And here we are, once again, with the Golden Knights being at the forefront in some capacity.
The Golden Knights collectively felt, from general manager Kelly McCrimmon on down, that this was their best team. How else should one feel after going through the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche in unfathomable ways?
But for the second consecutive season, the Golden Knights found themselves in the NHL’s final four losing to a team they should’ve defeated, and find themselves wondering why they’re not facing the Lightning in the Cup Final.
The Golden Knights should be applauded for making it through such a hectic season and making it to the Stanley Cup Semifinals. But they don’t make banners for effort ... unless you’re the Nashville Predators.
Now presenting some inquiries, and predictions, for the soon-to-be second newest team in the league heading into Year 5.
What is to be done with the goalies?
To be clear, the Golden Knights could run it back. It got them a Vezina Trophy and a Jennings Trophy for their troubles.
But if the Golden Knights are to do anything with cap space outside of re-signing Alec Martinez, they need to rip the bandage off the $12 million gash.
Trying to come up with a solution for Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner is another matter entirely. On one hand, Fleury enters the final year of his three-year, $21 million extension. That contract is much more tradeable now than it was last offseason when Vegas committed five years and $25 million to Lehner.
On the other hand, the Golden Knights also have to consider if Lehner is the guy they can roll with in a post-Fleury world. Lehner hasn’t had more than 50 starts in a season since his Buffalo days, and he missed a month this season with a concussion. Is Logan Thompson ready to be an NHL backup, or do the Golden Knights throw some money toward Petr Mrazek or Jaroslav Halak?
“I think it was the strength of the team. I’ve played with some really good goaltenders over my career. Playing with Marc is a privilege,” Lehner said. “We’ve grown a lot closer to each other. It’s been a special few seasons here with everything that’s been going on. You’ve just got to appreciate the situation. I think we’ve handled it well.”
Fleury wants to stay in Vegas. He’s made it clear. Bill Foley wants the same. Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh told The Athletic that he would be willing to take an extension at a cheaper rate to stay with the Golden Knights. There are avenues to make this work, but how high is the anxiety from the powers to be? It’s not like they can’t magically be $18 million over the cap and win a Cup.
“Our relationship grew over the season. We got along very good,” Fleury said. “As goalies, that’s something you strive for is winning games, but also not giving up too much. I think both of us, we accomplished that this year.”
Fleury’s contract is much easier to trade this time around. Plus, the suitors will be out the door for a Vezina Trophy winner. If the Golden Knights are going to make the splash that most expect them to make, it starts here.
Prediction: Golden Knights trade Fleury
How much is too much for Alec Martinez?
It’s crazy to think two second-round picks turned into the heart and soul of the Vegas blue line, but here we are.
Not that this will come as a shock, but there is mutual interest between the Golden Knights and Martinez, who will turn 34 years old on July 26, to come together on a new deal. Martinez wants a multi-year deal with a Cup contender, and he arguably had the best all-around season of his career with Vegas in 2021.
The money, however, is the factor. For every clutch block, goal, or defensive play Martinez made in the playoffs, his AAV likely skyrocketed. Martinez will hit the open market for the first time. The number on his next deal is key to what the Golden Knights will, or want, to do.
Especially when one considers he played the entire postseason on a broken foot, yet he scored goals and played strong defense as a reliable top-pairing option.
“I couldn’t have done it without our medical staff,” Martinez said. “I sound like a broken record, but they were pretty incredible. I’m very thankful to them to be able to manage something and put me in a position where I could go compete with the guys playing the best time of the year.”
Martinez is going to get paid handsomely. There’s the belief that teams are prepared to offer him $6 million per year. The Golden Knights could hope the lack of state income tax plays a factor and he takes a bit less. Vegas needs to act on this, though, with three weeks until the market opens for business. I imagine they will, and get a deal done.
Prediction: Vegas re-signs Martinez to a two-year deal at $5.25 million AAV
What about Jack Eichel?
It wouldn’t be a Golden Knights news cycle without connecting them to the biggest name available.
If you’re a believer in Vegas being in the running for the Buffalo Sabres’ star center, you’re in luck. The Golden Knights are one of several teams that have kicked the tires on an Eichel deal, according to a source, and plan to be connected for as long as the price seems reasonable.
But for how long will the price seem reasonable?
This won’t be a situation where a fringe forward and a top defenseman prospect will land Mark Stone. The Sabres want players that make an immediate impact, all while replenishing the prospect pool.
The Golden Knights have assets that fit the bill. Take a combination of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore and maybe Alex Tuch, to go with Cody Glass, Nicolas Hague or Peyton Krebs, and you’ve got a package.
If Krebs is involved in those talks, that’s where they should end.
Hindsight is 20-20. The Golden Knights bet on the wrong triplet, keeping Glass over Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki. While McCrimmon says the organization still believes in Glass, the one calling the shots on the ice doesn’t appear to believe so.
“The one thing about this organization is that a young guy can’t say he never got an opportunity,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “I think we stuck young guys in all year and tried to put them in a position to succeed; come in and play on the first line, play with good players, play on the power play, play good minutes.
“I think between injuries and COVID and the roster and things like that, the young guys in this organization have all been given good opportunities to show what they have. Some have seized the moment, some haven’t, some just aren’t ready yet, and hopefully in September will be.”
Eichel gives the Golden Knights a superstar center; possibly the most important ingredient in this championship stew. If you have the opportunity to get a player of Eichel’s caliber, should the medicals come back clean on the herniated disc in his neck, you inquire about it. The idea of putting him between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty is to die for.
But that shouldn’t come at the expense of giving up Krebs. Maybe any other prospect, but there’s just something about Krebs’ small sample size at the NHL level that leads to believe he’s ready to be an integral part in Vegas’ plans next season. He’s overcooked, he’s ready, and could be in the consideration for the Calder Trophy next season.
I think the Sabres will want Krebs and will tell the Golden Knights to take it or leave it. That’s why I think Vegas bows out of these talks and waits for the price to come down, to which by then, it might be too late.
Prediction: Golden Knights do not trade for Jack Eichel
What scorers will Vegas target?
Math time. CapFriendly says the Golden Knights have $6.097 million in cap space to account for 18 skaters. The pie-in-the-sky scenario is getting the full $7 million from Fleury off the books. Even if you re-sign Martinez to that team-friendly number referenced above, it’s just under less than $8 million to find some scoring.
Wouldn’t it be great to see Vegas shell all that money for Alex Ovechkin? Problem solved.
I kid. Sort of.
There will be names for Vegas to go after. Mike Hoffman will be a UFA following a one-year deal with the Blues; the forward scored 17 goals in 52 games with St. Louis last season, and Vegas was linked to Hoffman at the trade deadline before settling on Mattias Janmark.
Alexander Wennberg could be an enticing option after a 17-goal season with the Florida Panthers. Wennberg had 29 points averaging 18:10 of ice time, but as a natural center, he might not be in the plans.
An intriguing name to watch for: Brandon Saad. It’s unclear if the Golden Knights are targeting him, but he’d be a perfect fit on the third line at the right price. He’s not a $6 million player; unless Colorado really wants to bring him back, or another trip around the sun with Chicago is in the works.
Prediction: Vegas signs a goal scorer, fans go wild in the streets