November 31-in-31: Vegas Golden Knights

Jack Manning

2020-11-28

The Vegas Golden Knights have been among the busiest teams in the NHL since a disappointing finish against the Dallas Stars in the playoff bubble.  While they added one of the best defenders in the league and re-signed a 2019 Vezina nominee, the era of the Golden Misfits is squarely in the rearview mirror.  Yet, despite being pressed firmly against (and at times, beyond) the cap ceiling, the Knights found ways to improve their lineup and prospect pool.

 

Offseason Moves

Shortly after the 2019-20 NHL season came to a close, the Vegas Golden Knights unveiled the worst-kept secret in the league when they announced that they had inked Robin Lehner to a 5-year, 25-million dollar contract after he claimed Marc-Andre Fleury’s role as the starter in the bubble.  While Lehner had struggled to find a long-term home up until this point in his career, the trade deadline acquisition from the Chicago Blackhawks is expected to provide stability in net for the foreseeable future.

In a normal year without a flat cap and an omnipresent pandemic, the acquisition of Robin Lehner would have virtually guaranteed the departure of Marc-Andre Fleury, who enjoys a 10-team no-trade list.  However, with a glut of goalies available by trade and through free agency, Fleury’s $7 million cap hit proved too big of an anchor to drag out of the dry lakebed that is home to T-Mobile arena.  Insider reports and rumors of all degrees of reliability suggested that the cost to move half of Fleury’s cap hit would be no less than a first-round pick and a good young prospect.  

For a team that has traded away three first-round picks, and eight second-round picks in their short history, the cost of moving the future Hall of Famer proved to be too much to bear.  If the Knights planned to make any additional off-season acquisitions (and they certainly did) they would be required to export another high-salary player from the top of the VGK lineup.

Outside of a few glaring missteps (paying $7 million/year to a goalie on the wrong side of 30, acquiring Tomas Tatar for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, at the 2018 trade deadline only to trade him away with salary retained 5 months later), the Knights have been judicious with the salary cap.  Having locked up young players like Alex Tuch ($4.75m AAV through 25-26) and Shea Theodore (5.2m AAV through 24-25), and extended William Karlsson (5.9 AAV through 26-27) and Jonathan Marchessault (5.0m AAV through 23-24) the core the Golden Knights’  core was among the most cost-effective in the league, even as Vegas was scraping the salary cap ceiling. Nonetheless, when it appeared likely that one of the league’s best defensemen, Alex Pietrangelo, looked destined for free agency, Vegas was widely billed as the front-runner to sign the 30-year old. 

Whether it’s the weather, the favorable tax climate, or the unwavering pursuit of a championship, the Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the top free agent/trade destinations since their historic Stanley Cup run to the 2018 Stanley cup final in their inaugural season.  No team has been more aggressive in acquiring elite talent since the Knights joined the league. Although Vegas traded significant assets for the opportunity to sign Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Robin Lehner, Alex Pietrangel