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June 16, 2019

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Dissecting potential Golden Knights roster moves for next season

VGK vs Oilers

Wade Vandervort

Golden Knights center Cody Eakin (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Edmonton Oilers at T-Mobile Arena Monday, April 1, 2019.

The Golden Knights’ brass will be faced with some tough decisions this offseason with their roster.

Some of the choices are easy — you can bet your life savings that Mark Stone and Marc-Andre Fleury will be on the team next year — but the futures of players like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Cody Eakin are less clear.

Team officials almost surely have a plan for how to approach forming the roster for the upcoming season. For the rest of us, here is a handy guide as to who is under contract and why some players may or may not be moved.

Under contract, unlikely to be moved

Mark Stone, forward — Eight-year extension kicks in next year. Signed through 2026-27 season at a $9.5 million cap hit. He will have a full no-move clause.

Max Pacioretty, forward — Four-year extension kicks in next year. Signed through 2022-23 at a $7 million cap hit. He will have a modified no-trade clause where he submits a 10-team no-trade list.

Marc-Andre Fleury, goalie — Three-year extension kicks in next year. Signed through end of 2021-22 season at a $7 million cap hit. He will have a modified no-trade clause.

Paul Stastny, forward — Second year of a three-year contract. Signed though 2020-21 at a $6.5 million cap hit. He has a modified no-trade clause.

Nate Schmidt, defenseman — Six-year extension kicks in next year. Signed through 2024-25 at a $5.95 million cap hit. He will have a modified no-trade clause.

Shea Theodore, defenseman — Second year of seven-year contract. Signed through 2024-25 season at a $5.2 million cap hit. He will have a modified no-trade clause beginning in 2023.

Jonathan Marchessault, forward — Second year of six-year contract. Signed through 2023-24 at a $5 million cap hit. He has a modified no-trade clause.

Reilly Smith, forward — Third year of a five-year contract. Signed through 2021-22 at a $5 million cap hit. He has a modified no-trade clause through 2020-21 and has no trade protection in 2021-22.

Alex Tuch, forward — Seven-year extension kicks in next year. Signed through 2025-26 season at a $4.75 million cap hit. He will have a modified no-trade clause beginning in 2023.

Erik Haula, forward — Third year of three-year contract. Signed through 2019-20 season at a $2.75 million cap hit.

Brayden McNabb, defenseman — Second year of four-year contract. Signed through 2021-22 season at a $2.5 million cap hit.

Jon Merrill, defenseman — Second year of two-year contract. Signed through end of next season at a $1.375 million cap hit.

William Carrier, forward — Second year of two-year contract. Signed through end of next season at a $725,000 cap hit.

Valentin Zykov, forward — Second year of a two-year contract. Signed through end of next season at a $675,000 cap hit.

It would be a surprise if any of these players were not on next season’s team. Most were key contributors in 2018-19 and five have extensions that begin next season.

The wild cards could be Marchessault and Smith. If the Golden Knights decided they wanted to add an elite defenseman to the ranks, either could be moved to help offset the salary caps for both teams.

McNabb, Merrill and Carrier could be moved, but all have low cap hits and provide strong value to the Golden Knights, meaning any would be part of a larger deal, if traded at all.

Under contract, could be moved

Cody Eakin, forward — Fourth year of four-year contract. Signed through end of next season at a $3.85 million cap hit.

Colin Miller, defenseman — Second year of four-year contract. Signed through 2021-22 season at a $3.875 million cap hit. He will have a modified no-trade clause beginning in 2020-21.

Ryan Reaves, forward — Second year of two-year contract. Signed through end of next season at a $2.775 million cap hit.

Nick Holden, defenseman — Second year of two-year contract. Signed through end of next season at a $2.2 million cap hit.

These four are the most interesting players currently under contract if the Golden Knights find themselves in need of cap space.

Eakin’s expiring deal is the waving flag for attention. He had a strong season with a career-high 22 goals and 41 points and would be attractive to nearly any team in the league. That includes the Golden Knights, where he could easily slide back into his third-line center role. But with the return of Erik Haula and the continued development of Cody Glass, Eakin could be the first casualty of a cap crunch.

Miller is the same. He is the third-highest-paid defenseman on the team, also coming off a productive year with a manageable cap hit. He has three more years on his deal, excluding some teams that would prefer an expiring deal, but also adding in teams that would want to trade for stability.

