To say the 2021-22 season was a gigantic disappointment for the Vegas Golden Knights would also be a massive understatement. After mortgaging a large part of their future to acquire superstar center Jack Eichel, albeit for the long term, the team missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and fired head coach Peter DeBoer earlier this week.
Now, general manager Kelly McCrimmon has an arduous offseason to retool the roster and find a new head coach. Both will need significant attention, however, the Knights are already entering free agency with the pressing need to shed cap space. With a roster size of 23, the team is already in a salary deficit of about $500,000, even with the small cap increase to $82.5MM next year (CapFriendly).
While some of those players may be sent to AHL Henderson when the team is fully healthy, the team needs to make a decision on RFAs Nicolas Roy, Brett Howden, Keegan Kolesar, and Nicolas Hague, who have all been extremely valuable to the team in their depth roles. It’s clear that unless the Knights somehow make a move to acquire significant long-term injury relief (Shea Weber?), the team needs to move on from a decent chunk of cash to be comfortable under the cap in 2022-23.
Obviously, the choice that jumps off the page is forward Evgenii Dadonov. Signed just through next season at $5MM, the veteran forward was already involved in a trade intended to dump his salary but was reversed due to his limited no-trade clause. He did hit the 20-goal mark again this year and could do so again if given good support. It’s a low-risk acquisition for teams looking for scoring depth, especially with his contract expiring at the end of the year. However, Vegas has absolutely no leverage in this situation given the failed trade in March. If that incident didn’t happen, the Knights could probably have made a decent deal involving Dadonov this offseason. They’ll likely still be able to make a trade, but it won’t involve much benefit for the team other than cap space.
Another potential option is William Karlsson. Given his offensive upside and defensive acumen, teams would probably like to have a top-six centerman under a $6MM cap hit. With the Eichel acquisition and solid play from the cheaper Chandler Stephenson, there is no longer a pressing need for Karlsson in the lineup. He had a very tough season putting pucks in the net, though, and his 40-goal 2017-18 campaign seems like decades ago for him now. He’s scored just 15, 14, and 12 goals in the past three years, and while he still puts up points, he’s signed through 2027. It would clear a tad more cap space than Dadonov, though, and the wing is more a position of need for the Knights. Yet, the relationship between Dadonov and the Knights must be considered. If the relationship is irreparably severed, the team might have no choice. That’s not to say they still couldn’t entertain the idea of moving Karlsson, however.
Lastly, there’s backup netminder Laurent Brossoit and his $2.3MM cap hit. He’s almost surely gone considering the incredibly strong play of youngster Logan Thompson down the stretch. It’s not much cap relief, though, and the team likely needs a little more wiggle room to adjust the roster as desired.