2021 Vegas Golden Knights Offseason Primer

Vegas Golden Knights offseason
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As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Vegas Golden Knights offseason.

2021 Vegas Golden Knights Offseason Primer

Since entering the NHL in 2017-18, the Vegas Golden Knights have been a juggernaut. Following a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season, the team has been able to reel in more talent. The Golden Knights reeled in the biggest offseason fish last year, signing former St. Louis Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo to a long-term deal. That bolstered an impressive veteran core already consisting of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty and, the first captain in franchise history, Mark Stone.

Vegas also enjoyed the emergence of Shea Theodore this past season, along with a solid year from Alec Martinez and a Vezina-winning effort in net from Marc-Andre Fleury. All of that culminated into a strong regular season for the Golden Knights where they finished tied for the league-lead in points. It looked as if that would carry into the playoffs where they dispatched the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche before falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the semifinals. 

Without many major offseason moves to worry about, the Golden Knights could conceivably run it back with a near-identical squad again next year. 

Pending Free Agents

The Golden Knights have just three pending unrestricted free agents this offseason. The most notable is Alec Martinez, who finished the last year of his deal at a cap hit of just $4 million. 

A pair of 28-year-olds round out the remainder of Vegas’ pending free agents. Tomas Nosek and Mattias Janmark are both due for new deals after making $1.25 million and $2.25 million respectively. 

Salary Cap Outlook

While Vegas doesn’t have to worry about any major signings this offseason as they also face a bit of a cap crunch. According to Capfriendly, the team will have just over $6 million with which to work this offseason. Barring any major trades, it’s not likely the Golden Knights will have room to re-sign Alec Martinez. The 33-year-old blueliner is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and also provides Stanley Cup pedigree to any team who would be willing to pay. 

Additional salary cap relief wpn’t come from the expansion draft because Vegas is exempt.  Players like Alex Tuch ($4.75 million), Reilly Smith ($5 million), Brayden McNabb ($2.5 million) weigh on the team’s salary cap. It wouldn’t be surprising if either Robin Lehner ($5 million) or Fleury ($7 million) are traded if the offseason to take the pressure off the cap.

Major Likely Re-Signings

Tomas Nosek

Of the small number of pending free agents, Nosek is the most likely to be re-signed. Martinez will likely be too expensive to keep while Janmark was a trade-deadline rental player after having a strong regular season with the Chicago Blackhawks

Nosek enjoyed a career year with Vegas, scoring eight goals and 10 assists in 38 games. His previous career-high was 17 points in 2017-18 where he played in 68 games. The Czech forward provides depth to the Golden Knights and has done so since signing with the team four years ago. Vegas could likely bring him back for about $2 million, which would be a raise for Nosek but not a huge financial blow to the team. 

Major Likely Departures

Alec Martinez

As mentioned, it doesn’t look like Vegas will have the cap space to bring back Martinez. The veteran blueliner has played for the Golden Knights since February of 2020 when he was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings. Martinez finished 2021 with the second-highest point total of his career with nine goals and 23 assists. The only year he scored more was in 2016-17 where he played all 82 games. Martinez also showed up in the playoffs, scoring four goals in 19 games. 

Brayden McNabb

McNabb is one of the original members of the Golden Knights after being picked in the 2017 expansion draft. However, he could be moving teams again the same way. The 30-year-old has fallen in Vegas’ defensive depth chart and likely won’t be a priority to protect in this year’s draft. Nicolas Hague, Pietrangelo and Theodore would all be ideal candidates for protection ahead of McNabb. With a cap hit of $5.2 million, exposing him could give easy relief for the cap-strapped Golden Knights while providing a shut-down defenceman to the NHL’s newest franchise. 

Reilly Smith

Also an original member of the Golden Knights, Smith has had solid showings for the team in his four seasons with the team. He scored 25 points in 53 games this past year which was a mediocre output by his standards. At 29 years old, Vegas would likely protect the younger Alex Tuch in expansion before Smith. 

Potential Free Agent Signings

One More Blueliner

With the potential of losing one or more of their defencemen, Vegas would be keen to fill that hole. Dougie Hamilton would likely be too steep of a price for the team who already has solid two-way defencemen in Theodore, Pietrangelo and Hague. 

Another veteran, shut-down defenceman to replace Martinez would be ideal. Some potential names could include Alexander Edler, Marc Staal, Niklas Hjalmarsson, David Savard or Jason Demers. The Veags Golden Knights offseason options on defence are flexible.

Offensive Help

Part of Vegas’ downfall in their series against the Montreal Canadiens was the lack of top-six scoring. Mark Stone was held off the scoresheet the entire series while the rest of the forward corps struggled to find the back of the net. One more scoring winger could be the difference in Vegas finally getting over the hump. 

Brandon Saad could be a top target for the Golden Knights to fill that spot. At 28 years old, Saad has been able to produce everywhere he has played in his journeyman career. The forward would bring Stanley Cup experience to the Golden Knights, having won two championships with the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Other options include Kyle Palmieri, Mike Hoffman and Ryan Dzingel.

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