He’s a right-handed shooter who is good on the power play, but Vegas has loads of defensemen (though few right-handed) and is the most valuable trade piece among the surplus.

Odds are strong that Reaves returns next year. He adds a physical presence to the roster and had a career year with nine goals and 20 points. But that cap hit is one the Golden Knights may be looking to move, though the question is whether they can. A buyout seems unlikely, but if they find a team willing to give up assets and take on the contract, it may be too good to pass up.

Holden’s first season in Vegas could have gone better. He struggled at the beginning of the season and ended as a healthy scratch for the final six games of the playoffs. He’s on an expiring deal and could be taken by a team near the cap floor. The Golden Knights have an overflow of defensemen, and Holden is the most expensive of the ones without a defined role on next year’s squad.

Restricted free agents

William Karlsson, forward — Had a cap hit of $5.25 million last year on a one-year contract.

Tomas Nosek, forward — Had a cap hit of $962,500 last year on a one-year contract.

Nikita Gusev, forward — Had a cap hit of a $925,000 last year on a one-year, entry-level contract.

Malcolm Subban, goalie — Had a cap hit of $650,000 last year in the final season of a two-year contract.

Jimmy Schuldt, defenseman — Had a pro-rated cap hit of $6.57 million last year with a salary of $925,000 on a one-year, entry-level contract.

Expect all of these players on next year’s roster. They would not have signed Schuldt nor Gusev if they did not think they could sign them beyond the year, and Nosek will provide inexpensive defensive value.

The exception could be Subban if the Golden Knights decide it would be cheaper to go with Maxime Lagace or Oscar Dansk, or if they decide to go with a veteran backup to Marc-Andre Fleury.

The big question is Karlsson. Pinpointing a value will be the talking point for the summer between his camp and the team. He is under team control for another year, so unless relationships deteriorate greatly, he’ll be back on a one-year deal. Both sides said long-term is the goal, and it would be an upset if that doesn’t happen.

Unrestricted free agents

Deryk Engelland, defenseman — Had a cap hit of $1.5 million last year on a one-year contract.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, forward — Had a cap hit of $1.45 million last year in the final season of a two-year contract.

Brandon Pirri, forward — Had a cap hit of $650,000 last year on a one-year contract.

Ryan Carpenter, forward — Had a cap hit of $650,000 last year in the final season of a two-year contract.

If you wanted to say none of these players would be back, you’d find plenty of people who would agree.

Pirri is virtually a lock to play elsewhere next year. He had 12 goals and 18 points in 31 games, and established a value that should earn him a contract, though Vegas is set on its top six and has a logjam of possibilities on its bottom six. Unless he loves the organization and is willing to battle for a roster spot, odds are that he is gone.

Carpenter could come back, though next year he may play fewer than the 68 games he did this year. He would be battling for a spot and is a free agent for the first time after having the best season of his career. Maybe he finds a better fit elsewhere, maybe he re-ups for a similar role that he had last season.

The other two are where it gets real interesting. Engelland said he wants to play next season and hopes it is with Vegas. The 37-year-old has a home here and inserted himself in Golden Knights’ lore with his emotional speech before the inaugural home game. He is good defensively and on the penalty kill, and he led all Golden Knights in ice time during the postseason. There are hockey reasons to bring him back, but there are also off-ice reasons.

Bellemare was terrific defensively last year and was one of the best penalty-killers. The Golden Knights could save some money by inserting Tomas Nosek onto the fourth line as they did for Game 7 against the Sharks, or they could bring Bellemare back for close to what he made last year. Bellemare has expressed a strong desire to remain in Vegas.

Dead money

David Clarkson, forward — Seventh year of seven-year contract. Signed through 2019-20 season at a cap hit of $5.25 million.

Tomas Tatar, forward — Third year of four-year contract, now playing with Montreal. As part of the September trade (in exchange for Max Pacioretty), the Golden Knights are responsible for $500,000 each year.

When the Golden Knights acquired Clarkson’s contract at the expansion draft, they did not expect to have a cap issue so early in their history. They can recoup the cap space by placing him on long-term injured reserve or work out a trade to a team with ample cap space, but it’s not an issue they anticipated having when they acquired his contract.

The Tatar deal keeps coming back to bite Vegas. It’s not much, but he costs the Golden Knights a half-million dollars’ worth of cap space for two more years. It would be bad enough if Tatar didn’t pan out with Montreal, but he was great last year and had more points than every Vegas player other than Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault.

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