What We Learned: The absolute best Vegas Golden Knights team

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Anyone who is still on Team Vegas Will Be Competitive now, after the NHL released every team’s protected lists, needs to check into the hospital immediately.

There has long been an oddly large number of voices saying, “This team can make the playoffs,” despite the fact that Vegas is really only going to have its pick of sixth forwards, fourth defensemen, and backup goaltenders. That is, of course, barring a few free agent signings and maybe a trade or two. And they’d have to be pretty good free agents and judicious trades to get a team with a few good thirds lines and second pairs over the hump.

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Look at who will be available to Vegas — even before taking all the “if you don’t pick this guy, we’ll kick you a pick or something” deals George McPhee has been able to cobble together in the past few days — and just try to pick the best possible roster from those players. It’s basically impossible to say they have anything close to the kind of talent you typically need to make a postseason run.

Of course, this is the NHL and things can get weird sometimes. Hell, the Senators just made a conference final. But the amount of high-level PDOing this team would have to do right out of the gate to keep pace with even, say, St. Louis or Calgary (two teams that aren’t exactly on the come-up in the league right now) and you have to say there’s basically an almost-zero chance this team has a postseason in its near future.

So let’s put together a roster, shall we? In doing so, we will have to assume a few things that are not realistic. Including pretending the salary cap isn’t a factor (which it obviously is), that there aren’t deals in place to not-pick guys left exposed (which there definitely are), and that Vegas won’t immediately trade some of the guys it picks (which it for-sure will).

The only condition is I won’t pick guys who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1. RFAs will still be selected.

This is all about trying to build the best possible roster from all the guys made available. And that roster really, truly, honestly isn’t remotely good enough to make the playoffs most of the time.

(Please note that I know Vadim Shipachyov exists. This is strictly based on the expansion draft.)

People are going to quibble with some of these picks. “Oh, so-and-so is better than that guy.” You can see why. Sometimes a guy like Jack Johnson — just to pick someone whose team is bribing Vegas not to take them — gets overrated.

But believe me: This is the best roster you can possibly put together to compete next season, and it’s just not good enough.

Let’s start up front:

This is actually a little better than I expected up front, to be honest, but when Kruger is your No. 1 center, you’re in a lot of trouble. I’m honestly surprised Erik Haula, who was getting time on Minnesota’s top line, was exposed. Same for Jonathan Marchessault, coming off a 30-goal season. One assumes side deals are in place, but it was reported the other day Haula will probably go elsewhere regardless, so who knows.

This is an incredibly deep forward group, as expansion forward groups go, but there’s just not enough high-end talent — or frankly, anything close to it — to get you over the hump. There are a few promising guys on there, like Kerby Rychel, Josh Anderson, and Marko Dano, but if we’re looking at just-for-next-season, there aren’t enough goals here.

This list also shows how effectively teams did the smart thing and protected even pretty-good centers they had locked up. Slim pickings up the middle unless you wanted UFAs.

Now we’re on to the blue line:

Again, good players here. Josh Manson is a legit higher-end defenseman in this league (one assumes a protection deal is in place here, as well as for de Haan). Dan Hamhuis can hold his own even now. But the rest of these guys mostly qualify as “interesting prospects” or “decent-to-good third-pairing guys.” You need guys like that, for sure, but who’s carrying the puck here? Who’s killing penalties? It really goes to show how thin some teams are that, like, Chris Wideman was taken to fill out the right side.

And in net:


I’d be worried carrying only two goalies, and yeah I’m taking three goalies, and Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t one of them. My feeling is Petr Mrazek and Antti Raanta, or Philipp Grubauer if one of them gets hurt (looking at you, Mrazek), probably provides you roughly the same amount of saves as Fleury. Maybe you don’t like the whole goalie-by-committee idea — which, admittedly, doesn’t often work out — but do you want Fleury playing more than 45 games anyway? I’m gonna pass.

Altogether, this is a team that probably ends up costing you somewhere in the neighborhood of $68 million. Right now it’s at a little less than $56.35 million with seven RFAs to re-sign, but none all that likely to be especially costly.

But if you look at this group as a whole, I dunno man. Even with a few surprise exposures, I’m still not convinced this is anything close to a playoff team. Hell, even add in Fleury, take out Grubauer and sub one of the forwards the Caps exposed for Hagelin, you’re not making that kind of a difference unless one of the goalies is inexplicably .925-plus all year.

Stranger things have happened, but c’mon.

I don’t know if it’s a situation where people thought the players available in the expansion draft would be better, or they just really overrated a bunch of players simultaneously, but if you put together a roster like this in, say, an NHL video game, you wouldn’t have much of a chance.

