After an offseason where navigating a tricky salary cap situation dominated the headlines for the Vegas Golden Knights, the team is down to their last remaining restricted free agent, and one who we documented earlier today: defenseman Nicolas Hague. Although the organization has done a good job thus far of working within their restraints, they’re left in a bit of a tough spot with their remaining cap and one of their bright young defensemen. At the moment, Vegas sits just around $10.24MM over the upper limit of the NHL’s $82.5MM. salary cap. Somewhat fortunately, they will be able to cancel out around $12.86MM in cap hit by placing defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Robin Lehner on LTIR, leaving them with $2.64MM in available space. The issue there is whether it will be enough to get Hague signed.
Of concern, it sounds like it may not. As Fox 5 Vegas’s Vince Sapienza reports, things apparently are not progressing between team and player, who apparently have had “very little dialogue since early July.” Sapienza adds that though Hague is in Las Vegas and ready to join the team for the start of training camp on September 21st, he and his representatives are becoming concerned with the lack of communication. Sapienza also notes that if no deal is reached by the start of training camp, Hague is expected not to report and will instead train elsewhere in the interim.
Seeing that the two sides have apparently had very little communication since the early parts of the offseason is absolutely worrisome for those following the Golden Knights. The organization has made its moves to stay below the salary cap and get creative doing so, but those tough decisions, like the one to move Max Pacioretty to the Carolina Hurricanes for merely future considerations, were seemingly meant to allow the team to extend key players like Hague. Should Hague hold out by not attending Golden Knights training camp, that itself wouldn’t be a concern, the practice happening regularly for unsigned RFAs.
If Vegas were to be without Hague into the regular season, they could field a complete roster, having six defenseman signed and on the NHL roster right now (not counting Weber, who won’t play), with several depth options available to close the gaps, but none as good, and experienced, as Hague. Looking closer at the numbers, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Vegas be able to sign Hague for less than the $2.64MM they will have available after utilizing LTIR, but the 23-year-old Kitchener, ON native has shown an ability to play reliable minutes in his own zone with his offensive ability still progressing, so an affordable deal may not be easily found. But, with the possibility of forward Nolan Patrick also landing on LTIR, Vegas could increase its available space to $3.84MM, likely enough to bring back the hulking defenseman.
Last year, Hague had four goals and 10 assists in 52 games while averaging 18:40 per night, and sports a respectable 10 goals and 32 assists in 142 career NHL games. A 2017 second-round pick of the Golden Knights, Hague just finished the final year of his ELC.