Squire Report, Vol 1: Prelude

30 August 2017

As I mentioned in my “Regeneration” post, I’ve decided to adopt the Vegas Golden Knights as my new favorite team. I’m fascinated with the idea of constructing a hockey team in the salary cap era, and it’s fun to cheer them on from Day One. My hope is to publish this report every month, and possibly even more often, as I’m sure I’ll feel the need to add an occasional “special report” from time to time. So without any further adieu, let’s get to it…


When the NHL first announced that they were expanding to Las Vegas, the idea of a roster full of players seemed like such a distant memory - but with the completion of the Expansion Draft in late June, that was finally the case. GM George McPhee had the privilege of choosing one player from each of the 30 existing franchises, which led to massive speculation and increased interest from both fans and media for the preceding months. Even though the NHL had set up the expansion rules to allow Vegas to be as competitive as possible during their inaugural season (which likely would have hindered their long-term success), McPhee smartly opted to build this team for the future, making a series of shrewd transactions to maximize the potential of his “free” assets as follows:

- Acquiring draft picks and young expansion-exempt prospects in exchange for choosing high-salary players, some of whom may never play again due to injury;
- Selecting certain players specifically to trade them immediately afterward, through pre-arranged deals with the other GM’s across the league;
- Choosing older players with expiring contracts to move at the trade deadline for additional picks, rather than taking questionable unproven players that would have been susceptible to waivers had they not made the team.

This method of roster construction left naysayers to insist that McPhee had mishandled his draft selections in lieu of icing the best team possible. But when you look closer, there was a valid reason for most of his selections, starting with the fact that you can only have 23 players on the opening night roster. This limitation meant that McPhee had to find a way to get immediate value out of several of his selections, knowing that at least seven of the chosen players could be lost to waivers if he didn’t make the right decision. So he started wheeling and dealing…

It seems like one of the most popular pastimes for hockey fans is trying to judge the winner and loser of any completed trade, completely oblivious to the fact that the full ramifications of these moves won’t be known for several years. As soon as McPhee began acquiring assets for the expendable players on his roster, the scrutiny set in and was relentless:

- Why didn’t he get more in return during these trades?
- Couldn’t he have chosen a younger player to keep from a particular team instead of selecting-then-trading away an older player?
- Why was he acquiring picks from drafts which were so far in the future that the player chosen would be years away from contributing to the team?
- If he was going to make so many trades, why didn’t he select more goalies in order to flip them?

Well, it all comes back to that 23-man roster limit. Holding onto a player until the trade deadline to maximize his value means that the player still has to take up a roster spot. You could argue that McPhee may have lost some leverage by not making trades immediately after the Expansion Draft, but that all comes down to what the market dictates, which is especially true when you look at how many defensemen were taken - and how many goalies WEREN’T.

So now that the dust has settled, let’s look at what’s left: to date, the Knights still have 25 waiver-eligible players remaining from their Expansion Draft selections, and McPhee managed to turn the other spots into a surplus of TWELVE future draft picks and SIX young prospects. No matter how you look at it, for a team intent on building through the draft (still the tried-and-true method for the greatest success in recent memory), this is a drastically better scenario than simply trying to pass seven players through waivers and not having ANY additional picks in the draft. But like so much in sports, we’re going to have to wait and see if McPhee’s strategy will come to its utmost potential.


Because it’s always fun to play “armchair GM” and second-guess the people in charge, I still had some questions after the Expansion Draft was complete. There was a lot that went into each pick, and there has already been some great detailed analysis done: the fine folks at SinBin.Vegas did a fantastic recap podcast dissecting each of the selections, and Sheng Peng at Hockeybuzz has done his own terrific multi-part breakdown as well. But for the purposes of this Report, I’m going to focus on the four selections that left me somewhat puzzled. I’m disregarding any choices that involved draft-pick compensation, as the added incentive should help to justify McPhee’s thought process. Of the players that now remain on the roster, these are the ones that stood out, listed from least to most intriguing:

CODY EAKIN (selected from the Dallas Stars)
For a team on the rise, the Stars didn’t really leave a whole lot to choose from in the Expansion Draft, exposing mostly depth forwards and inconsistent defensemen. However, Dan Hamhuis and his expiring contract could have likely netted the Knights a valuable draft pick for the future. Instead, McPhee opted for Eakin, who was coming off the worst season of his young career (only 3 goals in 60 games!), and still has three years left on his contract. I’m not sure what Vegas fans can expect out of him, but we can only hope he rebounds, or else he’ll get traded for another depreciating asset.

PIERRE-EDOUARD BELLEMARE (selected from the Philadelphia Flyers)
Much like Dallas, the offerings from Philadelphia weren’t really much to fawn over, but I’m left to wonder if Matt Read (UFA at season’s end) could have fetched a draft pick at the trade deadline, or if Michael Raffl could have provided depth scoring. Don’t get me wrong, though - I’m still very happy with the Bellemare pick, as I think he can provide valuable leadership and be a great voice in the locker room. He has vast international experience, and played for Team Europe in the recent World Cup of Hockey. He also won the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given to the Flyer who “demonstrated the most ‘heart’”, and gained acclaim for rejecting a Player Of The Game award at the World Championships in order to give it to a teammate. He’s not a flashy name, so I was somewhat surprised to see him selected, but this IS the type of player I’d love to have around to inspire the younger Knights with his character - I would not be shocked at all if he’s named Captain to start the season.

