nhl

Golden Knights’ offseason wins depend on salary cap moves

The reigning Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights exit in round one, however will look to the off-season to fix some of their issues.

There will be a new team hoisting the Stanley Cup this year as the Golden Knights fell in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Dallas Stars.

The season ended in a very disappointing fashion for the defending champions as Vegas had high hope for a repeat.

How will the Knights look past that seven-game series to fix its issues in the offseason? Who will be re-signed and who will be a salary-cap casualty?

Here are three areas the team will look to address:

Contract extensions

The first thing that needs to be addressed by general manager Kelly McCrimmon is Jonathan Marchessault, who becomes a free agent after the season. He has made a case for a long-term deal after scoring a team-leading and career-high 42 goals.

But with so many NHL stars on this roster, do the Knights needs to keep him? Without captain Mark Stone for half the season, Marchessault carried the load as they averaged 3.21 goals a game in the regular season (14th in the NHL) and 2.29 during the playoffs (13th).

Although some worry about his age (33), he put up strong numbers and also played all 82 games. This is the first time he has done so since the 2018-19 season and shows the veteran can find a way around injuries.

With other players such as right wing Michael Amadio, center Chandler Stephenson, and defenseman Alec Martinez also becoming unrestricted free agents this summer, Vegas will facing some tough decisions with less than $1 million left in cap space.

It will not be a surprise if one of free agents is jettisoned to free up some cap space for younger talent.

The draft will not be able to help the Knights. They will have a pick in the middle of the first round and then will sit and wait before they can use their next pick in the sixth round and their two in the seventh.

It is unlikely that any of these picks yield any immediate value for the team and instead will probably be long-term investments for the franchise.

Staying or leaving?

Will have a few other important decisions, including the future of Stephenson and one of their restrictred free agents they might want to keep.

Stephenson, acquired at the trade deadline in their second season, is one of the most popular Golden Knights. Though he has 75 goals in five seasons, he has been one of their dominant faceoff winners with at least 480 faceoff wins during each of the last three seasons.

The Knights probably won’t get hometown discounts on the 30-year-old Stephenson since rumblings of interest from the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

They might have recently acquired Tomas Hertl, also 30, take his place. Hertl has 117 goals and at least 500 faceoff wins in the last four seasons.

The key restricted free agent, left wing Pavel Dorofeyev, scored 13 goals in 47 games during his first full season with the team. His career shot percentage is promising at 14.5%, which is not at the top of the league but certainly improving.

Dorofeyev’s cap number last season was $825,000 is not small, but low enough for a growing team to make an offer with a raise to improve their second or third line as well as hurt the Knights.

The question is how much the Knights value the depth that Dorofeyev brings.

Goaltending

The Golden Knights are in a great position with their goalies for the next season.

They will have both Adin Hill and Logan Thompson returning next year, both coming off of all-time high seasons in saves and wins.

The goalies had nearly identical stats with Hill achieving a 2.71 goals against average with a .909 save percentage and Thompson having a 2.70 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. 

They split time throughout the regular and postseason, with Thompson playing four games of the Dallas series before Hill got the starting nod in games five, six and seven.

Hill delivered a shutout at home in game six, but it was not enough to push the team to the second round.

It is important that Vegas make the two goaltenders compete for the starting position as overall it increases the skill of both players. If the regular and postseason were any indicator, however, the Knights would be more than happy to split time between the two goalies.

One caveat to that strategy: Hill’s cap number is $4.6 million and Thompson’s is $766,000. While Hill earned a hefty deal thanks to winning a Stanley Cup, the Knights might want to give Thompson a bump if he’s sharing the goaltending load.

Still on the long-term injured reserve, it is becoming increasingly likely that Robin Lehner will retire after his double hip and shoulder surgery. This will be the final year of his five-year $25 million contract he signed in 2020. 

He has not played in two years because of his mental and physical health. If he doesn’t retire, it would not be surprising for the team to work out a buyout for the last season of the deal.

Road issues

The Knights were a strong team at home this past season (27-12-2) in T-Mobile Arena, which has a listed capacity of 17,500. The Golden Knights averaged almost 104% capacity per game, the top in the NHL right beside the Minnesota Wild. They were second worst of the playoff teams (18-17-6) on the road. In fact, they allowed 35 more goals on the road than at home.

The Golden Knights are still in a great position to succeed next year, especially they can re-sign Marchessault soon. With both goaltenders returning for another year, the team can continue to rely on their netminders to push the pace and take more risks in the neutral zone.

If the team can solve their road woes, they will be a dominant force that will be a Stanley Cup favorite once again.