Squire Report, Vol 6: Midseason

01 February 2018

We've reached the halfway point of the season and the Vegas Golden Knights hold the best record in the Western Conference - just like we all predicted, right?


A new calendar year also brought forth contract extensions for a trio of players, most notably Jonathan Marchessault.  Perhaps GM George McPhee must be reading my blog - how else to explain the fact that Marchessault received his 6-year, $30 million contract extension on the day AFTER I posted my last Squire Report, in which I mentioned how the Knights' leading scorer needed to be locked up immediately.  As you can imagine, I'm quite happy with the deal: Marchessault just turned 27 a month ago, and has helped to solidify one of the best scoring lines in the NHL.  Theoretically, his production should continue to remain in line with the money he's set to make, and it sets a good example to the fanbase that not every pending free agent will be traded, no matter how valuable.

It was also nice to see Deryk Engelland receive a one-year extension this past month.  A questionable selection in the Expansion Draft since he could have been signed as an unrestricted free agent a week later, "Captain Concierge" has proved his importance both on and off the ice - his heartfelt speech during the emotional home opener will cement his status as a beloved fan favorite for years to come.  But he's still got something left in the tank, and I can easily see him inking one-year deals every year until he's done playing, at which point I definitely picture him taking a job within the organization.

The last extension was a bit of a head-scratcher, mostly because Jon Merrill has spent more than half of the season as a healthy scratch.  I honestly thought that management would want to see him in action a little bit more, but they were impressed enough during his limited time to award him with a two-year extension.  Here's hoping this translates to improved play when he returns from the injured reserve, where he's spent the last three weeks.  From there, maybe we can work on finally getting his picture corrected on the Hockey News website!


This past month also saw the Chicago Wolves make a road trip to California, and while I was unable to see their visits to San Diego and Bakersfield, I did catch their game against the Ontario Reign.  My fiancee and I were doing some shopping at the nearby Ontario Mills outlet mall (which I highly recommend), so we unfortunately did not make it to the arena until the first intermission, which found the Wolves in a 2-0 hole.  I consider myself a good luck charm, because Chicago would storm back with two goals in the second frame to even the score, thanks to St. Louis prospect Ivan Barbashev and our own Tomas Hyka - who, if there's any justice in the world, should be skating in Vegas sooner rather than later.  After an impressive rookie camp and preseason, Hyka has been a point-per-game player in the AHL, and was even named to the All-Star team.

In addition to Hyka, it was another Vegas prospect that looked terrific throughout this game: Jake Bischoff.  Seemingly a throw-in as part of a trade with the New York Islanders during the Expansion Draft, Bischoff has played top-pair minutes in Chicago after finishing up a stellar four-year career at the University of Minnesota.  With veteran defensemen like Jason Garrison and Luca Sbisa on expiring contracts, one can only hope that Bischoff can continue on his development curve and make a case for full-time NHL duty soon.  I'll take Wolves GM Wendell Young's word for it, as he told Sheng Peng at Hockeybuzz: "He's going to get a chance to play in the NHL, and he's going to end up staying."

Okay, so the Reign came back to win 4-2, but it was still a great chance to see the Wolves up close - I wasn't really sure if they'd ever be out to visit California on a regular basis, so here's hoping it's the start of a yearly ritual.


It felt good to be right about this, even if Flower has missed a large portion of the season due to injury.  But while there was some controversy over whether Ducks goalie John Gibson should have had this spot (he has been fantastic this year), Fleury proved his worth to the Pacific Division by winning the inaugural "Save Streak" event during the All-Star Skills Competition.  He then followed that up the next day by allowing only one goal in both the semifinal win over the Central Division and the championship victory against the Atlantic Division. 

I had a feeling his reputation as a sniper might help his chances, and sure enough the "Real Deal" earned his third trip to the All-Star Game.  He went into the break on a hot streak, scoring in four of the last five games, before carrying that momentum with him to Tampa: after finishing third in the Accuracy Shooting event on Saturday night, he netted two goals in the Pacific Division's semifinal win.  Sure, it helped that he was pair up with Edmonton's Connor McDavid during the game, but he made the Vegas faithful quite proud.  Just think - the Pacific Division is undefeated in All-Star Games featuring the Golden Knights!!

I really thought when Leipsic finally scored his first goal at the end of 2017, it would be the beginning of an offensive outburst.  He's worked hard all season, and he just seems to be snake-bitten when it comes to finishing his chances.  I prefer to be optimistic, but unfortunately it was not to be: after being a healthy scratch three times in January, he was only able to tally one goal in the month.  But things can only go up from here, at least that's what I keep telling myself.


Making the All-Star team and scoring the historic first goal has been a great story, but I believe James Neal is an incredibly valuable asset on the trade market and I expect McPhee to take advantage of it.  Neal turns 31 at the beginning of next season, and will likely be looking for a long-term contract with a high salary to boot.  While the Knights will have the cap space to fit in an expensive extension, I think that money is better used on younger players, and would hope to see a bidding war break out for Neal's services at the NHL's trade deadline to drive up the price and increase the return.

Every skater to wear the Golden Knights uniform this season (even Vadim Shipachyov!) has scored a goal, except three: Stefan Matteau, who has spent the majority of the season in AHL; Ryan Carpenter, who was recently picked up on waivers and has been a healthy scratch for most of his time in Vegas; and Jason Garrison.  Initially thought to be a key contributor at the start of the season - as he was in attendance at the Expansion Draft and was even named an alternate captain - Garrison has seen his fate change with a demotion to Chicago and a role as mentor to the minor-league team.  Injuries to the Vegas defensive corps forced a series of recent callups for the veteran blueliner, and he played well when he finally returned to NHL action.  A pending free agent, it appears he's going to get a few more chances to increase his stock while he tries to earn a contract for next season.  I'm pulling for him, and I think it'll pay off with some improved play...and a goal.  Just one.  But it'll be an important goal for both him and the team.

Okay, so it's not that big of a stretch considering Vegas has the best home record in the league, but now seems like the time when the wear and tear of a long season catches up with every team.  February sees the Knights play 14 games in 27 days, but thankfully there's a 7-game stretch in the middle of the month that should allow them to feast on some tired and underperforming teams: as of this writing, none of these seven opponents are in a playoff position except Philadelphia, who is currently clinging to a wild-card spot by one point.  This home stand should provide the team with an opportunity to make yet another statement that they're not going anywhere, and it will give the players one last chance to prove their value to McPhee before the trade deadline (should he choose to move or extend them).  My prediction for these seven opponents: PAIN!

And with that, I bid thee farewell...

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