Golden Knights Gamble in Free Agency

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Photo courtesy of: Vegas Golden Knights on Twitter

Alex Pietrangelo signs with the Golden Knights’ Roster.

Anthony Bracha, Journalist

After losing in the Western Conference Final to the Dallas Stars, the Vegas Golden Knights wanted to make a change in their roster. The main problem facing them was the NHL’s 81.5 million dollar salary cap. The Golden Knights were about $9 million over the salary cap at the end of the 2019-2020 season and were forced to make moves that upset some fans, but the team was able to acquire the biggest free agent on the market. 

Michael Bracha (Photo courtesy of: Michael Bracha)

Before Free Agency began, the VGK signed goaltender, Robin Lehner, for $5 million over the next five years. Combined with another popular goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s $7 million contract for the next two seasons, the VGK would be spending $12 million on goaltending for the next two seasons, in a league that will not be increasing its salary cap during that time. This led many to believe that Fleury would be traded. But, on October 12, General Manager Kelly McCrimmon announced that this season, the goalie tandem would be Fleury and Lehner.

 “As a Golden Knights Fan, it was really scary seeing as he was our first goalie and he has won so many games for us. I’m relieved he wasn’t traded,” sophomore Michael Bracha said. 

The VGK would make two trades, to become cap compliant. First, on the morning of the beginning of Free Agency, they traded center, Paul Stastny, to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for defenseman, Carl Dahlstrom, and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft. It made sense for Stastny to move as two much younger players, Cody Glass and Peyton Krebs, will be trying to crack the lineup this upcoming season.

Then the VGK would sign the biggest free agent on the market, Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo was voted the fourth best defenseman in the league last season and was the captain of the St. Louis Blues, who won the Stanley Cup in 2019. He signed a seven year, $8.8 million contract. It is projected that he will play on a defensive pair with emerging star Shea Theodore.

Photo courtesy of: Google Images

Still being over the salary cap, the VGK were forced to make a trade that was not very desirable for them. They traded defenseman, Nate Schmidt, to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2021 third-round pick. Nate Schmidt was one of the better defensemen on the team and was traded for the purpose of eliminating his $6 million contract. But this move is one of the factors that allowed the VGK to acquire the top free agent on the market.

Lastly, the Golden Knights lost a few depth players to free agency. Defenseman, Jon Merril, was signed by the Detroit Red Wings, and right-winger, Nick Cousins, was signed by the Nashville Predators. But the VGK were able to keep an original member of the team in center, Tomas Nosek, on a one year, $1.5 contract.

Notably, the Golden Knights drafted six players this year, including center, Brenden Brisson, who was drafted in the first round, and goaltender, Jesper Vikman, who was drafted in the fifth round. Brisson was drafted out of the Chicago Steel of the USHL, and Vikman was drafted out of AIK J20 of the J20 Super Elite League in Sweden. While it may not seem like Vikman has much of a chance of making the NHL, it is notoriously difficult to gauge a goaltending prospect’s talent. Many of the NHL’s best goaltenders were drafted in later rounds.

“I think the Golden Knights did a great job in the off-season. They made really hard decisions but in the end, I believe it is just going to improve the team as a whole. I have hope that our picks for the draft will perform well and end up benefiting the team,” Bracha said.