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Offseason Plans: Should The Vegas Golden Knights Pursue John Tavares?
(Photo by Getty Images)
Las Vegas–For the first time in Vegas Golden Knights history they are heading into the NHL’s summer hiatus with some decisions to be made before next season starts up.
The Golden Knights who were recently knocked out of the Stanley Cup Finals by the Washington Capitals in 5 games ended their magical inaugural season in front of their fans that chanted “Go Knights Go” for the last time at T-Mobile Arena.
The players, coaches, and GMGM all had their exit interviews already with members of the local media at their official practice facility in Summerlin. That kicked off their offseason with some potential changes coming.
In the forward position, the Golden Knights have two notable unrestricted free agents that will be without a contract in the upcoming season and those players are James Neal and David Perron.
Neal had for the most part had an okay first tour of duty with the Golden Knights thru 71 regular season games. He provided 25 goals, 19 assists for 44 points and was -11.
This was also his 11th season in which he scored at least 20 or more goals. In the playoffs he scored 6 goals which matched last year’s numbers, had 5 assists (a career playoff high) at 11 points.
Perron finished the season off having a career year in assists with 50 and in this campaign with Vegas, was the first time he reached that mark. In addition, he managed to play in 70 games, tallying 16 goals and registered 66 points, also a career best for him along with being a +1.
The playoffs for Perron were somewhat of a struggle for him in terms getting the puck in the back of the net. His only goal of the playoffs came in the elimination game of the Stanley Cup Finals vs. Washington. He did however contribute with his 8 assists so that was a positive note.
With Neal, he has stated that he would like to stated that he would like to return to the Golden Knights next season.
“I love it here. I thought we had a great thing going here. I want to win. So close. We have a great group of guys here, so I hope things can work out.” Neal told David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review Journal.
On July 1, Neal will have wrapped up his current 6-year deal of $30 million the he originally signed when he was with Pittsburgh back on February 19, 2012. That contract had an AAV of $5 million per season.
The thing is, Vegas will have room in the cap to spend (close to $30 million if the proposed cap increase is approved by the NHL and NHLPA) and if McPhee and Neal could come to terms that’s make sense a new contract may come to fruition.
As for Perron, apparently the Golden Knights and he have a mutual interest there and tried to make something work during the last season but couldn’t come to an agreement.
“We had a good conversation throughout the year. Didn’t get to a result, but I appreciate how much they want me to stay here, too. We’ll see how it goes. That’s the business side of things. … I want to be a part of this group again, for sure.” Perron confirmed those details with Schoen.
Perron’s 2-year deal of $7,500,000 (originally signed with the Blues back in the summer of 2016) expires when the free agent frenzy window opens up on July 1.
If Vegas can’t make it work for both Neal and Perron, this leaves two openings in their top 6 particularly on the wings.
So why John Tavares is included in this piece given that he’s a center and not winger like a Neal and Perron?
Tavares is arguably the highly sought after UFA in the market for NHL’s teams around the league looking for a top flight centerman and he fits the bill. His 6-year deal with the Isles is about to expire. That contract was worth $33 million at AAV of $5.5 mil per season.
With the success that the Golden Knights had in their first season in the NHL, could very well be a prime destination landing spot for a player like Tavares.
JT is also three years younger than both Neal and Perron at age 27. In his 9th season on the island, completed a very good 2017-18 campaign with the New York Islanders. He scored 37 goals, chipped in with 47 assists at 84 points (2nd career best) at -12.
His normal line mates there under Head Coach Doug Weight were Andres Lee and Josh Bailey. He is also a proven goal scorer too with 9 seasons of at least 20 goals or more and 4 years worth of putting the puck in the back of the net at the 30 goal mark.
He could be the Golden Knights top line center but wait that job is currently occupied by William Karlsson.
Karlsson in his first season with Vegas increased his goal production by +37 at 43 goals, the most he has scored in a single campaign in his 4 years in the NHL. Included in his best season in goals, he recorded 35 assists and was a staggering +49.
In their Stanley Cup Final run, Karlsson produced 7 goals, 8 assists at 15 points and was a +8.
The thing with Karlsson is he needs to be if not already at the top of McPhee’s list of RFA players to sign for the upcoming season. McPhee will need to be smart in signing Karlsson with term and monetary compensation.
Karlsson established off the charts chemistry with former Florida Panther forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith with formation of the Golden Knights top line in year 1.
Along with his numbers above, Marchessault and Smith combined, scored 49 goals, added 86 assists for a total of 135 points and was a +67 so it’s probably best for moving forward by Gerard Gallant to not split those three players up in year 2.
If (A big if) McPhee could somehow win in the Tavares sweepstakes, the best option for JT is to slot him into second line center role and have Alex Tuch and Tomas Tatar as his wingers.
Both Tuch and Tatar had the opportunity and played in the top 6 forward group this past season with the Golden Knights so playing with Tavares could workout somehow.
It is going to be an interesting offseason for McPhee and the Golden Knights as they work on roster decisions and tweaks ahead of the 2018-19 season.