Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2018

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Future of the Knights: Whom will the team keep on its roster with free agency ahead?

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Jeff Chiu / AP

The Golden Knights’ William Karlsson, center, celebrates with James Neal (18) and Jonathan Marchessault after scoring against San Jose in Game 3 of the second-round playoff series in San Jose, Calif., April 30, 2018.

The Golden Knights’ amazing inaugural season ultimately came to an end with a gut-wrenching loss in the Stanley Cup Final, but the world of hockey never sleeps.

Vegas now immediately transitions into its first-ever offseason, with free agency and the draft right around the corner.

“We went so deep that a lot of stuff is going to come up real quick,” coach Gerard Gallant says. “This season isn’t over yet. The hockey is done, but there’s still a lot to go on.”

The NHL draft is June 22-23, and the youngsters will be back on the ice for development camp shortly after. Free agency is shortly after, beginning on July 1.

Here’s a look at three of the biggest questions the Golden Knights must answer in the coming months.

1. Do they bring back James Neal and/or David Perron?

The Golden Knights don’t have many players entering unrestricted free agency this offseason, but two of their top six scorers — Neal and Perron — could hit the open market.

Perron, 29, had a career season with 66 points and made it clear he wants to return next year.

“Obviously I love it here. I want to stay,” Perron says. “We’ll see how it works. We had good conversations throughout the year and didn’t get to a result, but I appreciate how much they want me to stay here, too.”

When the Golden Knights selected Perron in the expansion draft, it was the eighth time he’d changed teams since 2012. He served as one of the leaders in the locker room this season and has every intention of making Las Vegas his home. Whether General Manager George McPhee will offer him a contract to return is the real question.

“The reality is, in the salary cap world that you have to make some tough decisions, and with this team, not everyone will be back,” McPhee says. “We’ll do our best to keep this group together, but there are always three or four changes.”

Neal finished fourth on the team with 25 goals this season, marking the 11th consecutive full season in which he scored at least 20 goals. He also provided leadership for Vegas and scored a handful of clutch goals along the way.

“I love it here,” Neal says. “I thought we had a great thing going here. I want to win. We have a great group of guys here, so I hope things can work out.”

Vegas is projected to have approximately $26.5 million in cap space, so fitting the two in is no big deal. It just comes down to whether McPhee wants to save the money to spend elsewhere, which brings us to the next question.

2. Will the Golden Knights go after prized free agent John Tavares?

The crown jewel of this year’s free agent class is New York Islanders center John Tavares.

The 29-year-old is fresh off an 84-point season and appears primed to become a franchise’s centerpiece if he opts to leave Brooklyn. He will command a massive contract with an average annual value of $8.5 million to 9.5 million, which Vegas has the room to accommodate.

“We’ve all learned lessons over the years, and in the salary cap era, you have to be smart about what you do and the contracts you hand out,” McPhee says. “We have all these resources now … so you have to trust your instincts as a management group, trust the reports from your pro scouting staff and the data that you’re getting from your analytics group. That’s something we didn’t have years ago and we have now. It tells you certain things, and you have to pay attention to it.”

Tavares certainly meets all criteria when it comes to stats. He has five straight seasons with at least 60 points despite being surrounded by limited talent in New York. The question becomes: Does McPhee want to risk upsetting the Golden Knights’ locker room by inserting a superstar?

“What I love about our room is there is no hierarchy and no entitlement,” he says. “It’s just a bunch of guys who show up and work their tails off, get along and represent this organization and this city really well.”

3. Does William Karlsson get a new contract?

Working out a long-term deal for William Karlsson isn’t as pressing as the Neal and Perron negotiations because Karlsson is only a restricted free agent. This means the Golden Knights can let Karlsson play on his current deal next season if they don’t work out an extension this offseason.

Still, locking up Karlsson long-term this summer is ideal. The 25-year-old finished third in the NHL with 43 goals, making him due for a massive raise after earning $1 million this season.

“I’ll let my agent handle everything,” he says. “We’ll see what happens.”

The only thing Karlsson would say about his contract status is that he wants to remain a Golden Knight.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he says. “I love being here in Vegas. It’s a great city, and hopefully I can be here for many more years.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.