2022-23 NHL Team Preview: Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights entered the 2021-22 season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
They finished the pandemic-shortened 2021 season tied for the league lead in points with the Colorado Avalanche, edged out those same Avs in the second round of the playoffs, then lost to the Montreal Cinderella Canadiens in semi final.
In November, the Golden Knights added what was thought to be the missing piece to their roster, acquiring Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabers to finally give them their much-needed top center. Vegas knew Eichel wouldn’t make his debut there for a few months as he underwent disc replacement surgery, but the plan was to finally have a locked and loaded roster ready to go come playoff time.
Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, making the playoffs isn’t guaranteed in the NHL.
Vegas struggled with a combination of injuries and salary cap navigation and was never able to freeze its ideal roster for more than a few games at a time. He ended up finishing the season with a 43-31-8 record, good for ninth place in the Western Conference.
It was a stunning finish for a team that had seen virtually nothing but success since entering the league in 2017. The question now is whether the 2021-22 season was an anomaly for the Golden Knights or if it was the beginning of the team. to fall.
MAJOR ADDITIONS AND DEPARTURES
Phil Kessel, AR
Adin Hill, G
Michael Hutchinson, G
Byron Froese, C.
Sheldon Rempal, RW/LW
Spencer Foo, RW/C
Max Pacioretty, LW (Car)
Mattias Janmark, AG/RW (Edm)
Dylan Coghlan, D (Car)
Oscar Dansk, G (Cgy)
Ben Jones, C (Cgy)
Jack Dugan, LW (NJ)
The Golden Knights finished 12th in the league with 266 goals last season, a far cry from the deep, high-octane offense we’ve seen from them in the past.
On a roster with names like Mark Stone, Eichel and Max Pacioretty, it was Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson who led the way in Vegas offensively with 66 and 64 points, respectively. Their third-best forward was Evgenii Dadonov, who the team desperately tried to dump before the trade deadline in a failed attempt to send him somewhere on their no-trade list.
The problem for Vegas is that its main players have never been healthy at the same time. Stone and Pacioretty were injured in the second game of the season and missed for over a month and Eichel didn’t make his debut until February.
Overall, Pacioretty scored 39 points in 37 games, Stone scored 30 points in 37 games, and Eichel scored 25 points in 34 games.
Dadonov and Pacioretty fell victim to the salary cap over the summer and the only replacement that was brought in to compensate was Phil Kessel, so for the Golden Knights offense to bounce back, they’re going to need healthy, bouncing seasons. of Eichel and Stone.
The Golden Knights have a solid group of defenders, flanked by two legitimate No. 1s in Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore.
Those two aces helped turn the blue line into an area of consistency for the Golden Knights amid a chaotic season in 2021-22, as Pietrangelo and Theodore adapted for 80 and 78 games, respectively. Vegas had eight different defensemen who played at least 150 minutes at even strength and all finished in the green in terms of expected goals for percentage.
Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez form the team’s veteran duo, while Theodore often plays alongside Brayden McNabb, a defensive duo the Golden Knights have used since their inaugural season. The third pair will feature a combination of Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague, Ben Hutton and possibly rookie Kaedan Korczak, who performed well in his first full season in the AHL last year.
Vegas made the controversial decision to leave Marc-André Fleury last summer after a Vezina Trophy-winning season because he believed Robin Lehner was his future goaltender.
Lehner ended up struggling through an injury-riddled season, as he posted a .907 save percentage in 44 games. His replacement, Laurent Brossoit, also struggled with injuries and recorded an .895 save percentage in 24 games.
The Golden Knights’ most successful goaltender in 2021-22 was third stringer Logan Thompson, who posted a .914 save percentage in the final streak. The Golden Knights are hoping this small sample was legit, as Lehner will miss the entire 2022-23 season and Brossoit is out with no timeline for his return.
Vegas’ insurance options are Adin Hill, who they acquired in exchange for a fourth-round pick a few weeks ago, and Michael Hutchinson, a veteran with experience in backup roles.
Pete DeBoer ended up taking the fall for Vegas’ disappointing 2021-22 result, as he was fired days after the regular season ended.
His replacement is Bruce Cassidy, another guy who had just taken the fall for his team’s ho-hum finish. The Boston Bruins went 51-26-5 and were trailed in seven games by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round and the team decided it was time to move on and find a new voice behind the bench.
Cassidy set a record of 245-108-46 over six seasons with the Bruins and won the Jack Adams Award in 2019-20. He led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019 and the team made the playoffs every season he was behind the bench.
It’s hard to say if coaching was actually the problem for the Golden Knights last season, but they certainly didn’t downgrade by bringing in Cassidy.
Considering they’ve been in win-now mode forever, the Golden Knights don’t have a deep closet when it comes to prospects.
Korczak is an option on the blue line if the team is having injury issues and Pavel Dorofeyev and Brendan Brisson are options to provide depth scoring if the team needs it during the season.
While that outlook isn’t a game-changer, the Golden Knights have quality young players looking for opportunities, which is critical for a team struggling with a tough salary cap.
1. Can Jack Eichel and Mark Stone stay healthy? The Golden Knights lost points when they dropped Pacioretty and Dadonov over the summer and the best bet to make up for those subtractions would be healthy seasons from Eichel and Stone, who were limited to 37 and 34 games respectively in 2021. -22.
2. Will Logan Thompson be good enough? Thompson was a beacon of hope for the Golden Knights down the stretch as their goaltending tandem of Robin Lehner and Laurent Brossoit couldn’t go. If an undrafted free agent signing can only be an average NHL goaltender, that would be a huge win for Vegas.
3. What heads will roll next if all goes wrong? The Golden Knights have gone from a lovable underdog story full of misfits to a machine that constantly adds and removes marquee players as if they were playing Be A GM mode in a video game. If things go wrong again this year, it might be time to ask yourself if it’s time for a change of philosophy.
The Golden Knights don’t have a great goaltending situation and they don’t have the salary cap to fix it. That said, Eichel and Stone’s healthy seasons coupled with their strong blue line should be enough to compensate. Vegas is expected to be back in the playoffs in the spring of 2023.