The NHL’s newest team was expected to be a big player in free agency this summer but has so far stuck to the plan of building from the ground up instead of trying to find a quick fix. With almost $8 million in cap space for next season and only one contract on the books for more than two years, Reilly Smith, who makes $5 million against the cap until 2022, the Vegas Golden Knights seemed to be a potential destination for big name players who could boost the team’s image in its inaugural season. The idea of Jaromir Jagr in Vegas is an intriguing one since Vegas is one of the only teams in the league that can offer the forty-five-year-old legend both high compensation and a top-six role. But most of the team’s signings have been depth additions that will provide more competition at the AHL level next year and beyond.
It’s clear that George McPhee and crew are committed to building this franchise through the draft and picking good young prospects that will form the team’s identity. By most accounts, the Golden Knights had an impressive first NHL draft in Chicago. Stealing centers Cody Glass at number six and Nick Suzuki at number thirteen as well as defensemen Erik Brannstrom at fifteen and Nicolas Hague in the second round was a good haul and one that will provide a solid foundation when they break into the big league.
Of course, the issue is that those players are realistically years away from the NHL and the collection of players that Vegas currently does not exactly inspire much confidence. The team’s likely number one center, Vadim Shipachyov, has exactly zero games of NHL experience and there is a strong chance that neither of their top two wingers, James Neal and David Perron, will finish the year in Vegas as both will probably be coveted at the trade deadline. McPhee gutted the blueline after selecting thirteen at the expansion draft, dealing away Trevor van Riemsdyk, Alexei Emelin, Marc Methot, and David Schlemko all for picks. So after passing up on the best players available in exchange for futures at the expansion draft, Vegas now heads into their first season with arguably a worse version of the team they had post-draft.
Not that any of that matters much really. The Knights were never going to be anything more than a bubble team this season and these moves at least remove all doubt about the goal for this year. 2017-18 won’t be measured by wins and losses as much as it will be by how much young players like Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, and possibly Glass develop over the course of the season. Not to mention the team-fan relationship in the Las Vegas community. The Golden Knights need to put their stamp on the city now before the Raiders come to town as competition for entertainment dollars. The extent to which local Las Vegas residents embrace the team will be important in setting the tone for the franchise as a successful Sun Belt NHL franchise.