The 2019-20 regular season retroactively concluded on March 12, the day the NHL paused the season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. As a result, the Vegas Golden Knights, with 86 points and a .606 points percentage at the time, were crowned Pacific Division champions for the second time in three years.
Though it was an up-and-down season for the Knights, Vegas benefited from many individual contributions, including Reilly Smith’s career-high 27 goals as well as Max Pacioretty’s return to glory with a team-leading 32 goals and 66 points.
But two players stood above the rest, making them the 2019-20 Golden Knights MVP’s.
In his first full season in Las Vegas, Mark Stone set the bar for Golden Knights forwards. He recorded a team-leading 42 assists and finished the year with 63 points in 65 games. Additionally, he led the team with 2.51 points per 60 at 5-on-5 and also had the second-most primary points per 60 at both 5-on-5 (1.98) and across all strengths (2.33), trailing only Pacioretty (1.99 and 2.6, respectively).
Those two were the best scorers on the team all year, but what sets Stone apart is the fact that he achieved near-identical numbers while playing significantly more time on the penalty kill (124:31 for Stone, 3:06 for Pacioretty).
Stone also had the most takeaways and the most takeaways per 60 (3.71) among Golden Knights skaters, and his possession stats were the second-best in relation to his offensive zone start percentage (52.34) after Paul Stastny. Stone also had the second-most goals above replacement (15.8) and wins above replacement (2.8) after Pacioretty, and he finished tied with Pacioretty with 1.9 expected wins above replacement.
There’s no denying Pacioretty had a fantastic season. But what puts Stone above Pacioretty is Stone’s defensive ability, though the line of Stone, Pacioretty and Stastny easily was the Golden Knights’ best, at least on an individual level.
Although Stone got hurt towards the end of the season, his two-way presence and ability on the penalty kill helped elevate his case for MVP.
While he had some ups and downs in terms of production (a six-game scoreless streak at the beginning of November was his longest stretch, and a seven-game point streak from Oct. 12 to 22 was his best on the flip side), he maintained overall consistency and was an integral part of Vegas’ success on both sides of the puck.
Stone being healthy for the playoffs likely will be an X-factor for the Knights.
The 2019-20 leader in expected goals and expected wins above replacement for the Golden Knights, however, came from the blue line, as Shea Theodore had 14.2 expected goals above replacement and 2.5 expected wins.
Much of that can be attributed to his 12.3 expected offensive goals above replacement, a result of his offensive-zone deployment (60.5 percent) and his power-play usage as the Golden Knights’ lead power-play quarterback. Plus, he got even more time on the man advantage this season with Colin Miller in Buffalo (190:06 in 2018-19 versus 221:40 in 2019-20).
From a raw points perspective, Theodore had his best season yet, setting career highs in goals (13), assists (33), points (46), power-play points (16) and game-winning goals (4). He led all Knights defensemen in every category and finished the regular season with 34 points in the final 37 games.
Theodore had the best shot value on the blue line, with .42 expected goals per 60, and he was second with 50 percent of the points with him on the ice coming with his involvement (behind only Alec Martinez, who only played 10 games). In fact, in many of the categories in which Theodore wasn’t first among defensemen, he was second only due to Martinez’s stellar shortened stint. That includes takeaways, where, like Stone, Theodore was excellent, even if Martinez managed to grab more on a per-60 basis.
Theodore led all Vegas rearguards in time on ice per game for the first time in his Golden Knights tenure, as the first two seasons saw Nate Schmidt as the top defenseman. That’s coming after an offseason where Theodore survived a cancer scare, which earned him Vegas’ Masterton nomination.
Like Stone, Theodore saw a season with some ups and downs. He had two eight-game scoreless streaks, one from Oct. 15 to 31, the other from Nov. 27 to Dec. 12. However, he snapped the second one with his longest point streak of the season, which stretched five games from Dec. 13 to 22; in that span, he recorded two goals and eight points.
Theodore also became a much better two-way presence than he was in his first season, and he’s evolving into the dependable defenseman the Golden Knights have needed since their inaugural season.
Who was your Golden Knights MVP for the 2019-20 season?
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