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May 26, 2019

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Golden Knights face big decision with key free agent Bellemare

Bellemare

John Locher / AP

Golden Knights center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) warms up before an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Among the Golden Knights’ offseason questions, one of the more interesting is the fate of center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

The 34-year-old unrestricted free agent has been a strong defensive player in two years with the Golden Knights. He is the linchpin of the penalty kill and a leader in the dressing room, similar to fellow free agent Deryk Engelland.

Bellemare loves the city and was the most forceful of any of the Golden Knights’ impending free agents about his desire to stay.

“You would be a fool to want to leave,” he said. “No players want to leave and not one of the players that left wanted to leave or the organization wanted them to be gone, but this is how it is sometimes.”

Bellemare made his NHL debut as a 29-year-old with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014 and has played at least 72 games in every season since. The native of Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, played in Sweden for eight years before joining the NHL.

He has been remarkably consistent with his career scoring numbers. In five seasons, he has six goals three times and seven goals once and has tallied 12 to 16 points four times.

He was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft and is set to become an NHL free agent for the first time.

Why the Golden Knights will keep him

Bellemare was arguably the best defensive forward on the team for the whole season, and was relied upon as much as anyone to keep the puck out of the net.

Bellemare averaged 1:56 of penalty-kill time per game, more than any other forward. Even when the team was at even strength, it relied on Bellemare in the defensive zone. He started more of his shifts in the Vegas zone more than any other player and added 51 blocked shots, second-most among team forwards.

His faceoff percentage of 54.72 was best on the team among everyday centers. He lost more faceoffs than he won in three seasons with the Flyers, but sits at 53 percent in two seasons with the Golden Knights.

Linemates Ryan Reaves and William Carrier are under team control for next year, and the team could decide continuity is important on its fourth line and bring back the center.

Why the Golden Knights will move on

He does not provide much of a scoring threat. Bellemare’s 15 points this year divided by his 12:26 time on ice came out to 0.95 points per 60 minutes, which is worst among team forwards. Reaves and Carrier each had career-bests in goals last year, and the Golden Knights could decide they want more of a puck-mover between them next season.

The Golden Knights also have plenty of centers under contract next year, including William Karlsson, Paul Stastny, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek and Cody Glass. Those are all players whose salary and cap hit are locked in, and any of them could fill Bellemare’s spot. That’s especially true for Nosek, who plays a similar game and centered the fourth line when Bellemare was injured during the playoffs.

The Golden Knights may need every dollar they can get depending on how Karlsson’s contract talks play out, and even replicating Bellemare’s $1.45 million cap hit could prove difficult.

Prediction

Bellemare’s defense and leadership are too important to let go. He signs a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.5 million.

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