This off-season will be a tricky one for General Manager George McPhee, the man at the helm of the Vegas Golden Knights. While the players and coaching staff get some well-deserved rest, McPhee will be hard at work with his advisory team, crunching numbers and making tough personnel decisions. Unlike last summer, McPhee will be tasked with some cost-cutting. Before we dive in too deep, check out the Golden Knights’ salary situation below.
$73,875,000 is currently committed to 17 rostered players next season.
$2,725,000 to Erik Haula, who ended last season on the LTIR.
$76,600,000 total to 18 active players
$500,000 retained salary: Tomas Tatar
$77,100,000 total cap hit heading into the off-season.
Financial info courtesy of Cap Friendly
Sportsnet Staff |@Sportsnet Sportsnet Staff @Sportsnet NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is expecting an increase of the league's salary cap to roughly $83 million for the 2019-20 season. The NHL is projecting a salary cap of roughly $83-million for next season, per Gary Bettman.
2018-19 Lines (with players under contract)
Marchessault – VACANT – Reilly Smith
Pacioretty – Stastny – Stone
Haula – Eakin – Tuch
Carrier – VACANT – Reaves / Zykov
Schmidt – VACANT
McNabb – Theodore
Merrill – Miller / Holden
Looking at that lineup, the Golden Knights technically only need one defenseman, a first-line center, a fourth-line center, and a back-up goaltender. Those vacated spots belonged to William Karlsson (Restricted Free Agent), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Unrestricted Free Agent), Deryk Engelland (UFA), and Malcolm Subban during the 2018-19 season. Joining those men in the no-contract club are Brandon Pirri (UFA), Ryan Carpenter (UFA), Tomas Nosek (RFA), Jimmy Schuldt (RFA), and Nikita Gusev (RFA). Looking deeper into the system, goaltender Maxime Lagace is also a UFA and defenseman Jake Bischoff is a RFA. Those two names are important because they were the first call-ups in their respective positions for the Golden Knights this season. While they don’t count against the salary cap until called up, they are important names to keep in mind.
For the sake of the exercise, let’s assume all the players will be paid the same AAV on their next contract. Karlsson made $5.25 million, Bellemare earned a modest $1.45 million, and Engelland took home $1.5 million. In total, it would take $8.2 million to bring back those three men, which is cap space the Golden Knights simply don’t have. They will not be able to bring back their previous lineup and have an easy off-season. Sorry George!
Where Can They Save Some Money?
Deryk Engelland May Be Out (USA Today Sports)
Realistically, Engelland is the easiest man to remove from the equation. His $1.5 million is a meager AAV for the team, but his contributions can be replaced and expanded upon by Nick Holden, Schuldt, or even Nicolas Hauge (AHL) at a comparable or lower cost. Schuldt came over from the NCAA and will be on a team-friendly RFA deal. Holden will be playing in the final year of his two-year, $4.4 million contract signed last off-season. Bringing in Hauge’s entry-level contract and its small $822,500 cap hit to the mix couldn’t hurt either. If necessary, the Golden Knights could even bury Holden in the AHL and rely on Hauge and Schuldt to shoulder the load of the sixth defenseman, thus saving a decent amount of cash.
Karlsson remains the biggest issue for VGK, regardless of what McPhee envisions for his defense corps. Last summer, his desire for a lucrative, long-term contract was well known and it seemed that both his people and the Golden Knights front office experienced disconnect regarding his value. Karlsson was coming off an ungodly 43-goal, 75-point season after two straight 20-point campaigns with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rightfully so, the Golden Knights were tentative about throwing big money and term at the breakout star. This season, he cooled off, but still managed 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points, his second-best statistical season while reprising his role as first-line center between Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
Due to his status as an RFA there are only so many options for Karlsson. He opted for arbitration and signed a one-year deal at $5.25 million for the 2018-19 season on the last go-around. I don’t see that happening again this summer. Shockingly, the Golden Knights filed arbitration last season with a $3.5 million offer against the $6.5 million requested by the player. With a final decision of $5.25 million, it’s clear to see the Golden Knights’ desire was to essentially low-ball their top center.
The Vegas Golden Knights and star center William Karlsson appear headed for an arbitration meeting on Saturday as both sides don't seem close on a financial agreement. Karlsson, who led Vegas with 43 goals last season for the reigning Western Conference champions, is asking for a new deal at $6.5 million.
Karlsson is unique in the regard that he didn’t just sign the team-friendly deal sent his way. Alex Tuch, Colin Miller, and Shea Theodore all signed long-term deals with the Golden Knights, at cap hits far below what they could have expected from the open market. Tuch would have been an RFA, but he’s the type of player that would easily warrant an offer sheet from a rival GM. Even Nate Schmidt’s $5.95 million per year extension could have been juicier if he hit Free Agency.
