Perhaps it’s just sour grapes, and lord knows our vineyard is awash with those. But we were kind of surprised that the Vegas Golden Knights, in less than two years of existence, have become a cap-team. And hey, we guess you can’t argue with the results. A Cup final and what looks to be a chance at another deep run this spring. That’s what a cap team should do. Even if most of it is on the back of a resurgent Marc-Andre Fleury. Still, looking at some of these deals, and what else he might hand out soon, you can’t help but wonder if George McPhee didn’t cock this up royally. And if he doesn’t hamstring the Knights going forward from here.
Some of these contracts are a bit bewildering. Nate Schmidt will see his extension kick in next year at a cap-hit of $5.9M. And ok, fair, he’s 27 and in his prime. He’s also never bettered last year’s 38 points. He’s scoring at a higher pace this year, though won’t get to that thanks to his ridiculous suspension. But for $6 million a year? That’ll give him a higher cap-hit than Matt Niskanen, who has bettered Schmidt’s career-high in points twice and the Caps thought was more worth keeping than Schmidt was. And then promptly beat the Knights in the Final. It’s the same as Matt Dumba, who scored 50 points last year and was well on his way to doing so again before getting hurt this year. It’s more than Dougie Hamilton. Schmidt’s a nice player to have, but at that rate?
So ok, traded for Max Pacioretty. Fine, Knights needed a second line after last year’s foray. Signed him for four more years at the age of 30, and Patches has 12 goals. Sure, Paul Stastny has been hurt most of the year, but Pacioretty has scored without a center in Montreal before. And he only put up 17 goals last year (in 64 games). Was maybe taking a half of a season before committing the worst idea?
Shea Theodore is getting $5.2M for the next seven years. And yes, he’s only 23. Maybe a couple years in this looks a steal. Except he was coming out of his entry-level deal, and hasn’t shown to be that dynamic of a force out from the back yet. He’s good. Is he worth quite this?
Some of this is just matter of degrees. You want players like Schmidt and Theodore on your team. Pacioretty seemed a pretty decent risk given his track record. Stastny has always been injury-prone, but maybe you take that chance, even if he’s never really changed any team he’s been on drastically.
And yet with a completely blank slate, the Knights will only have about $11M in space after the season. And a good portion of that will have to go to William Karlsson. That should make for a fascinating negotiation. Karlsson is only on pace for about 25 goals or so, which is what he probably is long-term. But his 43-goal season of last year will still be prominent in the memory of his agent. He’s restricted, so will McPhee hold the line and try to keep him as close to the $5M per year he gets now? Or will he push that closer to $8 or $9M? Will that force out meaningful depth players like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare who is unrestricted and certainly looking for better than $1.4M? Oscar Lindberg? Good thing they’ll lose that David Clarkson money the summer after next season.
That’s what McPhee appears to be aiming for. In the summer of 2020, the Knights will have some $30M in space or more once Clarkson’s insurance policy goes away, and Nick Holden, Erik Haula, Cody Eakin, and Ryan Reaves come off the books. Maybe they’ll run at Taylor Hall to make up for the decaying Pacioretty at that point.
That’s the thing about the Knights. They’re not terribly young. Only Theodore and Alex Tuch look poised to be built around long-term. Marchessault is 28. Smith is 27. And if you think that lasts forever, just look at Pacioretty, who had a bigger resume than them before turning 30.
But hey, they made their splash. It was a much bigger one than anyone could have anticipated. Still, when you have no payroll whatsoever 18 months ago, and now this, one wonders how much longer the magic will last.
Game #47 Preview Suite