Sport Vegas Golden Knights' keys heading into '20 offseason

10:35  03 october  2020
10:35  03 october  2020 Source:   prohockeyrumors.com

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The 2019– 20 Vegas Golden Knights season was the third season for the National Hockey League franchise that started playing in the 2017–18 season . They played their home games at T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada.

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The offseason is now upon us with the Stanley Cup being awarded earlier this week. Having covered the teams that weren’t a part of the NHL’s return and the ones ousted in the Qualifying Round and the first two official rounds, we shift our focus to the ones that were eliminated in the Conference Finals. Next up is a look at Vegas.

a person wearing a helmet: While Zach Whitecloud held his own in the playoffs, he’s still relatively inexperienced. © Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports While Zach Whitecloud held his own in the playoffs, he’s still relatively inexperienced.

This past season was an interesting one for the Golden Knights. They surprisingly fired Gerard Gallant midseason and brought in Peter DeBoer (who coached the Sharks to a first-round upset over Vegas the year before) as his replacement. They were quite sharp in the early going in the playoffs despite a rather public goaltending controversy before they were ousted by Dallas in the Western Conference Final. On the surface, it would seem like GM Kelly McCrimmon has only some tinkering to do, but if the Golden Knights want to make a splash, they’ll have some work to do to make that happen.

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Clear up cap room

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It’s a familiar refrain for many teams this offseason, but with Vegas being a speculative option for pending top free agent Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights would need to free up some cap space first. If they want to keep Robin Lehner, that will also require some financial flexibility. Even if they simply want to retain their pending free agents, you guessed it, they’ll need to free up some money.

As things stand, Vegas has a little more than $76.5 million in commitments for next season to 18 players, per CapFriendly. Considering the Golden Knights will need most of that remaining room simply to fill out the rest of their forwards and back end, that means that any significant acquisition (or re-signing) is going to require a notable player heading out the door.

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The Vegas Golden Knights can advance to the Western Conference Final for the second time in their first three seasons if they defeat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday.

With Cody Glass likely to push for a bigger role next season and a weak free-agent class down the middle, the time may be right to explore a Paul Stastny trade. The veteran has a $6.5 million salary for one more year and only a 10-team no-trade list, which could make him appealing to some teams looking for more of an impact player. Winger Alex Tuch is coming off of a down season that has him in early speculation as well although he’s still just 24 and has six years left on his deal with a $4.75 million average annual price tag.  The late-season addition of Alec Martinez could give the Golden Knights some flexibility to deal from their back end as well.

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that a team that’s three years old is facing salary-cap difficulty already. But when you look at the talent on their roster, it’s not so surprising. If they want to add another impact player, however, they’ll also have to subtract from their core to make it happen.

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Make a goaltending decision

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When Lehner was brought in at the trade deadline, the original thought was that he’d allow the Golden Knights to give Marc-Andre Fleury a bit of rest down the stretch and give them starter-caliber goaltending in the stretch run. That’s not exactly how things played out. After the post-stoppage training camp, Lehner emerged as the front-runner for the starting job and that’s how it played out as he made 16 of their 20 playoff starts, leading Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh to post a since-deleted tweet depicting a sword bearing DeBoer’s name stabbing Fleury in the back.

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Not surprisingly, that has led to plenty of speculation about Fleury’s willingness to stick around for next season although he has indicated that his preference is to stay. Meanwhile, there was speculation last month that Lehner and Vegas were nearing a long-term contract extension although that hasn’t yet materialized.

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Notwithstanding the controversy in the early going in the playoffs, it’s difficult to envision Vegas keeping both around. Both want to be starters and, again, Vegas would need to clear out a fair bit of salary to make it happen.

From a win-now perspective, keeping Lehner would seemingly be the way to go. At 29, he’s still in the prime of his career while Fleury turns 36 next month. He’s still a quality goaltender, but his days of being a 60-game starter are likely over. However, trading him would carry some challenges as he still has two years left on a contract that carries a $7.5 million average annual value. The Golden Knights can retain up to 50% of that in a trade, but is that something they’re going to want to do? A buyout would give them some short-term flexibility but would also add more than $2 million onto the cap for two years after the deal is set to expire. Meanwhile, Lehner isn’t interested in another short-term contract, so taking a short-term pact with an agreement to do something more lucrative when Fleury’s deal is up isn’t in the cards.

The Golden Knights would like to keep both, but doing so may be too pricey. In that case, McCrimmon has a week to decide which one he’d like to keep with Lehner set to be one of the top goalies available on the open market.

Add defensive depth

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With Deryk Engelland playing a minimal role down the stretch and not at all in the playoffs, it seems as if he may be on his way out as a free agent. Jon Merrill is also set to hit unrestricted free agency as well. While Zach Whitecloud held his own in the playoffs, he’s still relatively inexperienced, and although the Golden Knights have some youngsters with some promise including Nic Hague, more development time would certainly be beneficial.

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With that in mind, looking to add a depth free agent or two is something McCrimmon may be looking to do independent of any of his other potentially bigger plans. Finding someone who can serve in a sixth or seventh role would be ideal, but the Golden Knights will need to find someone who is willing to play for close to the league minimum to give them as much flexibility to re-sign their pending restricted free agents (headlined by Chandler Stephenson who had 22 points in 41 games after being acquired by Washington). On top of that, a veteran who could start in the minors but be recalled in case injuries arise might also be needed with Jaycob Megna set to hit the open market as well.

It’s not a particularly exciting type of player to target, but it certainly appears that the Golden Knights' in-season flexibility is going to be limited. If they can get a veteran or two on the cheap now, that might be enough to keep them from needing to add more blueline help when the 2021 trade deadline rolls around.

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