Mark Humphrey / AP
Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 | 11:30 p.m.
The Golden Knights fell to the Colorado Avalanche Monday night at T-Mobile Arena, but general manager George McPhee likely didn’t see much of the first period.
McPhee was tending to something more important: signing his young talented defenseman Shea Theodore, who has remained unsigned and missed all of camp and the preseason to this point.
Sometime during the first intermission, McPhee and Theodore agreed on a seven-year, $36.4 million deal that will keep Theodore in Las Vegas through the 2024-25 season.
“It’s huge for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s one of our top players and we’re definitely glad to have him back. It’s awesome. Good news for us tonight.”
News of the signing, which will pay Theodore $5.2 million per season and make him the fifth-highest paid player on the team, came just after the Golden Knights’ 5-3 loss.
The 23-year-old played well for Vegas last season with six goals and 23 assists to finish third among defensemen with 29 points. Theodore’s play improved in the postseason, where he spearheaded the Golden Knights power play and racked up three goals and seven assists in 20 games.
The seven-year deal could end up being a bargain for the Golden Knights if Theodore continues on his current ascension, but it’s also a risk.
“You really have to trust your instincts, trust the scouting reports from your pro scouts, trust the analytics data, and make a good decision,” McPhee said. “We rely on all those resources to make a good decision, and we think we made one here, but time will tell.”
Only Colin Miller had a better CORSI for percentage last season, which records how many shot attempts the team has while a player is on the ice compared with how many they have against. It’s a good sign for Theodore, who is more offensive-minded than defensively responsible.
The negotiations between McPhee and Theodore’s agent weren’t easy. They stretched two weeks into training camp and caused the defender to miss the first five preseason games. McPhee said the main point of contention was the length of the contract.
Theodore and his agent initially wanted to sign a short, two-year deal to prove his worth and seek a larger deal in the future. McPhee wanted to lock Theodore up long-term, and ended up getting that.
“I think when it was laid out and explained to the player why we were doing that, (because) I think it helps us manage the cap better, and if we’re doing that better I think our chances of winning are better, he bought in,” McPhee said.
After the deal, Vegas has about $4,2 million remaining in available cap room, which will rise to about $9,5 million when the contract of David Clarkson drops off due to him being on long-term injured reserve.
“We’ve got a lot of space this year and probably next year, so we’d like to use it to help us in the future,” McPhee said. “It’s sort of like perishable inventory. If you don’t use it at the end of the year it’s of no value. We have cost certainty in the future and it allows us to manage the cap better, and plan better as a result.”
Theodore gets a major payday after making only $863,333 in each of the last three seasons, and the Golden Knights have one of their best young players locked up for seven years.
“It’s never perfect,” McPhee said. “We didn’t get everything we wanted and he didn’t get everything he wanted, but it’s a deal.”
The direct result of this deal coming together is that the Golden Knights will have one more defenseman to cut from the roster. The team had just gotten down to the eight they planned on carrying for the season and will now need to send one more packing to make room for Theodore.
“The two guys that would have been on the team are (Erik) Brannstrom and (Jake) Bischoff,” McPhee said. “They’ve played very well, so they would have been here. Someone will have to go now, but we’ll address that in a few days.”
Both have shown offensive spark in the preseason, but if recency bias helps either it will be Bischoff. He was one of the best defenders on the ice for Vegas in its loss to Colorado, and scored a late goal with a backhanded shot that slipped through the Avalanche goalie.
Brannstrom was the star of Saturday night’s win in San Jose, scoring the game-winner in a shootout, but struggled with turnovers on Monday night. The 19-year-old had the worst CORSI for percentage of any defenseman on the team and allowed multiple odd-man rushes the other way after venturing too far into the offensive zone.
Still, Brannstrom is a first-round pick and by all accounts a supremely talented player that will eventually blossom into a star. It’s a tough decision that McPhee and his staff will have to make.
For now, the Golden Knights get to relax. Following five preseason games in 10 days the players get two days off, which they’ll spend at owner Bill Foley’s ranch in Montana. Theodore will join the team there for team bonding before they come back to Las Vegas for a preseason tilt against the Kings on Friday.