OSCAR LINDBERG (selected from the New York Rangers)
Again it seems like two potential trade chips were overlooked in veteran forward Michael Grabner and goalie Antti Raanta - both of whom would have likely returned decent draft picks in trade - in order to select Lindberg, who spent much of his career in New York playing in a sheltered role. I do like the pick, though it seemed to go against McPhee’s philosophy of building through the draft. That is, unless Lindberg is viewed as a key piece of the future construction of the team, which leads me to believe he’ll get a chance for improved production with increased playing time. I can get behind this idea, even if meant passing up those extra picks.

TEEMU PULKKINEN (selected from the Arizona Coyotes)
Now this one I just don’t get. Granted, it’s not like Arizona had all that much to offer, but I really thought veteran forward Jamie McGinn would be a Golden Knight, rather than a player who has struggled to crack the lineup in three different organizations. My only guess is that McPhee was scared off by the extra year on McGinn’s contract (he won’t be a UFA until 2019), and that he figured Pulkkinen might be easier to pass through waivers, which I’m convinced will happen once training camp has been completed.


No, seriously, it isn’t. Players go to arbitration all of the time. Yes, it’s not always the best option, but sometimes it’s the only real solution - and I think this was one of those situations. It’s actually quite unprecedented when you think about it: in just about all of the other cases, the player is going to court against the team to which he had previously played, but we’re talking about an expansion team who has yet to even play a game. Schmidt was selected in the Expansion Draft based on his potential to be a great player, but his career prior to that point has not seen him reach these heights. As a result, he and his agent would be looking for a contract based on his burgeoning future, while McPhee would counter with a deal centered around his uncertain past. The disparity between each side’s contract demands - Schmidt’s agent asked for a one-year deal at $2.75M, while McPhee suggested two years for $1.9M total - is also par for the course, and should not be indicative of any bad faith negotiations. Since Schmidt elected to go to arbitration, the club had the option to choose the length of the contract so they decided upon two years, and the arbitrator decided that Schmidt should earn $4.45M over the next two seasons.

But why did Vegas select a 2-year deal that would take Schmidt directly to UFA at age 27, instead of a 1-year deal that would leave him under team control as a RFA next summer? For a number of reasons, most notably the fact that they will have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract extension with Schmidt next July, rather than allowing another team to sign him to an offer sheet. Plus, Schmidt could have also taken the Knights to arbitration again after this upcoming season, and the team would have been forced to give him a one-year contract that would bring him to UFA - based on the expectations we have for Schmidt, I’m willing to bet that his performance this year would garner him a contract worth more than the $2.225M he’ll be earning on this current deal.

Hopefully, it will all be a moot point and this case will be an afterthought in the near future once Schmidt signs his extension next summer. I fully expect it to happen, as he will have earned a lengthy deal with an increased salary after he gets top minutes on this expansion team, and I think McPhee will want to lock him up for several seasons to be the cornerstone of their budding defense. The best part is that most of the good young defensemen that the Knights have both on their roster (Colin Miller, Griffin Reinhart) and in their system (Shea Theodore, Erik Brannstrom, plus their potential 1st round pick in 2018) will all be playing on inexpensive contracts, so if Schmidt were to get a very high cap hit on his next contract it would fit easily within the team’s cap structure for the foreseeable future, even if Schmidt slides down to the bottom pair by the end of the deal. He is going to be a fan favorite and will likely be in Vegas for many years to come - I’d even say he could be the Captain by Year 3.

Like I said, it’s not that big of a deal. Although Vegas fans might want to familiarize themselves with the arbitration process because I have a suspicious feeling that Jon Merrill will elect to go that route himself at this time next year.

I figured it might be a fun and entertaining challenge to dedicate a segment from each Report to prognostication, another one of the greatest pastimes in sports. I’ll see if I can think of three stories which might come true in the following month, based on the actions of both the team and individual players - and then I can either gloat or face shame by the time I reappear…

Too much has already been written about the ongoing fiasco involving the Golden Knights and their TV deal (Jesse Granger has done some outstanding coverage on the matter for the Las Vegas Sun and the Rink Rats podcast), so I don’t necessarily want to keep re-hashing a sore subject. I’ll just say that I don’t feel that either side is entirely wrong or right, and that this is going to be a lengthy negotiation that will require patience. Both AT&T and Cox have a certain per-subscriber cost that is suitable to each, but there’s no reason for them to come to an agreement until there are real stakes involved. Unfortunately, this means a scenario in which local fans will more than likely miss out on the preseason games, as I imagine the deal won’t get done until the first week of October at the earliest. I do feel guilty knowing that I’ll be able to see all of the games on NHL.TV since I don’t live in the local viewing market, but I sincerely hope that the Knights are on Cox Cable (and Century Link) by the time that first puck drops in Dallas on October 6.

I know a lot of the fans who live in Vegas felt unappreciated once the team announced that they’d be going on a road trip throughout small towns in Idaho and Montana, seeing as how they hadn’t really planned any prior events in their immediate surroundings. I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons - I think the availability of the players and the “reach” of their new TV partner had a lot to do with it - but I truly believe that once the players start arriving for training camp in mid-September, Bill Foley and crew will arrange some sort of massive celebration of the team in Las Vegas, allowing for fans to meet their new local heroes. I have no idea what this event will entail, but I’m sure it will be satisfactory and hopefully resolve any hard feelings amongst the Golden Knights faithful devotees.

Okay, it’s kinda vague but I’m willing to bet that Schmidt will quickly endear himself to Vegas fans during the team’s first ever training camp, and I’m really hoping the Knights use their popular Twitter account to publicize his shenanigans. He was a beloved player in Washington, especially due to his fan-engaging antics, and I’m sure he’ll waste no time in cleverly introducing himself to a whole new set of followers. I see a future full of “Schminutes”!

And with that, I bid thee farewell...

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