Vegas GM creating havoc in NHL
October 31, 2017 3:03 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
George McPhee has ruined the National Hockey League.
It’s that simple. McPhee, general manager of the Vegas Golden Knights, has created havoc for no fewer than a dozen clubs seeking assistance on the back end after causing an immense shortage of defensemen.
Why? McPhee claimed way too many D-men in the expansion draft process, some of whom remain stuck with Vegas’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. Thus, league-wide depth on the blue line simply isn’t there so GM’s and scouts are turning over rocks anywhere and everywhere to locate talent.
Ever try Slovenia? Anze Kopitar, captain of “my” L.A. Kings, isn’t the only player from the former Yugoslavia region. There’s forward Jan Mursak, who won an AHL Calder Cup in 2013, Otherwise the only other NHLer was Greg Kuznik, who was actually born in Canada and played one career NHL game for Carolina at the turn of the century.
So the hunt is on… but who is available? And don’t inquire about Chris Chelios or Nicklas Lidstrom.
The obvious choice is Boston’s Zdeno Chara, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer after his seven-year, “lifetime” contract expires. However, Chara, who is on the wrong side of 40, made it clear when training camp opened that he preferred to play his entire career in Beantown.
Minnesota’s Matt Cullen, who owns three Stanley Cups (Carolina ‘06, Pittsburgh ‘16, ‘17) but turns 41 next week, isn’t aiding the turnaround of the slow-starting Wild. Besides, he’s a center, not a blue-liner. And will someone in Toronto media end speculation about L.A.’s Drew Doughty returning to his hometown to play for the Maple Leafs?
Indeed, the cupboard is sparse.
Meanwhile, McPhee learned from previous expansion experience that defensemen on new clubs tend to wear down considerably faster than most. Thus, he possesses enough reserves to carry through the full season.
With the way the Golden Knights are currently playing, especially after last week’s impressive 4-2 victory over Chicago, could a playoff run be on the horizon? The fans are feeling giddy already. At least Vegas owns such visions. Many other clubs do not – I’m talking to you, Montreal.
Yet another reason why NHL scoring continues to rise. Thanks, George.
Lack of goaltender depth is also a concern for many of the top clubs in the NHL. One of the more obvious holes is in Pittsburgh, which lost Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas in the expansion draft, making Matt Murray the heir apparent in the Penguins net.
Murray started slowly, allowed 11 goals in his first two outings (both losses), but now owns a .929 save percent in his personal six-game win streak. However, backup Antti Niemi, the former co-starter in Dallas, has been horrible – 16 goals in three starts (7.50 GAA, under 80% save pct.).
And just who is Henrik Lundqvist’s back-up with the New York Rangers (among other teams I can list with no-name net reserves)?
Thus the continuous friendly reminder: Check on who the starting goalie will be before making that wager.
Meanwhile, while waiting for Fleury (concussion) and Malcolm Subban (reported hamstring pull) to return to Vegas ice, Oscar Dansk survived his NHL debut off the bench to stave off St. Louis in overtime, stopped powerful Chicago in his first start and followed it by shutting out Colorado. His new back-up is career minor-leaguer Maxime Lagace (2-2-0, 3.24 GAA in AHL Chicago), who once played for the nearby Bakersfield Condors – south on I-15 to Barstow, then go west on State Route 58.
New Jersey: G Cory Schneider has been activated from the IR list. Keith Kinkaid will be the back-up after Scott Wedgewood was traded to Arizona. The Devils (7-2-0) are off to their best start in nearly a quarter-century.
Anaheim: D Cam Fowler will be out another 3-7 weeks because of a knee injury.
Los Angeles: C Jeff Carter out indefinitely following a leg injury suffered against Montreal. Carter joins Kyle Clifford (knee) and Marian Gaborik (knee) on IR. Gaborik just resumed skating.
Wagering on Vegas Golden Knights games is going through the roof. Whether you’re a local, transplant or visitor following your hometown team on its road trip to T-Mobile Arena, betting handles are sizzling.
Take what Tony Miller, sportsbook director at the Golden Nugget said:
“We had more money bet on the Blackhawks game – a regular season game; and on a Tuesday – than we had on the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.”
More than the 87 postseason contests played last spring? And since the Final was “an event” type of games with its own higher handle, Miller is talking the equivalent of 100 games (or 100 time more action) in just a single Knights night.
Others believe that may be a bit of an exaggeration, yet the premise is sound.
According to Chuck Esposito, race and sportsbook director at Sunset Station (and a self-admitted Blackhawks honk): “Handles have been up, some nights 8 times than on any other day, so hats off to the Golden Knights. When they came home (for their first game) and there was all the emotion after what happened here, it was remarkable. They have exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Luckily for the books, there has been two-way action on Knights games.
Miller: “The handles are flying. Fans from all of the visiting teams are downtown, all wearing their team’s jerseys. I asked many of them and they said you can bet on the game then go watch it – it’s fantastic.
“And it’s going to get nothing but better.” For a while, the books are going to take a big hit with the Knights’ early success – the best start by an expansion team in NHL history.”
Esposito: “Like that first home game, it wasn’t good for our side of the counter. Then they all bet against the Knights against Detroit and we got hit again!”
“It adds a new element to 60 minutes of hockey for the bettor.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: McPhee told a Toronto radio station last week that forward Vadim Shipachyov, a 30-year-old center VGK signed from the KHL in Russia, was demoted to the AHL Wolves but did not report. Right at press time Monday, the Knights released Shipachyov, who will be headed back to Russia.
FROM A VGK Press Release:
Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee announced that defenseman Griffin Reinhart has been assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and recalled defenseman Shea Theodore from the Wolves. Theodore was to join the team in New York.
Vegas also received one of the three stars for NHL Players of the Week. New York Islanders center John Tavares, Golden Knights goaltender Oscar Dansk and Ottawa Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau were the winners
Dansk went 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average, .968 save percentage and one shutout to lead the Golden Knights (8-1-0, 16 points) to a perfect week, continuing the best start by an expansion team in NHL history. He made 29 saves in a 4-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 24. Dansk then stopped all 32 shots he faced to earn the first shutout in Golden Knights history in a 7-0 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 27.
Dansk is 3-0-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average, .959 save percentage and one shutout in three games.