Hopefully this is the end of that whole discussion, so Vegas can focus on what it should have always been focused on: Getting three-plus lottery picks a year for the next few seasons.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: It is very funny to me when stuff like this happens. Ryan Kesler is out three months after hip surgery. Let’s have a look at the calendar. Hmm, that puts us at about “the start of training camp.” Okay.

Arizona Coyotes: The odds that Chad Johnson has a better save percentage than Mike Smith this season seem quite high.

Boston Bruins: Are we really re-litigating a late-first-round pick in a draft from 23 years ago? The Bruins haven’t drafted well the past two years.

Buffalo Sabres: Look, if there’s a sucker at the table, it’s irresponsible not to exploit him.

Calgary Flames: What kind of brain parasite do you need to have to think that trading three assets for a 35-year-old, $4.25-million-AAV goaltender who’s only played 87 games the past two years and had the same save percentage as Mike Condon last season is a good move? These people are unbelievable.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes hired Mike Bales as goaltending coach after he was let go by the Penguins. Which seems weird given the whole “Two straight Cups” thing.

Chicago: Well, there go your dreams of a Patrick Sharp return. And if you had any such dreams, please consult a doctor.

Colorado Avalanche: It absolutely does not.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This would normally be a smart bit of business but if you’re asking them not to take Jack Johnson, uhhh, that’s incredibly bad.

Dallas Stars: Obviously they don’t want to buy out a goalie but they have three goalies who are 30-plus and coming off pretty bad seasons. So this isn’t exactly an ideal situation.

Detroit Red Wings: Look at recent Calder Cup winners and tell me if there’s any connection at all between a farm team having success and the big club doing the same. Last year was Colorado. LA before that. Dallas. Detroit. Tampa. Ottawa. Of that group, only Tampa has had any recent real success.

Edmonton Oilers: Any time you can trade a guy for a “lesser, cheaper” player at the same position, you gotta do it.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers’ expansion draft list is incomprehensible. Marchessault exposed? Demers exposed? Petrovic protected? What on earth is going on down there?

Los Angeles Kings: Uhhhhh, yes. Great question.

Minnesota Wild: This seemed to be the prevailing feeling league-wide on Saturday: “We should have made a trade but didn’t.” Who says the NHL is no fun? Oh right, everyone.

Montreal Canadiens: If you’re under 26, a defenseman, and decent, your ass is getting shipped out, baby!

Nashville Predators: Mike Fisher is probably going to retire and that makes sense because he is a million years old.

New Jersey Devils: This was a nice little trade for Ray Shero here. Maybe something shakes out with Mueller.

New York Islanders: Yeah the Islanders have a lot of defensemen to protect but I’m meh on the forward group.

New York Rangers: Oh come on. “Royalty?”

Ottawa Senators: That thing I was saying earlier about overrating players for reasons inexplicable? Cody Ceci being protected is a truly amazing example. The kid is not good.

Philadelphia Flyers: Hey it’s not like the Flyers might need a goaltender soon ha ha ha.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Only a little shocked Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t become the Penguins goalie coach.

San Jose Sharks: This shouldn’t be hard. If it were up to the team exclusively, you re-sign both of them for one last kick at the can. C’mon. Without Thornton this team suddenly looks pretty bad up the middle.

St. Louis Blues: What universe do people live in where they actually argue protecting a player like Ryan Reaves is in any way smart.

Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s always weird to me how stuff like this can happen. How does the team not hit Sergachev before some rando?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Honestly of all the teams in the league a higher cap helps, Toronto ain’t one of ’em. They have 18 guys signed already and about $29 million to spend. I think it’d be fine one way or the other.

Vancouver Canucks: Four days later, still hilarious.

Vegas Golden Knights: No, Vegas should not pursue high-priced free agents. Why do that? They’re going to be picking top-five for a while here. Why tie yourself to some contract for a 30-year-old who wants seven years and $50 million? Think about how little sense that makes.

Washington Capitals: Protecting Tom Wilson is like hiring an armed guard to keep a broken TV on the sidewalk from being stolen. Total waste of time.

Winnipeg Jets: Toby Enstrom’s “Uhh yeah, I uhh, DON’T want to get out of Winnipeg” statement was very believable.

Gold Star Award

I guess another way to look at the expansion draft is that Vegas is gonna get a lot of top-four defensemen, and usually you have to give up Taylor Hall to get even one of those.

Minus of the Weekend

On the other hand, you’re stretching the definition of top-four to its very limits. This is why I am generally against using the term “top four” to mean “No. 4.” It’s technically true, but also…

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Canadian Jesus” has an idea.

To Rangers:

Kadri

Rielly

1st round pick 2017

To Leafs:

Stepan
McDonagh

3rd round pick 2018

Signoff

Don’t understand lemonade myself. Not my forte.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)