Vegas: A Team of the Future or a Team of Right Now?

December 11, 2017

When detailing the short history of this team let’s face it nothing has gone the way anyone predicted. Some of the expansion draft choices were mocked. The subsequent trades in the summer were mocked. Waiving Calvin Pickard was mocked. The handling of Vadim Shipachyov was mocked. Hell, the very idea of hockey in Vegas was mocked. However, despite all the criticism the team has faced from both experts and hockey fans alike, success has been the end result so far in their brief history.

The general consensus heading into the 2018 season was that Vegas would likely struggle, relying on Marc-Andre Fleury to win them games. During the season the thought was that Vegas would continue to sell assets for future draft picks to help build a future team that one day could make a respectable roster.

I certainly cannot exclude myself from some of the things mentioned above. I was a tad more optimistic in my view of the team. I held the belief that due to a weak Pacific division the Knights would actually contend for a playoff spot but ultimately miss by a few points. I was also of the belief that at least 50% of the roster that began the 2018 season would be gone by next season. I cannot say I have the same opinion anymore.

The team was criticized by everyone and, so far, has proven everyone wrong in one way or another. However, there is one mindset that persists among fans and that is the idea the team should sell assets to build for the future. While this plan certainly made sense at one point I cannot say that it does anymore and here are my reasons why.

Reason #1- The team is already young.

  • Among forwards, only five are over the age of 26- David Clarkson (33), James Neal (30), Mikhail Grabovski (33), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (32), David Perron(29)
  • Among defensemen, five are over the age of 26- Clayton Stoner (32), Deryk Engelland (35), Brad Hunt(29), Luca Sbisa (27), Jason Garrison(33)
  • Among goalies, only one is over the age of 26- Marc-Andre Fleury(32)

Three of the players mentioned above were cap dumps in Clarkson, Grabovski, and Stoner while another is likely to be gone by the end of the season in Garrison.

Reason #2- The team has A LOT of cap space.

At this moment the team has just under $8 million in cap space (4th most in the NHL). Moreover, next season a lot of room is going to open up. Without resigning anyone the team will have $40 million in cap space yet that is a rather arbitrary number without looking at what will likely stay off the cap for good. I would like to point out that the team is currently NOT using any LTIR relief, meaning Grabovski, Clarkson and Stoner’s contract are all counting against the cap. So here is what Vegas will likely lose to further open up cap room.

About $12.9 million will come off the cap this summer leaving Vegas with at least $20 million in additional cap space. Note that this is only half of the expected cap space of $40 million that will open up next season. That additional $20 million coming off the books, theoretically, is via the expiring contracts of Perron, Neal, Sbisa, and others.

Reason #3 The team is not a fluke

Currently, this is where Vegas ranks in these statistics.

Why are these numbers important? Well here is a look at all the Stanley Cup Winners since the 2005 lockout.

Year Team Total Goal Differential 5v5 Goal Differential 5v5 Corsi PDO
2006 Carolina Hurricanes 11 14 24 14
2007 Anaheim Ducks 6 8 4 12
2008 Detroit Red Wings 1 1 1 16
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 9 5 19 3
2010 Chicago Blackhawks 2 3 1 26
2011 Boston Bruins 2 1 17 1
2012 Los Angeles Kings 9 16 2 28
2013 Chicago Blackhawks 1 1 4 3
2014 Los Angeles Kings 7 4 1 15
2015 Chicago Blackhawks 4 7 2 12
2016 Pittsburgh Penguins 2 4 2 8
2017 Pittsburgh Penguins 4 4 16 5

The key takeaway is that teams are often top ten in Total goal differential, 5v5 goal differential, and 5v5 Corsi. PDO, on the other hand, is completely random. Still, while Vegas once had an astronomical PDO (shooting % plus save %) to begin the season it has since dropped down to average. Hence puck luck is no longer what is helping the team but the teams own skillset.

Reason #4 The team is doing all of this with key injuries

Per man games lost Vegas is one of the top 7 most impacted teams when it comes to injuries this season. To be that high up on the injury list in comparison to other teams and still succeed is a feat in itself and speaks a lot to both coaching, development and the players themselves.

Reason #5 Development, Development, Development

Going back to the 2016 draft only four players have played in over 40 NHL games. It takes time to develop young talent and while Vegas had three first-round draft picks in 2017, expecting any of them to be NHL ready by year two is wishful thinking at best. Rushing players into the NHL are how careers can be ruined (see Griffin Reinhart).

While Vegas has a bright future ahead of it the team needs to hold onto a lot of the talent they currently have. Players like David Perron, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Luca Sbisa, Deryk Engelland are all UFAs next season. Nonetheless, each has shown they are worth keeping around at this stage in the season. If a trade comes along that is worth the price then yes McPhee should take it but actively pursuing a trade makes little sense. Unless Vegas is confident that they can genuinely replace these players on the roster tomorrow then selling them now is simply poor asset management. At this time I simply don’t see that happening and for this reason, Vegas for better or for worse appears to be a team of the present.

Feature image credit: USA Today


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