Elimination Eval: Vegas Golden Knights

One thing is definite as a result of this one and that’s the fact that there will be a new Stanley Cup Winner in 2024. The reigning Champs came close but were unable to take care of business in Game 7 as they fell short to the Dallas Stars. It’s worth reiterating because frankly, if you don’t follow the Western Conference closely, it may come as a surprising reminder that Vegas was technically a wildcard team with the Stars finishing the regular season first in the Conference. No doubt a tough straw for Dallas to draw in terms of a first round opponent. 

Vegas wasted no time reminding everyone who the defending Champs were as it only took Mark Stone 83 seconds to find the back of the net. It would be an extremely eventful opening period for this series as the teams combined for five goals, resulting in Vegas taking a 3-2 lead into the first intermission. One of four “original misfits” remaining, Brayden McNabb would extend their lead early in the second which would stick as the deciding factor in a riveting 4-3 Game 1 win for the Golden Knights. 

Dallas would find the back of the net first in Game 2 but it was another original misfit in Jonathan Marchessault quickly answering for Vegas which set them up for a stronger second period. Noah Hanifin would give Vegas the lead late in the second which they were able to hold through the rest of regulation. Dallas pulled Jake Oettinger for the extra attacker and with just a couple of seconds left, Jack Eichel sealed the deal to give Vegas a confident 2-0 lead in the series. 

Game 3 would prove to be the game changer in this series. Had the puck gone the other way in overtime, Vegas would have been threatening the sweep on home ice. Alas, after sixty minutes of play the score was locked 2-2. Despite trailing through the first half of the game, Vegas got a pair of big goals from McNabb and Eichel to eventually force overtime. Wyatt Johnston would end up the hero for Dallas which would inevitably change the whole dynamic of the series. Dallas built off that momentum and put up three unanswered goals in Game 4 to even the series heading back to Texas. 

Very little room for error when a series is tied up 2-2 going into a Game 5. Mark Stone struck first on the power play but just 62 seconds later, Evgenii Dadonov had an answer. Dallas would get a turn on the power play soon after which allowed for Matt Duchene to give them a brief lead, only to be matched by William Carrier’s first of the postseason. The score would stay locked at two for the rest of the first and most of the second but a late power play goal from Jason Robertson gave Dallas the lead that put Vegas on the brink of elimination. 

It’s not in this team’s identity to go down without a fight and sure enough, Hanifin and Stone got them on the board and Adin Hill came up with a brilliant shutout in his series debut. Just as I and many others predicted for this series, we had a Game 7 on our hands. Vegas would go down with about five and a half to go in the first but a timely goal from Brett Howden at the end of the second set the stage for an intense finish. Radek Faksa, who would go on to be the hero for Dallas would give them the lead just 44 seconds into the final period of regulation. Vegas wouldn’t have an answer and as a result, their season was over. 

As far as Vegas is concerned, they’ll definitely look at their run in the postseason as underachieving. It’s pretty clear the goal from management down is for this team to be as competitive as they possibly can be for as long as they can, despite being so new to the league. While you can certainly say they met their goal by winning the Stanley Cup in just their sixth season, it only fueled the desire to do it again in attempts to turn that run into something bigger. 

Now let's quickly touch on this to get it out of the way. The term “cap circumvention” gets tossed around a lot these days. If you’re not a salary cap nerd or fluent with the league’s CBA (which spoiler alert, half the people who actually get paid to be knowledgeable with it aren’t); Essentially what were talking about with Vegas regarding circumventing the cap is continuously putting players who make significant amounts of money on LTIR to free up cap space in order to acquire other big name players at the trade deadline. The most recent example of this was Mark Stone, who for the second season in a row now, missed extended amounts of time in the back nine of the season only to return just in time for playoffs. 

Last season, they were able to acquire Ivan Barbashov, Jonathan Quick and Teddy Blueger but this season, they got two massively sized fish in Tomas Hertl from San Jose and Noah Hanifin from Calgary. Those are two groundbreaking trades which is reason enough to draw suspicion regarding how a cap-strapped team could swing this. Conspiracies are fun and maybe there is something there but at the end of the day, a lacerated spleen is incredibly serious let alone difficult to fake. Do we think Vegas is walking a fine line and potentially playing jump rump with what that line actually is? Maybe. But are they faking injuries to build a roster? Seriously doubt it. 

