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September 16, 2019

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With more cap space next year, here’s how Golden Knights roster could look

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Josie Lepe/AP Photo

Vegas Golden Knights’ Cody Eakin (21) celebrates his first-period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Friday, April 12, 2019, in San Jose, Calif.

The Golden Knights spent the summer trying to get under the salary cap, shipping out Erik Haula, Colin Miller and Nikita Gusev while not adding much NHL talent.

Next summer will be a different story. The Golden Knights project to have $16 million in cap space under the salary cap limit of $81.5 million, if the cap does not increase, according to CapFriendly. The $65.575 million projected cap hit accounts for 12 players, meaning Vegas will need to fill 11 roster spots with $16 million.

What can they do with that money? Let’s take a look.

Players under contract (with years remaining as of next summer)

Mark Stone, $9.5 million annually, seven years

Marc-Andre Fleury, $7 million annually, two years

Max Pacioretty, $7 million annually, three years

Paul Stastny annually, $6.5 million, one year

Nate Schmidt annually, $5.95 million, five years

William Karlsson annually, $5.9 million, seven years

Shea Theodore, $5.2 million annually, five years

Reilly Smith, $5 million annually, two years

Jonathan Marchessault, $4 million annually, four years

Alex Tuch, $4.75 million annually, six years

Brayden McNabb, $2.5 million annually, two years

Brandon Pirri, $775,000, one year

Tomas Tatar, $500,000, one year (retained salary, which can’t be traded or bought out. It counts against the cap but not the roster total)

These players will likely be on next year’s roster because they are either signed long term or have a small enough cap hit to not bother moving.

It gets more interesting with the team’s soon-to-be free agents, but even then there is not an expensive salary among the group. Adding Cody Glass ($863,333) and Nicolas Hague ($791,667) also seems likely.

Unrestricted free agents (with 2019-20 cap hit)

Cody Eakin, $3.875 million

Ryan Reaves, $2.775 million

Nick Holden, $2.2 million

Jon Merrill, $1.375 million

Tomas Nosek, $1 million

Deryk Engelland, $700,000

Restricted free agents (with 2019-20 cap hit)

Malcolm Subban, $850,000

William Carrier, $725,000

Valentin Zykov, $675,000

Jimmy Schuldt, TBD

Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any team without limitations. Restricted free agents, as the name implies, are not. Subban, Carrier, Zykov and Schuldt will not have accumulated enough service time to be unrestricted free agents and, despite their contracts expiring, they still have their rights owned by the Golden Knights, giving the team right of first refusal when it comes to bringing them back.

Few of the unrestricted players figure to be back. If Glass develops the way Vegas hopes, he can replace the role filled by Eakin, who becomes a luxury. Reaves and Holden were floated as trade options this summer when Vegas tried to clear salary, though it’s possible Reaves returns at a lower cap hit. Nosek, like Ryan Carpenter this offseason, may take unrestricted free agency as a chance to lock in some security. Deryk Engelland will be 38 and the clock is ticking on the end of his time in Vegas and his career.

Merrill, though, is intriguing. He raised eyebrows with his improvement from the start of the season to the end. Another strong campaign could net him a multiyear extension.

While most of the unrestricted free agents are expected to move on, most or all of the restricted free agents will be back. And barring a breakout season from any of them, it’s unlikely any crack seven figures in salary.

If Merrill, Subban, Carrier, Zykov and Schuldt all get new contracts for 2020-21, that would leave the Golden Knights with four roster spots and $6 million to $9 million to spend.

How the Golden Knights could construct their roster

Vegas could fill most of those spots with players making near the league minimum. Nicolas Roy is a restricted free agent after making $720,000 against the cap and could be a solid option. Patrick Brown makes $700,000 in a contract year next season. Maybe Jonas Røndbjerg ($806,667), Jake Leschyshyn ($778,333) or Zach Whitecloud (restricted free agent) will be ready to contribute. Maybe players who haven’t signed an entry-level contract yet like Peyton Krebs, Jack Dugan or Kaeden Korczak could be ready.

The Golden Knights have a deep farm system and could fill next year’s spots on the roster with players making very little. It would give them financial flexibility to add a piece mid-season as well as not hamstring themselves into future roster commitments. Besides, the top-six forward group is set, and Schmidt, Theodore and McNabb are all returning to the blue line.

The Golden Knights could choose to have another uneventful offseason and make the argument that that course of action is the best way to go.

Or …

They could see Stastny’s $6.5 million cap hit come off the books in the summer of 2021. Fleury’s $7 million hit comes off the year after that, as does Smith’s $5 million. They could see that running up against the cap next season isn’t the worst thing because they have staggered their big-money contracts so that they expire at different times.

Besides, they could think, the cap should go up and shouldn’t a team with Stanley Cup dreams be a cap team anyway? The Golden Knights could pounce at next year’s free agent class, one rife with the kind of players Vegas could use in the price range they’ll be playing with.

So let’s look at the 2020 free-agent class. Front-line forwards don’t make sense, both because of the price and that the top-six is set. So Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nicklas Backstrom aren’t coming. Players like Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov probably aren't a fit for the money to be third-line players or to bump current players off the top six. Same on the goalies: Braden Holtby, Robin Lehner or Jacob Markstrom wouldn’t want to split time with Fleury.

What about defense? Schmidt and Theodore are the anchors of the blue line, but both are left-handed. Theodore showed an aptness to the right side playing with McNabb, but Vegas could look to get Schmidt a top-four partner who shoots right-handed. Luckily, there are quite a few available.

Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz, Carolina’s Justin Faulk and New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen are all players currently age 30 or younger making $5.5 million or less this year.

Naturally, many will want a raise on their new contracts. Perhaps that prices the Golden Knights out and they look for cheaper options like Carolina defenseman (and Vegas expansion pick) Trevor van Riemsdyk, Washington’s Radko Gudas or Calgary’s Travis Hamonic.

The Golden Knights have a history of aggressive moves for established players. They traded for Stone and Tatar in consecutive deadlines, they signed Stastny last offseason and traded for Pacioretty before the season started. Vegas could even target one of the upcoming free agents at the trade deadline and swing a deal with the contingent of an extension, like it did with Stone.

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