There is something to the fact that these guys really seem to enjoy playing in Vegas and McPhee has done a good job capitalizing on that. Not to insinuate that Wild Bill doesn’t like Vegas, but he doesn’t seem to want to automatically “buy in” like the others did and accept less than he feels he’s worth. This “buy in” phrase was coined by the Golden Knights’ GM throughout the aforementioned signings. Simply put, McPhee has gotten his way with everyone but Karlsson thus far.
William Karlsson (USA Today Sports)
You may be asking yourself, “why are the Golden Knights in cap trouble all of a sudden”? One trade deadline trade-and-extend is all it took to put them up against the league limit. Raises for Miller, Marchessault, Schmidt, Tuch, Theodore, and Max Pacioretty have played their part and are largely what made some of those players available in the Expansion Draft, but Mark Stone’s massive $9.5 million AAV moving forward complicates things. He is without-a-doubt worth the cap-hit, but it does make things trickier for McPhee from here on out. Luckily for Vegas, their GM is no stranger to high-priced talent. It’s easy to forget that it was McPhee who drafted and even shared a home with his prized first-overall selection in Washington, Alexander Ovechkin.
Can't They Make a Trade to Cut Costs?
Moves can be made to unload salary but going the trade route with contracted players may not be necessary. If the Golden Knights were so inclined, they could ultimately trade the rights to William Karlsson and replace him at 1C, with an in-house option. Yes, I’m talking Erik Haula. Haula will be coming off a season-ending knee injury, but it happened so early that he is expected to be more-than-ready for the start of the 2019-20 season. A year prior, Haula racked up 29 goals as the primary second line center, with James Neal (a healthy scratch in Calgary) and David Perron (in the playoffs in St. Louis). Haula can play an up-tempo style with Marchessault and Smith and would not present a noticeable drop-off in talent from Karlsson.
Erik Haula Will be a Huge Addition (USA Today Sports)
With Haula moving up the depth chart, Gusev’s pending-RFA deal would place him at third-line left wing, alongside Cody Eakin and Tuch. His playmaking ability could really ignite that line in the place of Pirri and Nosek. Nosek could and will come back to the team, as an RFA on a team-friendly deal, filling the fourth line center role or even rotating the wing spot with Ryan Reaves, if Bellemare is retained for his leadership and penalty kill mastery. Another option could be the Canadian Juniors superstar, Cody Glass, making the jump to the NHL. As fun as that would be, there doesn’t seem to be space for him. Centering a fourth line with William Carrier and Reaves isn’t ideal for the growth and development of the young phenom. Currently, he is playing well for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL playoffs. Another season down there would not be detrimental to the young man.
What Else Needs To Be Done?
Other than the Karlsson dilemma, the remaining moves are elementary. Nosek can be brought back without much financial or term commitment, same with Subban. Subban played well enough and still has the hype of a freakishly athletic goaltender to possibly garner a few offer sheets, but those are few and far between. Whether it’s a reluctance to part with the compensatory draft picks or a fear of burning a bridge with colleague, GMs seem hesitant to send out offer sheets to RFAs. This offseason, there are superstars RFAs on the market, including Mitch Marner, Patrick Laine (WPG), Mikko Rantanen (COL), Matthew Tkachuk (CGY), Timo Meier (SJS), Brock Boeser (VAN), and Brayden Point (TBL). Their respective teams will have the chance to sign them long-term or match any offer sheet, but those names will command top-dollar and their current teams will need to get creative with the cap to retain them.
Bellemare Addressing the Media at Locker Clean-Out (J. Paul)
If the Golden Knights indeed traded the rights to Karlsson and slid Haula up the lineup, bringing back Bellemare would nicely round out the roster. His return would keep a key leader around, possibly sporting a C on his jersey, and keep their penalty kill strong. His value to the team is through the roof without commanding a huge cap hit. On locker clean-out day, he expressed a desire to stay in Vegas (cliché’, I know), but he also added that it’s “no fun playing on a year-to-year contract” and that it “is not something I am looking for”. There will be a line of suitors for the French center this summer, possibly = even his former club in Philadelphia. We have already seen a Free Agent head back to their former club, when Perron headed back to St. Louis, so it is legitimately in play. It would be wise for the Golden Knights to keep the fan and locker room favorite around.
What Does This Mean for the Team?
Regardless of what he decides to do, McPhee will leave Gerard Gallant and his staff a very good hockey team heading into their third season. Names like Eakin, Miller, Haula, and more have been the focus of trade speculation, but it’s very hard to find a Swiss army knife/all situation player like Eakin. Miller has one of the biggest slap shots in the game and is a bona fide power play weapon. Haula is cut in a similar cloth to Karlsson, but with half the cap hit. Although it would be nice to see him stay, everyone’s favorite Swedish, hair-flipping, Lady Byng-winning center may be the odd-man out and the key to the Golden Knights’ cap problems.
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