Golden Knights 2022 free agency primer: Vegas looks to contend with cap crisis

What you need to know about Vegas and the Pacific Division ahead of Day 1.

It has been 77 days since the Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in franchise history.

Since the three consecutive shootout losses that doomed Vegas’ season, the Golden Knights have signed Brendan Brisson to an entry-level contract, hired the third head coach in franchise history, re-signed Daniil Miromanov to a two-year deal, traded Evgenii Dadonov to Montreal in exchange for the contract of Shea Weber, added six players — including three centers, one winger, one defenseman and one goalie — to the prospect pool in last week’s NHL Entry Draft and extended qualifying offers to six players.

But the real work starts today as free agency officially kicks off this morning (9 a.m. PT).

To put it mildly, the Golden Knights are in cap hell.

As such, they are not expected to make major moves on Day 1 of free agency. However, this is not an organization that typically opts to sit on the sidelines.

Vegas’ most recent splash was acquiring Jack Eichel and his $10 million cap hit in November. But repeatedly adding players like Eichel, Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo — who have a combined cap hit of $28.3 million, which is more than a third of the team’s total cap space — has put Vegas in a serious cap crunch.

Being active in free agency will require some cap gymnastics.

According to CapFriendly, Vegas is currently in the red, sitting $2.66 million over the cap ceiling, which will be $82.5 million for the 2022-23 season. Teams can exceed the cap ceiling by 10 percent during the offseason but must be cap compliant on the first day of the regular season.

Vegas’ current salary cap is projected to be $85.16 million, though that includes Shea Weber’s $7.86 million cap hit; once he is moved to long-term injured reserve, the Golden Knights will sit at $77.3 million, leaving $5.2 million of cap space.

That’s somewhat significant, at least in the short term, in that it gives Vegas some flexibility in case another team signs Nicolas Hague or Nicolas Roy to an offer sheet. Both players were extended qualifying offers and are currently restricted free agents, but both remain vulnerable as intriguing options other teams may target.

That’s especially true considering the Golden Knights’ hands are tied.

Teams won’t have to offer an astronomical contract (or even overpay) to steal either player, nor will they have to part with key assets if the offer sheet goes unmatched. Signing Hague or Roy to a contract with an AAV of roughly $4.2 million or less would only yield the Golden Knights a second-round pick as compensation, which would be a major blow to Vegas given both players’ current value.

At the same time, the $5.2 million of cap space is somewhat of a mirage since Vegas reportedly has a handshake deal in place with Reilly Smith. The deal is estimated to be in the three-year, $15 million range; the AAV of $5 million would match his recent contract, which he signed with Florida back in 2016.

It’s unclear how long Smith will be willing to wait to put pen to paper, though.

That essentially leaves Vegas with $200,000 of cap space with just nine forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies on the active roster.

2022-23 Golden Knights contracts

ForwardsCap hit / termDefensemenCap hit / termGoaliesCap hit / term
Eichel$10M / 4 yearsPietrangelo$8.8M / 5 yearsLehner$5M / 3 years
Stone$9.5M / 5 yearsMartinez$5.25M / 2 yearsBrossoit$2.325M / 1 year
Pacioretty$7M / 1 yearTheodore$5.2M / 3 years
Karlsson$5.9M / 5 yearsMcNabb$2.85M / 3 years
Marchessault$5M / 2 yearsWhitecloud$2.75M / 6 years
Stephenson$2.75M / 2 yearsHutton$850,000 / 2 years
Carrier$1.4M / 2 yearsCoghlan$762,500 / 1 year
Patrick$1.2M / 1 year
Amadio$762,500 / 2 years

Vegas will look to negotiate deals with Hague and Roy as well as Keegan Kolesar, who was one of four other players to receive a qualifying offer.

One notable omission was Brett Howden, though NHL Insider Darren Dreger believes Howden could remain in Sin City.

Another surprise was Jack Dugan, who was one of three players who did not receive qualifying offers (Dylan Ferguson, Benjamin Jones).

Golden Knights extend qualifying offers to Roy, Hague, others

But if Vegas plans to somehow sign Hague, Roy, Kolesar and possibly Howden, clearing cap space will be the top priority moving forward.

The Golden Knights already traded Dadonov but will need to make at least one or two other moves to shed more cap space.

Even so, not having sufficient cap space has never stopped the Golden Knights from getting involved, which leaves the door open for possible surprises on Day 1 of free agency.

Though targeting some of the top-tier players is seemingly out of reach even for this organization, there are some players the Golden Knights may consider. Former Golden Knights center Paul Stastny could be one of them, according to Jesse Granger of The Athletic.

Vegas has more than enough centers, but William Karlsson could be moved as a cap-saving measure, which could explain the potential interest in Stastny. The veteran forward scored 21 goals and 45 points last year with Winnipeg, and while adding him doesn’t make a ton of sense at this point, there’s no guarantee that Roy, Howden or Karlsson will remain with the Golden Knights for Year 6.

In the end, what Vegas ends up doing in free agency is anyone’s guess.

The Golden Knights had a very eventful string of days last July when the team announced it was dumping Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract to clear up $7 million of cap space. That cap space didn’t last long, though, as Vegas quickly used it to sign free agents Dadonov and Laurent Brossoit.

Dadonov was (successfully) traded to Montreal last month, but Brossoit remains on the roster and is a top candidate for a trade, especially given the number of teams seeking assistance in the crease. Brossoit is signed for one more year at $2.325 million, but the emergence of Logan Thompson gives Vegas options.

Other names that have been included in the rumor mill include Alec Martinez and Karlsson, who carry cap hits of $5.25 million and $5.9 million, respectively.

