To some observers, the Vegas Golden Knights have some problems. The team has 13 defensemen on their roster, 11 with NHL experience. Yet, general manager George McPhee is not worried about the glut of defenders on his roster. While the coaches get a say, it will be McPhee who will make the final decision on who plays.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen writes that the team will likely keep eight defenders on their 23-man roster, so that should give defenseman a bit of comfort room. He also writes that it looks like nine players will compete for those eight spots. Three veterans will undoubtedly make the roster in Jason Garrison, Deryk Engelland and Luca Sbisa. Expect Brayden McNabb, the physical defender from the Los Angeles Kings to get a spot on the defensive roster as well as Nate Schmidt, who just signed a new two-year deal for $4.45MM. That’s five. Colin Miller, who led the Boston Bruins in Corsi For and Goals For percentage last season, should also be in the top six.
That leaves a still a number of defensemen who will be fighting for those last two spots.
“Our defensemen can count. They know there are a lot of D here right now,” McPhee said. “We’ll just have to see how camp goes and how we proceed. To be fair, you’d like to say it’s going to be the best six guys, but we’ll see. Sometimes you have to think short term and long term in this job and do what’s best for the organization from that standpoint.”
That quote might suggest that former Anaheim Ducks’ Shea Theodore, who the team picked up in an expansion deal, might be forced to start the season for the AHL Chicago Wolves as he still has waiver options remaining. Theodore, who had a major impact for the Ducks’ defense in the playoffs last year is still just 22 years old and only has 53 games of NHL experience so far, not including the playoffs. He put up just nine points in 34 games last year, but put up eight points in 14 playoff games in an expanded role. Others who will have to fight for spot include Jon Merrill, Clayton Stoner, Griffin Reinhart and Brad Hunt.
Schoen speculates that Merrill is likely to stay with the team, which could leave Stoner out. The team picked up Stoner with Theodore in part of an expansion trade deal. The Anaheim Ducks wanted to rid themselves of Stoner’s $3.25MM contract, but the 32-year-old injury plagued defender has not played since early last season and played in just 14 games last year.
Of course, none of this speculation makes any difference if the team can make a deal. The Golden Knights, who have already traded off several defensemen since the expansion draft, could be waiting for training camps to start. They may be hoping that an injury or a lack of depth could prompt a team to trade for one of their glut of defensemen. However, for now, McPhee continues to state that he is happy to have so much depth on their blueline.
“The neat thing about this process, and I’ve tried to explain this to a number of people, it’s still a blank canvas,” McPhee said. “We’re completely open minded about what might develop. I’m open for some unknown surprises. It’s wide open, and it should be.”