LAS VEGAS — It’s that time of the year.
The push for the NHL playoffs has become a sprint and if you are harboring postseason aspirations, it’s time to sharpen your skates, tape up your stick, strap on your helmet tight and play some Big Boy Hockey.
The Vegas Golden Knights apparently got the memo. After a frustrating shootout loss to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night, the Knights rallied twice from two-goal deficits to defeat the Calgary Flames in overtime, 4-3, Thursday at T-Mobile Arena.
It wasn’t so much that Vegas managed to rally but the way in which they did it. The Flames play a heavy brand of hockey. They hit you, pressure you into mistakes and it can be an exhaustive process. Calgary has a lot of big bodies on its roster.
Yet the Knights did not back away. They stayed patient, gave as good as they got and were eventually rewarded. They even scored on the power play, snapping an 0-for-25 drought.
They did it minus Nicolas Roy, their Swiss Army Knife center, who suffered a lower-body injury against the Blackhawks and is day-to-day. They’re still without goaltender Adin Hill, who has missed the last two games after suffering what coach Bruce Cassidy classified as”a bump” in last Saturday’s win over Tampa Bay. And Logan Thompson, the team’s No. 1 net minder, went on injured reserve earlier in the week as he deals with a lower-body injury.
Yet you look at the Western Conference standings today and guess who occupies the top spot? How the Knights, who have 75 points are doing it may seem like a mystery as they’re getting points with a third-string goalie in net. But Laurent Brossoit is not your typical third-stringer. He is a proven NHL goaltender and he has played well in his two starts against Chicago and Calgary.
“He’s given us two solid games,” Cassidy said. “He probably wanted to be in the competition earlier but it is what it is. He’s taking advantage of his opportunity.”
Defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who scored the second goal against the Flames Thursday, said the team is confident having Brossoit in goal.
“Absolutely,” he said. “L.B. is an NHL goalie. I’ve played with him for two years. He’s more than capable.”
Brossoit will likely get tested a little more severely come Saturday when Vegas hosts the Dallas Stars, the No. 2 team in the Western Conference. Perhaps Hill returns to the ice Saturday but the trust in Brossoit is there inside the Vegas room.
With Thompson on IR, it’s likely Vegas sticks with Hill and Brossoit with veteran Michael Hutchinson ready if need be. Making a move to add a goalie at this point is probably not a high priority. However, within the final 24 games are matches vs. Colorado, New Jersey, Edmonton, Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle. Those will feel like playoff games, much the way Thursday’s win over the Flames felt like. We’ll see how the goaltending holds up.
So what do the Knights do to get better and be a Stanley Cup contender? On the surface, you might not be convinced the goaltending is good enough to win 16 playoff games between April and June. And finding someone deemed suitable is going to come with a hefty price tag.
Assuming Thompson gets healthy from his injury and returns before the end of the season, the team probably feels confident enough in the rookie to be their guy in net. Which means they’ll look to other areas to improve their roster and boost their Cup chances by adding some offense.
We’re a week away from the NHL trade deadline and with Mark Stone on long-term injured reserve, general manager Kelly McCrimmon has $9.5 million to work with to find some scoring. If there’s anything about this team’s brief history that we know, it’s that Vegas will look to do something at the deadline. How shiny a toy they try and get remains to be seen as many believe the Knights are going to try and pry Patrick Kane away from Chicago. Personally, I think Timo Meier of San Jose would be a better option but McCrimmon knows more about what’s going on than I do.
If you pair Kane with Jack Eichel, you’re looking at a dynamic duo. And if Stone returns for the playoffs, where the salary cap is not in play, you’ve got a potential super top line. That has got to be enticing for the Knights to want to pursue.
But let’s look at the long-term ramifications of such a move. Kane makes $10.5 million. Stone makes $9.5 million. Eichel makes $10 million. That’s $30 million for three players. The math would not work with the salary cap, even if it goes up next year. Plus, Chicago is going to want a lot back in return for trading Kane, a future Hall of Famer. Do the Knights really want to mortgage their future just to try and keep owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in Six” mantra in play this spring?
Would bringing Kane on board get guys like Reilly Smith and William Karlsson going? Both have had prolonged goal-scoring droughts this year as have Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson. I’m not sure that suddenly we see a ton of goals from the Misfits, regardless of who they’re playing alongside.
Ultimately, Kane is a potentially expensive rental. Will he want to sign an extension and play out his career here? He’ll be a UFA at the end of the season and I doubt he’s willing to take a haircut and play for less.
Besides, where would the Knights get the cap space to keep him? You can try and unload goalie Robin Lehner if you really believe he’s not good enough after taking the year off following two hip surgeries and a shoulder surgery. But that gets you off the hook for just $5 million and that’s assuming you can find someone willing to take him off your hands.
You might convince Nolan Patrick to retire and save an additional $1.2 million. And perhaps they move some other pieces in the offseason to clear some cap space.
Meier makes $6 million and is well within Vegas’ financial grasp. He’s a pending RFA so perhaps McCrimmon can get an extension done and keep him around long-term. He has 31 goals and 52 points in 57 games for one of the worst teams in the league. He’s only 26 years old.
Compare that with Kane, who’ll be 35 in November, has been battling injuries in recent years and in 54 games this season with the Blackhawks has 16 goals and 45 points. Yes, he has a winning pedigree and that Stanley Cup-winning experience is a valuable asset to any locker room.
Would Sharks GM Mike Grier trade within the division? Would his asking price for Meier be too steep for McCrimmon?
We won’t have to wait long to find out. Moves have already been made around the league and the Knights were active earlier in the week when they were able to unload Shea Weber and his hefty $7.85 million AAV contract for the next three years to Arizona, thus clearing LTIR space for next season. But consider that the appetizer for the pending main course.
What the main course will look like remains to be seen. But rest assured the Golden Knights will be seated in a prime spot in the dining room and will be partaking in the menu at the Silly Season Inn.