Squire Report, Vol 14: Questionable Decisions

28 April 2020

Suffice it to say, a lot has happened since my last report, so let's get to some of the highlights from the past year and then some...


Over the 2018 Thanksgiving weekend, my wife and I decided to make a trip to Las Vegas so I could once again cheer on the Golden Knights in person.  Thankfully, this would also give me the opportunity to see both the elaborate pre-game show AND the team's mascot, as neither were in place during my previous visit for the inaugural season home opener.  And what a difference a year makes!

For starters, we were able to witness the pre-game procession of the "Knight Line" featuring showgirls, cheerleaders, drummers and the mascot: Chance the Gila monster.  A brief concert ensued at the outdoor plaza, and I was able to snap off a quick picture with Chance before he darted away.

Today's opponent for this Friday matinee affair would be the Calgary Flames, who had signed former Knight James Neal as an unrestricted free agent over the summer (rumor has it that Neal turned down a shorter contract with Vegas to ink his 5-year deal in Calgary).  This would be his first game back in Sin City, and the Knights honored him with a brief tribute during the first stoppage in play.

Another popular player would also be returning to T-Mobile Arena on this day, as Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt made his season debut after sitting out the first 20 games due to a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.  The crowd cheered him on from the moment he stepped on the ice for the pre-game skate, and he got a loud ovation when he was announced as a member of the starting lineup.  Vegas shutout the Flames by a 2-0 score, and Schmidt was outstanding on defense, receiving another warm reception during a post-game interview from the bench.

My wife and I stuck around Vegas for another day, wandering around the Strip and going out for dinner, before heading back to Los Angeles.  After the poignant pageantry of the initial home opener, it was nice to get back and see how great the team was playing and how incredibly the fans supported them.  Defying expectations with a winning hockey team from the beginning is only going to help sustain that love.


One of the main reasons for my initial excitement about following the Golden Knights was my interest in seeing a team built from scratch, and how they would use a slow and steady approach for prolonged success in the NHL.  Team owner Bill Foley famously proclaimed that he wanted to see his team make the playoffs by its third year in the league and win the Stanley Cup by the sixth year, but the unexpected success in the inaugural season has seemingly altered that plan and accelerated the timeline.  Did coming so close in 2018 drive Foley to put undue pressure on Knights management?

The brain trust of George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon - who did such an excellent job of assembling the team through the Expansion Draft - were now faced with a new dilemma: trading away draft picks and prospects to acquire established veterans in an effort to "win now".  By its design, this idea goes against the very nature of using a slow build for a new franchise, and I certainly fear that it could come back to bite them.  But then I'm sure most Vegas fans would gladly trade some lean years in the future for a Stanley Cup at the present - ironically, this is exactly what is happening right now in Chicago and Los Angeles, as both the Blackhawks and Kings have seen their championship-caliber teams replaced with pale comparisons that toil at the bottom of the standings.

Acquiring Tomas Tatar (for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick) at the 2018 trade deadline seemed like a way for management to show the team that it was "all in" and reward them for their success, but that wound up seeming inconsequential and downright puzzling when Tatar didn't fit and was packaged with first round pick Nick Suzuki in the trade that brought Max Pacioretty to Vegas the following offseason.  I understood that move at the time since Pacioretty gave the team a little "star power", even if he was a 30-year-old winger (and overpaying players at that age and position always seems to be disastrous for young teams), but the 2019 trade deadline had me scratching my head again as the Knights shipped out yet another first round pick (Erik Brannstrom) to acquire yet another winger in Mark Stone.  Sure, Stone was younger and had a brighter future than Pacioretty, but he also plays a physical game that may not translate into a lengthy career.  And what of Suzuki and Brannstrom?  Two players that could have been cornerstones for this team in the near future will now ply their trade in different markets, instead of being the face of the Golden Knights after the players selected in the Expansion Draft have moved on.

Year 3 in Vegas brought about more confusing transactions: excessive spending brought about salary cap problems, which meant players such as Erik Haula and Nikita Gusev, who both would have cost less to retain than the two expensive wingers, were dealt for future draft picks to make the team cap-compliant.  While this did allow the Knights to replenish some of their "war chest" of draft picks, they turned around at the 2020 trade deadline and sent two 2nd round picks to Los Angeles for 32-year-old defenseman Alec Martinez, essentially digging themselves back into the same hole.  While I certainly understand that there are several ways to create a successful team, I have to admit that it is making me a little uneasy...


When it comes to building the identity of an expansion team, one should assume that players will surely come and go as fans temporarily gravitate to their favorites without getting too attached.  As a result, one of the most prominent figures of any such team should be the head coach, tasked with being the face of the franchise at its inception and giving some stability to the organization.  Gerard Gallant was that man: a perfect character who could entertain both fans and media, while also taking the heat off of his players.  After the team's amazing first season, Gallant easily won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year, and the future looked bright.

But then the ax fell in January 2020, as Gallant was fired by Vegas and replaced by his one-time rival from San Jose, Peter DeBoer.  It was a shock to nearly all Knights fans, as Gallant had been very popular with both fans and players, while his team had overachieved along the way.  Though the start of Year 3 was a little underwhelming, with the team teetering on the edge of the playoff bubble for the first few months, it only seemed like a brief setback that they would surely overcome.  Unfortunately, the management did not see it that way, and now the ever-popular Gallant will more than likely be scooped up by another franchise as soon as this season comes to an end.

But how did we get here?  Does it go back to Foley speeding up the development timeline?  Are McPhee and McCrimmon acting out of fear of failure instead of making everyone around them trust in their process?  I really don't know what's going on in that respect, and I can only hope that it doesn't cause the team to veer out of control.  The market seems to be able to sustain some questionable decisions, but what happens if that Cup doesn't arrive by Year 6?  Will the team make more "panic moves" to please the billionaire owner?  That's a lot of questions, and for now, the answers seem all too unclear.


One decision that was NOT questionable in my mind was that of the NHL to shut down the 2019-20 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  The effects of the virus have been devastating all over the world, and it has really put sports into perspective.  It's been wonderful to see so many teams and players from various sports reaching out to offer support in whatever way they can, and I'm sure they will receive an incredibly warm reception once things "return to normal", whenever that may be.  As for myself and the Squire Report, I can only play things by ear and patiently observe the sports landscape while awaiting the return of my favorite league.

And with that, I bid thee farewell...

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