The newest Golden Knights. Image by: Getty Images
How good will the Golden Knights be? Not very. These five perplexing draft-day decisions explain some of their problems.
The Vegas roster is set, for now. There are still many moving parts and the team will surely change a few more times before the season begins, but for the first time ever Vegas has a hockey team filled with hockey players.
How good can they be? Spoiler alert: Not Very Good.
On Monday we put together the optimal Vegas lineup by the numbers and figured there was enough talent left exposed to build a decent team (with the caveat that we ignored any potential side deals). Vegas went in a predictably different direction. The nature of their selections was pointed toward the future with a few selections veering toward young talent and a boatload of draft picks. But it’s also left them with a roster that will probably struggle to compete. That’s probably for the best as it’ll allow them to stockpile some higher picks next season, it just might be tough to watch initially for new fans in a growing market.
Regardless, it should be a better long-term strategy for the club to build sustainable success. And at the very least, there’ll still be some big changes because they’re not done yet and although they’re a playoff long shot they shouldn’t be the worst team in the league next season. Here’s what we project based on the current lineup.
The top six forwards have potential, especially if Vadim Shipachyov pans out to be as good as he looked in the KHL. They’ve got some definite scoring punch on the wings, but the bottom of the lineup is where things get messy as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a black-hole and Cody Eakin is overrated (though he may bounce back). The defense is pretty bleak, though Vegas did pick up some promising young talent in Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore.
This team projects for roughly 82 points, which is better than only New Jersey, Vancouver, Colorado and Arizona, good for 27th in the league. It’s not last, but it’s not great either. With a different defensive mix (ie. Colin Miller in for Luca Sbisa) they could be closer to 84 or 85 points, but they’re still far from the playoff picture and could get even worse depending on who they trade.
The entire expansion draft process made for a very interesting look into how teams operate and some of the moves were downright perplexing. Vegas did fine overall, but it’s hard not to think they could’ve done a bit better. That applies to some teams they were dealing with, too.
Here are five of the strangest decisions from the expansion draft.
1. I’m not sure what Florida is up to, but they were easily the biggest losers from the entire expansion draft process. Some teams lost a replaceable player, some teams lost a decent player, and some teams lost a good player. Florida was the only team to lose two good players. It was the most baffling move of the night as the Panthers allowed Vegas to take Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft in exchange for unloading Reilly Smith on them as well. They lost two thirds of a scoring line in five seconds for nothing but cap relief. And I’m not sure they’ll use that money on a player better than Smith. He had a down year that aligned perfectly with a shooting percentage decrease. His last four years he’s had 37, 50, 40 and 51 points shooting 9.4, 14.5, 9.1, and 13.7 percent. See a trend there? Well, in the two years he shot nine percent, two teams gave up on him. He’s a second liner that drives play – that’s not something worth giving away for nothing, let alone also allowing Vegas to take the team’s most valuable exposed player in Marchessault. Leaving Jason Demers exposed for Alex Petrovic was the icing on the cake of this entire botched process. The whole thing was a mess.
2. The other protection decision that looked the most questionable was Boston exposing Colin Miller instead of Kevan Miller. For starters, Kevan is five years older than Colin and is turning 30 in November. On age alone this looks like a bad move, but it would be fine if Kevan was the better defenseman. I’m not sure that’s true. Evaluating defensemen is a tricky task because some minutes are easier than others and it’s likely Colin played in a more sheltered role, but sometimes the gap in performance is too wide for context to explain the difference alone. That was likely the case here as Colin posted a 60.3 percent Corsi on the Bruins blueline last year, while Kevan was below par relative to the team at 53.6 percent. Colin crushed soft minutes and deserved a look in a bigger role for the Bruins, but it’s clear they didn’t know what they had with him. That’s Vegas’s gain and he was one of their better acquisitions on Wednesday night. Whether he stays there is another question.
3. The worst selection of the night was probably Pierre-Edouard Bellemare as you can probably see from that grizzly chart above. He’s by far one of the lowest value players in the league. I’m not exactly sure why he gets the reputation that he does, but apparently some people are enamoured by a guy who can barely get 10 points in a season and gets caved in at 5-on-5. I guess maybe that’s why Toronto and St. Louis protected Matt Martin and Ryan Reaves. It’s a shame they did because Vegas could’ve created the league’s worst fourth line right there. Flyers fans should be happy because their team just got a lot better by subtraction. The growing trend is teams running four lines that can play, and without Bellemare in the fold Philadelphia can actually do that. Bellemare’s the worst player selected, but in terms of biggest missed opportunity that might have to go to Vegas selecting Tomas Nosek over Petr Mrazek. I’m not exactly sure what the thought process was behind selecting an only okay AHLer over a guy who’s proven to be an NHL-calibre netminder, but here we are.
4. Speaking of addition by subtraction, Montreal should also thank Vegas for taking Alexei Emelin off their hands. Like Bellemare, Emelin’s play style is from a bygone era – there’s no need for a slow shutdown defenseman in today’s NHL, especially not one who has made his team worse when he was on the ice in every season he’s played. With Brandon Davidson left unexposed and Vegas opting for Emelin instead, I really wonder what the strategy was for a team that used every extra expansion spot on a defenseman and then using them on not very good defensemen. The group they ended up with was subpar (with some exceptions) at best which is disappointing considering how many decent D-men were available. But I think the funniest part of this whole ordeal is that Montreal ended up upgrading their defense core by trading with Vegas, giving up only a fifth rounder for David Schlemko. Losing Emelin is a win. Getting Schlemko is a win. Giving up only a fifth is a win. If the whole point was to grab all these defensemen as assets, what’s the point of grabbing bad ones and flipping okay ones for a fifth rounder?
5. We started with the biggest loser from this whole ordeal and we’ll end with the biggest winner. Minnesota was in a really tough spot with expansion – that’s what happens when you’ve got a really deep team full of desirable players – but Vegas let them off easy here. Compare what Anaheim and the Islanders had to protect and what they gave up to keep their guys with what Minnesota did. Sure, they also threw in some salary dumps to sweeten the deal, but it also felt like the Wild had the most to lose with Eric Staal being one of the best forwards available and Matt Dumba being one of the best defensemen available. Giving up Alex Tuch – a fine forward prospect ranked 45th overall in Future Watch – didn’t feel like nearly enough to keep Vegas away from both those assets. They ended up with Erik Haula, so consider this: does Alex Tuch cover the difference in value between Haula and Staal or Dumba? I don’t think so. Vegas did well with most of their side deals, but their transaction with Minnesota was the most puzzling of the night as they didn’t get much from the team with the most to lose. Even more puzzling is that Vegas in fact sent a third-round pick to Minnesota to complete the deal. It's so puzzling that I had it the other way around in an earlier version of this story.
THE LATEST HOCKEY NEWS PODCAST: