault (68 points). Second on the team in scoring and assists (45), Marchessault has been very good in this sim. Much like Karlsson, it would be beneficial to put more pucks in the net.

Top scoring defenseman: Nate Schmidt (49 points). A career-year for 88, who has been stellar since last season’s playoffs. It’s a shock to not see Shea Theodore in this spot, but 27 couldn’t find a rhythm no matter who he was paired with.

Around the League

  • For the second straight year, the Sharks were eliminated in the first round ... to the eighth-seeded Winnipeg Jets. More on them in a moment.
  • The Canucks were also knocked out of the first round, this in five games to Edmonton.
  • For the second consecutive season (and third in real life), the Presidents Trophy winners were bounced from the first round. For the second time in three years in real life, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing in seven games to the Flyers.
  • The Capitals lost to the New Jersey Devils in six games in the first round.
  • Speaking of the Jets, they won the Stanley Cup! If you’re a higher seed in the playoffs, best to pray to the virtual hockey gods. Winnipeg beat the Florida Panthers in seven games for the ultimate upset. Mark Scheifele (12 goals, 22 assists) won the Conn Smythe.
  • Tyler Seguin won his second consecutive Art Ross, while Leon Draisaitl won the Hart.
  • Deryk Engelland retired as a member of the Panthers but did not play on the NHL roster during their run to the Cup Final.
NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Boston Bruins Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas stocks the prospect cupboard

Opposed to only five picks total in Year 1’s draft, the Golden Knights benefitted from nine picks this time — two in the first round (Nos. 11 and 22 by way of the Stastny trade). Vegas fielded offers for both picks, including packages for both picks, but stood pat. With the 11th pick, Vegas took center Francesco Pinelli from Kitchener of the OHL. The Golden Knights took forward Logan Stankoven from Kamloops with the 22nd pick.

There were a lot of defensemen available this draft with Vegas taking blue liners with its next three picks; Ludvig Timander from HV71 (No. 42), Brandt Clarke from Barrie (59) and Jani Jarvinen (74).

Continuing to build their goalie pipeline, the Golden Knights selected Caden Minard with 165th pick. Vegas selected Taylor Gauthier in the third round of the 2020 draft.

Other selections included forwards Matt Maggio (124), Joakim Kuhta (141) and Lorenzo Canonica (196).

Leading up to free agency

  • Mason Primeau signed his entry-level contract. The forward with the family lineage had 63 points in 66 games in his final season with North Bay. He will likely get his chance with AHL Chicago as a fourth-line grinder.
  • Defenseman Zach Whitecloud signed a two-year extension with an AAV of $700,000.
  • Caggiula re-signed for one year at $1.15 million.
NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Alec Martinez and Chandler Stephenson want the bank

If Vegas wants to make a splash, decisions will need to be made.

Martinez, acquired in a deadline deal with the Los Angeles Kings in February 2020, is seeking a four-year deal worth a touch over $4.5 million AAV. The now 33-year-old defenseman had 25 points in 82 games with Vegas, but was a minus-14 (in real life this doesn’t mean much, but in simulation, this is all we have to go off of).

Stephenson comes a bit cheaper, looking for two years and $2.625 million AAV. That might be worth it for a guy who had 40 points on the third line. If Vegas strikes out in free agency, it will look to bring Stephenson back.

If Stephenson isn’t brought back, there are contingency plans. Jake Leschyshyn appears ready to make the NHL jump. Lucas Elvenes is still up in the air, but could be used as a fourth-line option.

Mathew Barzal, anyone?

Hall is on the market once again, and it doesn’t look like the Sharks want to bring him back. He is getting offers from Anaheim, Minnesota and New Jersey (hello). Vegas does not look to get on that bidding war. Hall is looking for seven years at $9.575 million AAV.

The Canucks re-signed Pietrangelo to a four-year deal with an AAV of $9.935 million.

Right after Hall is Barzal, the superstar center from the New York Islanders, the top RFA on the market. He’s also looking for a seven-year deal but at $8.9 million AAV after he and the Islanders could not come to an agreement during the re-sign phase. What’s more wild is that there is another suitor. The Coyotes have sent an offer sheet to the 24-year-old center, per NHL 20 sources.

The Islanders would receive a team’s next four first-round picks should they let Barzal go.

The Golden Knights, who have the draft capital and the cap space to throw an offer sheet at Barzal, are considering that route, per NHL 20 sources. Vegas kicked the tires on a trade for Barzal’s rights, according to those virtual sources, but the asking price was deemed astronomical — New York reportedly asked for a package of Glass, Marchessault and Theodore.

Vegas is entering free agency at $11.275 million in cap space. Should Barzal be a target? Should the Golden Knights give up four first-round picks for him? Does Vegas trade someone to free up more cap space to make a legit run at Barzal? Do draft picks even mean anything? Leave your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for Season 3.