The Golden Knights Are Better (But Not Younger) in Their Second Season

The Golden Knights Are Better (But Not Younger) in Their Second Season

 

As the Golden Knights get ready to launch their sophomore season, it’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago that Vegas’ new fans were bracing for a dumpster fire of a first campaign.  Every expert, analyst, and beer vendor in hockey was certain that the Golden Knights would finish near the bottom of the league in every conceivable category and that Rasmus Dahlin was destined to wear the grey and gold.  

We were all wrong.

Fast forward 9 months and Smith, Marchessault, and Karlsson would be the most productive line in the NHL when playing five-on-five.  Meanwhile, James Neal, Erik Haula, and David Perron weren’t far behind, with Haula notching 27 goals of his own, Perron snagging 66 points, and James Neal coming up big throughout the regular season.  While the Knights have moved on from Neal and Perron (justifiably) they will always be legends in the eyes of the Golden Knights’ fanbase. Neal scored the first two goals in Golden Knights history, and he and Fleury may be solely responsible for showing the Golden Misfits that their team was capable of defying all expectations.  The confidence that Neal built for the Knights when he brought home that first win may have been what carried this team into an emotional home opener that will go down in Knights lore as the first blowout they’d ever dish out.  

Unfortunately, by the time the Stanley Cup Final came around neither of those lines were anywhere to be found.  The only goal that Perron would find in the playoffs would be a deflection off the body as he sat in the net. Neal would miss the most important shot of his career, and Haula simply couldn’t hold up to the physicality brought by the Washington Capitals.

It’s been a bittersweet summer to watch George McPhee make the hard decision to move on from James Neal and David Perron on July 1.  If you believe McPhee, he made offers to both Neal and Perron, but they simply couldn’t come to an agreement.  As much as I would have personally loved to have seen the entire band of Golden Misfits come back to T-Mobile Arena to finish what they started in their inaugural season, the NHL’s salary cap is a cruel mistress.  While the Knights could certainly afford to pay both players in the 2018/19 season, they have each already shown signs of declining speed.  When Perron is 34 and Neal is 36, those original Knights would be far more likely to be dead weight than hot commodities. Both Neal and Perron suffered significant injuries towards the end of the 2017/18 season, which may be part of the reason that each disappeared in the Final.  While George McPhee is many things, he is no Ponce De Leon and doesn’t have a map to the fountain of youth. The injuries that Neal and Perron will suffer over the coming years are likely to be more significant, will last longer, and may ultimately prevent them from being meaningful contributors to the Flames and Blues. So when Perron and Neal demanded 4 and 5-year contracts, McPhee did what Bill Foley hired him to do: he made the cold, clinical, but ultimately wise decisions.  He moved on.

To fill the scoring gap left behind, the Knights retained the services of 32-year-old, Paul Statsny, and elite scorer Max Pacioretty.   And yes, I can already hear what you are saying. “Statsny and Pacioretty are just as old (or older) than Neal and Perron!” And you’d be right.  In fact, that was exactly what I was thinking when the Knights moved a top-tier prospect (Nick Suzuki) and Tomas “Press Box” Tatar for Pacioretty. While it’s not a perfectly defensible position, the Knights are likely much better now than they were 6 months ago.  Paul Statsny is a bonafide second line center.  While Haula did an admirable job last year, the Knight’s second line was awful defensively.  Centers typically play a more defensive role than wingers, and it was necessary to bring in a high-end center to take some of the pressure off of the Knights’ top line.  Meanwhile, Max Pacioretty has been one the league’s most consistent goal scorers over the past 5 years.  Both players are defensively responsible and have historically been better than Neal and Perron.  In an ideal world, we’d have all four players on this team, but Neal and Perron both deserved to cash in on their success and weren’t willing to take the short-term deals that were offered to them.

Statsny and Pacioretty have a long history of playing together on the international stage and are close friends off the ice.  The Knights have even been kind enough to let them have their lockers next to one another.  Think of Statsny and Pacioretty as accountabilabuddies! Both players are on short enough deals that they are likely to remain useful throughout their contracts and will be moveable assets if the Knights happen to have a down year some time in the next few seasons.  Depending on how things shake out over the next few weeks of the preseason, the Statsny line could end up rivaling the Karlsson line for the label of the “first line.”  That’s the type of problem teams are dying to have.  There are no sure things in the NHL (except the failure of the Buffalo Sabres), but a duo of Paul Statsny and Max Pacioretty are about as close as it gets to a guaranteed scoring threat.

There is only one way to top last year’s amazing run.  Statsny and Pacioretty may be just the players this team needs to do it.

 

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