Nevertheless, the Golden Knights are hitting the links with all the other first round exits. Thus brings the big question for our final first round elimination eval, what does this mean for the Vegas Golden Knights moving forward? I know I’ve been throwing the term “fascinating summer” around a lot lately but man, Vegas has a real pickle on their hands. Which brings me to my one big question for them, is this potentially the end of the original “Golden Misfits?” 

They don’t have an overly long list of pending UFA’s but there are a couple of massive names on it. Mike Amadio, Anthony Mantha, Alec Martinez, William Carrier, Chandler Stephenson and most notably, Jonathan Marchessault. At least as far as RFA’s go they only have Pavel Dorofeyev to worry about. This will leave them with a whopping $897,516 in projected cap space for next season, $2.5 million assuming Robin Lehner, who’s career is potentially over, stays on LTIR. You might be wondering how that’s possible with so many big names coming off the books for them but you have to remember, their big trade deadline grabs included a guy already signed through 2030 and a top-end defender they just signed to an eight year extension with an average annual value of a little over seven-and-a-quarter million. 

Considering they barely have enough for an entry-level contract available in cap space, this is likely how the Golden Knights will look to roll into next season, barring any major trades:

Barbashev - Eichel - Stone

Howden - Hertl - Roy

Brisson - Karlsson - Kolesar 

Dorofeyev - Cotter - Rondbjerg 

Hanifin - Pietrangelo 

McNabb - Theodore

Hague - Whitecloud


While theoretically it could be much worse, revisit the list of names they’re losing to the open market. Two of those names are among the four players they have left from their original expansion draft with one of them being their Conn Smythe Winner when they won the Cup last season. Even if they are able to go on without them, that’s a major identity shift. It’s worth noting that Vegas hasn’t been a stranger to moving on from guys otherwise expected to be untouchable. Is there any other shopping they could look to do to potentially establish some cap flexibility? 

The short answer is probably not. Essentially every player on their roster that carries a substantial cap hit is ironically on a contract of extremely great value. And in terms of pending UFA’s after next season, you really only have Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb who both have some trade protection. Doesn’t mean they can’t be moved but things would really have to go poorly next year to consider getting rid of Shea Theodore. You’re simply not finding defensemen of that quality for that low a cap hit in this market. 

Jonathan Marchessault will hands down be the most interesting story line to keep an eye on. He’s already expressed his desire to remain in Vegas and given everything we’ve seen from him and this franchise, it’s hard to imagine they move on with ease. It will take some serious salary cap gymnastics or an insane hometown discount in order to make something happen between the two parties. Marchessault currently makes $5 million per year and you can argue that’s already an underpayment. Is he willing to sign for lower than that? Can/will they move a Nicolas Roy or a defenseman to clear up some room in the budget to get an extension done? Could they make a bigger move? 

Rangers fans are no stranger to the Jack Eichel saga, it’s worth noting his contract is up in just 2 years. Alex Pietrangelo’s deal is also up in three. It’s hard to know for sure just how attached Vegas is to anyone considering the amount of turnover they’ve had in their short tenure as a franchise but one thing is for certain. If they want to keep Marchessault or add to this roster in any way, they’re going to seriously need to move some contracts around. In a cap-free world you’d have to think they’d like to keep Chandler Stephenson also but given the circumstances, he’ll likely be one of the big name free agent forwards this summer. 

As far as prospects go, Vegas doesn’t have a ton of promising names but they do have David Edstrom who they just brought over in the Hertl trade. He could still be a year or so out from sniffing the NHL but there’s potential for him to be a bottom-six center for this team in the near future. Past him, they have defenseman Lukas Cormier so if they do move a McNabb or Hague they could potentially look to him to be the next man up. Outside of that, they have a couple flier picks like Matyas Sapovaliv and Arrtu Karki but at the same time, this team isn’t overly concerned in drafting and collecting prospects, they want to win. 

All things considered I would definitely keep an eye on Vegas this summer as I don’t expect them to take lightly to being a first round exit, wildcard team. It’ll be interesting to see how they do with a whole season of Hanifin and a healthy Hertl but continuing to ice a team as strong as they have been in the past with limited cap space will certainly be their biggest challenge.