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September 16, 2019

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Salary cap issues still loom for Golden Knights despite strong draft

Krebs

Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press via AP

Vegas Golden Knights pick Peyton Krebs, center, poses during the first round of the NHL hockey draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Friday, June, 21, 2019.

Vegas Golden Knights fans who hoped to come out of this summer’s NHL Entry Draft with more clarity on the team’s roster heading into the 2019-20 season were likely disappointed. Vegas still had as many questions at the conclusion of the draft June 22 as it did at the end of this past season, namely: The Golden Knights are still over the salary cap, a situation many thought they would address through draft-day trades. A number of deals involving current NHL players went through during the two-day event in Vancouver, British Columbia—including New Jersey stealing defenseman P.K. Subban from Nashville and the New York Rangers acquiring Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg—but the Golden Knights weren’t involved in any of them.

The draft is not a deadline by any means—one of Vegas’ biggest moves in the last offseason didn’t take place until training camp—but teams historically like to use it to set themselves up for free agency, which begins July 1. The Golden Knights didn’t do that. Part of the issue might have been the late and low salary-cap announcement. Teams were not informed that next season’s salary cap was set at $81.5 million, down from the projected $83 million, until after the draft.

While every team wants more money to spend, the downturn particularly puts Vegas in a bind. The Golden Knights were already $1.625 million over the new cap before agreeing to a new contract with William Karlsson after the draft.

Karlsson’s deal holds a $5.9 million annual average value, lower than several projections but still enough to hinder the Golden Knights going forward. They’re now projected to be $7.5 million over before getting to their restricted free agents—Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban, Nikita Gusev and Jimmy Schuldt—or their unrestricted free agents: Deryk Engelland, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter and Brandon Pirri.

The good news is that while Vegas didn’t address the present, it did bolster its future prospects. The draft’s top talent is typically gone by the 17th overall pick, but Vegas arguably got a player who belonged in that discussion with Peyton Krebs. The 18-year-old center from Calgary, Alberta, was a near-consensus top 10 pick a month earlier, but partially tore his Achilles tendon in a freak practice accident that gave teams pause. That allowed Vegas to swoop in and select a player they see as a potential top-six forward down the line.

Krebs is the captain of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice, a team relocating to Winnipeg next season. He led the team with 68 points in 64 games, but it struggled to a 13-45-7 record to saddle him with a minus-50 rating. When he played on a better team, however, he looked like a star. Krebs captained the Canadian squad at the U-18 World Junior Championships, scoring 10 points in seven games with a plus-9 rating.

Vegas supplemented the Krebs pick with seven selections deeper in the draft, plucking players from every position while emphasizing size and skill. Krebs is hurt, but the other seven are skating at development camp at City National Arena through June 29, giving the Golden Knights a glimpse of what their team could one day look like.

The long-term future might be as clear and bright as it has ever been for the Golden Knights. Karlsson, Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt are all signed for at least five years. Forward Cody Glass and defenseman Nicolas Hague—a pair of players from Vegas’ first draft class—could make their NHL debuts this season. And Marc-André Fleury is still implanted in net.

After the upcoming season, the Golden Knights should have more room to maneuver. Even if the cap remains stagnant next summer—unlikely, considering it has gone up every year since instituted in the 2013 collective bargaining agreement—Vegas has nearly $13 million in space for the 2020-21 season at this time.

That doesn’t make the current cap crunch easier. Tough decisions will have to be made, so even though highly paid players like Colin Miller and Cody Eakin—two names often linked to trade rumors—made it through the draft, they still might be long shots to be on the team this season.

The Golden Knights still have some post-draft moves left to make.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.