Though Darnell Nurse and Josh Morrissey have both ended their contract negotiations the last few days and signed with their respective organizations, John Shannon of Sportsnet cautions any optimism that Shea Theodore could follow suit. Shannon reports that the Vegas Golden Knights and Theodore are not close to a deal currently, though obviously that could change at a moment’s notice.
Theodore, 23, is in a slightly different situation than his contemporaries, given that he has just 114 NHL games under his belt through three seasons. Even in 2017-18 he began the year in the minor leagues due to Vegas roster constraints, and ended up playing in just 61 games with the club. That obviously changed in the playoffs, where Theodore was a core piece of the blue line led all Golden Knights defensemen with 10 points in 20 games, but the team can still point to a relative lack of experience in negotiations in order to keep his cap hit down.
It’s not clear what exactly Theodore is looking for, but with the Golden Knights already without Nate Schmidt for a quarter of the season due to suspension the young defenseman does hold a fair bit leverage even in a situation where the free agent is normally at a disadvantage. Without Schmidt or Theodore in the lineup the Golden Knights really lack a puck-moving option on the left side, and could struggle to get it quickly out of their end and up to the talented forwards. Nick Holden could potentially fill part of that role, but has a ton of experience playing on the right side despite his left handedness.
Unlike Morrissey and Nurse, the Golden Knights do have the financial situation to extend Theodore long-term if they choose. While the Oilers are pushed right up to the cap already, and the Jets will be a year from now when they have to re-sign Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, the Golden Knights have plenty of cap room to work with going forward even after the recent Max Pacioretty extension. If the team wanted to buy out unrestricted free agent years—something that is by no means certain—they could afford the extra bump in cap space in the short term.
Still, Theodore may have cause to prefer a bridge deal himself. After putting up 29 points in those 61 regular season games last season, and knowing that Schmidt will be out for the first part of the season, there is reason to believe that Theodore could easily come close to or even eclipse a 50-point season given ample powerplay usage. That kind of output would set him up for a much bigger deal down the road after he’s proven he can stay healthy and productive for a full season, an opportunity he may not want to give up by signing long-term right now.