Golden Knights can move on without Deryk Engelland — and they should

Deryk Engelland signed a one-year extension last season, but he wasn’t offered another this year. Is this writing on the wall?

Forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter and Brandon Pirri are all unrestricted free agents this offseason. And joining them on the Golden Knights’ UFA list is a fan favorite — defenseman Deryk Engelland. It is unclear if the Golden Knights intend to re-sign the 37-year-old, but it’s become rather clear what they should do.

There are many different things a team needs to account for in the offseason. Who is still under contract? Which players may be coming into the fold next season? Which outsiders are a target during free agency? Can we afford to lose one of our current players? In the case of Engelland, these are all very interesting discussion points.

Let’s start from the beginning. Coming to Vegas in the expansion draft from the Calgary Flames, Engelland certainly was not viewed as an impact pick. Players like Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury were the hot-ticket items. Engelland, for the most part, had been a career bottom-pair defenseman. His lack of speed, limited puck skills and stay-at-home style never helped the veteran blueliner make much of an impact in the grand scheme of things.

But before he ever played a game for the Golden Knights, Engelland had Las Vegas roots that helped him quickly become a cult hero in Sin City. Way back in 2003, he played in the ECHL as a member of the now-defunct Las Vegas Wranglers. He spent two seasons in the ECHL, and it wasn’t long before he made Vegas his home. When selected in the expansion draft, he was instantly accepted by Golden Knights fans with open arms.

Further cementing his status was a heartfelt speech in the face of tragedy before the Golden Knights’ first-ever home game. Engelland got on the mic during the pre-game memorial and helped Vegas fans, even if it was just for a few seconds, forget about 1 October. His speech and the Golden Knights’ inception helped the city get over heartbreak. And for that, the city is forever grateful.

Engelland is undoubtedly one of the founding fathers of hockey in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, his character and off-ice contributions to the city have masked his on-ice abilities — or lack thereof. While the love for Engelland is understandable, the decision to bring back the unofficial team captain won’t be an easy one.

Should Vegas re-sign Engelland?

Quite frankly, Deryk Engelland has been the weakest defenseman on the Golden Knights’ roster. And making things confusing is his usage down the stretch. Normally paired with the young, athletic and offensively gifted Shea Theodore, Engelland was moved up to the top pair with Nate Schmidt, and that duo wound up leading the team in ice time following the swap in February.

Even with the change, the defensive pairs were able to maintain their structure, utilizing an offensive puck-mover and a more stay-at-home type of player on each pair. One of the worst aspects of the move, though, was the subsequent overuse of the oldest player on the team. And making matters worse, Schmidt’s game seemed to change when he was saddled with Engelland. At times, he seemed tentative to jump into the offensive zone, and advanced statistics seem to back up that claim. When paired with Brayden McNabb, Schmidt had a solid Expected Goals For percentage of 52.69 at 5-on-5. With Engelland, though, Schmidt’s 5-on-5 xGF% fell to 45.04.

In fact, just about every blueliner on the team had a harder time driving play at 5-on-5 when they were on the ice with Engelland. Here’s a look at the other six defensemen and their numbers, with and without Engelland, at 5-on-5.

Deryk Engelland with teammates at 5-on-5

PlayerCF% With EngellandCF% Without Engelland

What do these numbers mean? Simply put, the Golden Knights were more likely to allow shots on goal when Engelland was on the ice, and the eye test certainly supports that argument. At times, it was downright hard to watch.

In addition to performance-related issues, the Golden Knights are simply running out of room for the veteran defenseman. Schmidt, Theodore, McNabb, Miller and Holden are all under contract next season. Add in prospects like Nicolas Hague, Jimmy Schuldt and Zach Whitecloud, who will all be battling for a roster spot this summer, and you can see the logjam beginning to materialize. In fact, Vegas’ defensive depth is so strong that they were able to ship out Erik Brannstrom, arguably their best prospect, in order to make the Mark Stone trade possible.

In exit interviews, Engelland expressed his desire to play next season and added that he hopes to remain a Golden Knight. With what Vegas already has in-house, though, it’s hard to figure where exactly he fits in.

Testing free agency

If and when Engelland hits free agency this summer, he will have some competition on the open market. Of course, he is not in the same tier as Erik Karlsson (or even Tyler Myers). But there may be a market for a veteran, stay-at-home defender.

It’s not crazy to believe Engelland could ink a one- or two-year deal this summer. But due to his age and limited skillset, the average annual value will probably be closer to $1 million per year ($500,000 less than the one-year extension the Golden Knights gave him last season). Despite his desire to keep playing hockey, his value may be more comparable to that of a seventh defenseman or a fringe AHLer. At this point, his value to the Golden Knights is in an advisory/ambassador role that will outweigh his playing contributions.

We still love him!

Engelland’s work both on and off the ice has been highly beneficial to the Golden Knights. Not only did he have a large hand in community efforts following the 1 October tragedy, but he continues to make an impact through his Engelland’s Vegas Born Heroes Foundation. He is a great person to keep around town, and it would be a shame to see him go.

At the end of the day, though, his window is closing. He had a long journey to the NHL and now has a solid 10-year career under his belt — not too shabby for the gritty blueliner.

If this really is the end for Engelland, it couldn’t be more fitting that he’ll be going out after two of the most successful seasons of his career.