General Manager George McPhee and the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, are about to play the franchise’s first game in its inaugural season in just under and hour and they have their sights set on one goal: being the worst team in the NHL. Well, maybe not, but it certainly seems that way.
An off-season of confusion has come to a head in the past 24 hours for Vegas. However, it started when the team was first announced back on June 21st. Among the players that McPhee had to pick from in the Expansion Draft were Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Jack Johnson, Darren Helm, Petr Mrazek, Matt Dumba, Calvin de Haan, Michael Grabner, Bobby Ryan, Paul Martin, Philipp Grubauer, Toby Enstrom and more. Instead, they took 13 defenseman, only two goalies with term on their contracts, and three unrestricted free agents. Sure, through side deals and trading recently-drafted players they received the likes of Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, and Reilly Smith as well as a more than a few draft picks. However, at the end of the day they were left with a roster that looks like this. The team is severely lacking in offensive talent, overflowing with defenseman (none of whom are especially outstanding), and have major questions in net.
However, McPhee wasn’t done. Yesterday, he placed promising young goaltender Calvin Pickard, selected from the Colorado Avalanche, on waivers. When he surprisingly passed through, McPhee still decided to get rid of him, trading him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who has issues of his own, is now backed up by former Boston Bruins first-round prospect and recent waiver claim Malcolm Subban, who has made only two NHL starts and has been pulled from each of them, with a .727 save percentage and 5.81 GAA. Subban had been passed up by 2010 sixth-round pick Zane McIntyre for third-string in the Bruins system, but now jumps to second-string for Vegas. Then, since McPhee drastically overestimated the market for the defenseman he had selected and has been unable to move out several one-way blue liners, the GM was forced to demote superstar Russian import Vadim Shipachyov and promising youngsters Theodore, Tuch, and Hyka to the AHL ahead of tonight’s season opener. The waiver-exempt foursome will likely stay there until the team can free up some roster space by trading away two or more of their nine defenseman. What’s left for tonight’s first ever game is a roster lacking talent, upside, and experience at nearly every position.
So, what of the future? McPhee also managed to select three impending unrestricted free agents as arguably his three most talented forwards: James Neal, David Perron, and Jonathan Marchessault, with defenseman Brayden McNabb likely eager to move on as well. As the season progresses and the losses likely pile up, those pieces are sure to be dealt away as the trade deadline approaches. Despite the promise of owner Bill Foley that Vegas would win a Stanley Cup in their first five years, his general manager has built a team that should be the worst in the league, by design, and doesn’t look to have the makings of a team anywhere near playoff contention in the next two, three, maybe four years. The stockpile of draft picks may pan out, but that’s a question that only time will answer. For now, a Stanley Cup is long, long, long ways away.
A (not-so-bold) bold prediction for the 2017-18 season: after seeing a bad Colorado Avalanche team rack up just 48 points in 2016-17, things are about to get worse this season. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals went 8-67-5 for 21 points; the Vegas Golden Knights may be closer to that point total than Colorado’s 48.