Team Breakdown: The Vegas Golden Knights confuse me

Okay, we got the boring teams out of the way: Let’s get into the good stuff.

Even though these breakdowns are for the top seven teams in the Western Conference (in my opinion), the top four were easy to pin down; it was just choosing the order of those four that was a problem. I’ll tell you what wasn’t an issue, ranking the bottom three on this list. To be fair to the Vegas Golden Knights (as well as the Kings and Jets), they could win the cup and I don’t think anyone would be surprised.

Even with that said, the Golden Knights are the trickiest to pin down out of all the contenders in the west. On the surface, their roster should be able to contend with just about any other elite team in the league, but the injury bug has absolutely destroyed them this season, as it has for the last few years, now. Will most of their injured players be ready for playoff action? We have yet to find out; but the Knights are still a foe, regardless of that.

Their intriguing, but a little confusing. Here’s why I don’t know how to feel about the Vegas Golden Knights.

The talent on this roster

When fully healthy, this team is absolutely terrifying. They already had a great roster prior to the NHL Trade Deadline and added some incredible pieces that profile like, well, Vegas Golden Knights. Noah Hanifin, Tomas Hertl, and Anthony Mantha were all great adds, but they also have one thing in common: They’re all huge, which coincides well with the fact that Vegas already had the biggest team in the league prior to those acquisitions.

I’m not one to overvalue a players’ height when evaluating one, but Vegas doesn’t have a team of Erik Gudbranson’s and Ben Chiarot’s; their big guys can play. The bottom defensive pair of Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud is one of the better bottom pairs in the entire NHL; while the top guys – Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore (when healthy), Noah Hanifin, Brayden McNabb – round out one of the league’s most terrifying defensive cores.

Oh, and they have Alec Martinez as their seventh defenceman. I think they’re doing alright.

The top end of the Golden Knights’ lineup ain’t too bad, either, with Buffalo’s favourite redhead Jack Eichel headlining the forward core. Add in the likes of William Karlsson, Ivan Barbashev, Mark Stone (when healthy), and everyone’s favourite Instagram troll Jonathan Marchessault; you see why people are still bullish on them, right?

Another interesting aspect of this roster is how they have gone about their goaltending situation. After thinking progressively and running with three tandem goalies last season, they unfortunately had to pay the cup tax on Adin Hill after his incredible showing in the playoffs. So, they gave him a 2-year deal and kept backup Logan Thompson, opting to run with the typical two-goalie stack that has come with… mixed results.

Hill had an absolutely electric first half, but has since been either injured or slumping since, you know, he’s supposed to be a tandem goalie. Meanwhile, Logan Thompson has had a contrasting season to Hill’s; starting off real slow but has turned up the heat down the stretch. Jiri Petera is the team’s third goalie and has been… essentially unusable.

Managing a goalie’s workload is a pivotal part of the modern day NHL and Vegas were the masters of it last season. If only they hadn’t won the cup, am I right? Maybe they would’ve been able to run it back with three tandem goalies, instead!

The injury bug makes them a potential sleeping giant

I mentioned earlier that the Golden Knights have had abhorrent luck with injuries over the last handful of seasons. This year is no different. The team’s top defenceman – Shea Theodore – was injured from mid/late November ’til mid/late February, leaving them with only six everyday NHL caliber defenceman instead of seven. How dare he.

Make no mistake, Theodore has been one of the NHL’s premiere offensive defenceman for quite some time, now. He began to show star-level flashes in the 2018 playoffs and has since built on that run, as his play-driving and point production have been elite for years, now. When in the lineup, Theodore has tallied 5 goals and 37 points in 39 games this year; continuing his consistent form.

Then there’s Tomas Hertl who has yet to play a game for Vegas. Hertl was acquired by the Knights from the San Jose Sharks in the winding moments of the NHL Trade Deadline, shocking the hockey world; as Hertl’s 8-year deal with the Sharks was only signed just two summers prior.

Hertl is such an incredible fit for the Knights. He’s been a play-driving force for many seasons and is a premiere power forward in the league; which bodes well for a Golden Knights roster that’s filled with big, skilled players.

You want to know how they were able to piss off the entire hockey world and land Hertl? Well, cap space, but it’s how they acquired said cap space that made hockey fans split hairs: Mark Stone.

Stone doesn’t have a functioning back anymore. So, naturally, the Vegas Golden Knights have repeatedly put him on LTIR (long term injured reserve) over the course of the last three years; creating roughly $9 million in cap space in each instance.

Even with a back that may as well be brittle at this point, Stone has consistently been a top two-way pay-driving force ever since his days in Ottawa, but became a totally new animal when traded to Vegas. The captain also had an incredible showing in last year’s playoffs, even going as far as scoring a hat trick in the Stanley Cup winning game (a 9-3 win over Florida in game five).

I don’t care what you think of the Knights or Mark Stone, that’s unreal. He’s such a badass.

The numbers don’t love them

And now we get to the section of the breakdown where I question the team in question, as is customary. Although the Knights have swaths of talent at every position, they aren’t an analytical darling (which kind of surprises me). They rank 13th in xGF% according to and 14th according to JFreshHockey’s model, while boasting a below average power play (21st) and a slightly above average penalty kill (11th).

How on earth is this team as good as the standings suggest? Even when I watch them I’m unimpressed. Their defence doesn’t activate enough off the rush or in the offensive zone for the team to be the potential play-driving weapon I think they can be.

Well, this time last year, the exact same conversation was had about the Golden Knights. Their underlying form is consistently in the mid-portion of the league, yet they always put up elite results and counting stats. It’s Vegas Golden Knights hockey and it’s annoying as hell. You’ll think your team is dominating and all of a sudden it’s 3-0 Golden Knights and you don’t even question it: They’ve earned that type of respect.

I may not like them all that much (I’m still bitter about 2020) but I just can’t look past how good the Golden Knights’ roster is; they just ooze high-end talent at every position. With Tomas Hertl and (maybe) Mark Stone touted to be ready for playoff action, these guys are – once again – a cup favourite.

Life is so unfair sometimes, man.

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