One player who won’t return to Vegas next year is Mattias Janmark; he is set to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

The rest of the teams in the Pacific Division have more cap space than Vegas, though that is true of 31 clubs heading into free agency. There has been some notable player movement already, and several teams are expected to be particularly active. Here’s an overview of each of the Golden Knights’ division rivals heading into Day 1.

Pacific Division overview

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have not been overly active thus far. Anaheim will be without its long-time captain Ryan Getzlaf, who announced his retirement in April. Anaheim enters free agency with nearly $40 million of cap space, more than any other team in the league; however, the club has just eight forwards, four defensemen and two goalies on its active roster.

Goaltender John Gibson could be moved if a team is willing to pay the high asking price; he carries a $6.4 million cap hit for the next five seasons. The blue line could be an area of focus for the Ducks this offseason, though Anaheim will have openings throughout the lineup. Forward Isac Lundestrom and defenseman Urho Vaakanainen were two of four players issued qualifying offers; surprisingly, Anaheim elected not to extend offers to several promising young players, including Sonny Milano (F), Sam Steel (F), Brendan Guhle (D) and Jacob Larsson (D). Former Golden Knights prospect Lucas Elvenes (F) also did not receive a qualifying offer.

Calgary Flames

The Flames have been waiting on the status of pending unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau; however, the New Jersey native informed the team last night that he would not be re-signing with Calgary after eight seasons and more than 600 games. He is coming off a career year in which he recorded 40 goals and 115 points and is believed to be headed East. The Flames will have to find a way to replace his offensive contributions, either by committee or by adding a first-line player.

Calgary also will look to replace defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who will hit free agency later today. For now, the team’s focus likely will shift to restricted free agents Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane, two of eight players who were issued qualifying offers. Tkachuk led the team in goals (42) and finished second in scoring with a career-best 104 points; Mangiapane is coming off a breakout season in which he scored 35 goals.

Edmonton Oilers

Evander Kane will remain with the Edmonton Oilers after signing a four-year, $22 million (AAV: $5.5 million) contract late last night. During the draft, the Oilers moved Zack Kassian (and his $3.2 million cap hit) along with a 2022 first-round pick (No. 29), a 2025 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick to Arizona in exchange for Arizona’s 2022 first-round selection (No. 32).

Edmonton extended qualifying offers to four players, including Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson. Edmonton’s greatest offseason need is goaltending; the Oilers are rumored to be interested in Jack Campbell but have been linked to several other netminders.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings acquired Kevin Fiala from Minnesota in exchange for defenseman Brock Faber’s signing rights as well as a 2022 first-round pick (No. 19); the club subsequently signed Fiala to a seven-year deal with an AAV of $7.875 million. Los Angeles re-signed forward Adrian Kempe to a four-year, $22 million extension (AAV: $5.5 million) and also agreed to terms on deals with Alex Edler (D), Carl Grundstrom (F) and Lias Andersson (F).

Gabe Vilardi (F), Sean Durzi (D), Mikey Anderson (D) and Jaret Anderson-Dolan (F) were issued qualifying offers, while Brendan Lemieux (F) will hit free agency. Los Angeles likely will target a blueliner given its depth up front but may explore trading goaltender Jonathan Quick.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks hired former NHL forward Mike Grier as general manager, making him the first black general manager in NHL history.

One of Grier’s first moves was acquiring forward Luke Kunin from Nashville in exchange for John Leonard’s signing rights and a third-round pick. The Sharks also re-signed forward Alexander Barabanov to a two-year, $5 million extension.

There is rumored interest in defenseman Brent Burns, who is signed for three more seasons with an AAV of $8 million.

San Jose has six restricted free agents: Kunin (F), Noah Gregor (F), Mario Ferraro (D), Kaapo Kahkonen (G), Alexander Chmelevski (F) and Jonah Gadjovich (F). Jonathan Dahlen (F) and Nicolas Meloche (D) were two notable players who were not given qualifying offers. The Sharks likely will be looking to enhance the team’s offense, which averaged just 2.57 goals per game last season, good for 30th overall.

Seattle Kraken

The Kraken held the fourth overall selection in this year’s draft but came away with Shane Wright, a player many thought would be the first overall pick. The club signed forward Alexander True to a one-year, two-way extension. Seattle turned many heads with its decision not to qualify forward Ryan Donato as well as defenseman Haydn Fleury. Forward Daniel Sprong — acquired in a deadline-day deal with Washington — also will hit unrestricted free agency, as will defenseman Dennis Cholowski. Morgan Geekie (F), Kole Lind (F), Carsen Twarynski (F) and Cale Fleury (D) were issued qualifying offers and are currently restricted free agents.

The Kraken will look to beef up their offense after finishing 28th in the league with 2.60 goals per game. Seattle also will look for some help in net, especially since Chris Driedger is expected to miss most of the regular season.

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks re-signed forward Brock Boeser to a three-year deal with an AAV of $6.65 million. Vancouver will look to create cap space this offseason. J.T. Miller, who has one year remaining on a contract that carries a $5.25 million cap hit, is a top trade candidate and has garnered widespread interest. Captain Bo Horvat as well as defenseman Tyler Myers have circulated the rumor mill as well.

How to watch

ESPN: ESPN’s coverage will air exclusively on ESPN+. It will include a two-hour free agency edition of The Point (9-11 a.m. PT) followed by an additional four hours of TSN’s Free Agent Frenzy (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT).

NHL Network: NHL Network will be on the air for five hours with a free agency edition of NHL Tonight (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT).