Golden knights vs sharks
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FSM Presents: 2 Minutes with Gawlik – Weekly VGK Update – Vol 17

Franchise Sports Media

 

Welcome to, “Two Minutes with Gawlik, Volume 17.” Plenty to get to as the regular season has come to an end.  What an interesting season it has been! Highs, lows, and everything in between. In the end, VGK finished tied for most points in the National Hockey League with the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado owned the first tiebreaker (more wins in regulation) so the Avalanche were crowned West Division Champions and earned the President’s Trophy.

 

Golden Knights vs Avalanche
Photo Credit: WGN Radio

Monday, May 10th vs. Avalanche: This was THE game. THE most important game of the regular season for the Golden Knights. A chance to clinch the Honda West Division and the President’s Trophy (awarded to the team with the best regular-season record). The Avalanche were ready to go, eighteen skaters and all. VGK was pumped for a chance at more history in their brief existence. And…they would only have fifteen skaters on the ice to try to achieve that history due to injuries and salary cap constraints. VGK could only dress ten forwards and five defensemen for their biggest regular-season game in franchise history. A gusty performance was offered. However, VGK would fall short, losing 2-1 in regulation. As a result, VGK was no longer in control of their destiny to win the Division and clinch the President’s Trophy.

Wednesday, May 12th vs. Sharks: This is far from what the doctor ordered. The San Jose Sharks had a chance to play spoiler to VGK. Thankfully, VGK took care of business, winning this contest 6-0.

 

Here is my recap and take on how VGK Leadership handled the salary cap during the Covid shortened 2020/21 campaign.

 

Courtesy: NHL
Photo Credit: NHL Rumors

The Situation: In October of 2020, VGK signed Robin Lehner to a five-year extension worth $25M over five years.  VGK tried to trade Marc Andre Fleury and his $7M yearly contract to anyone willing to take on his contract. Less than two weeks after Lehner receiving his extension, VGK signed Alex Peitrangelo to a seven-year deal worth over $61M. Perhaps the most loved VGK player besides Fleury, Nate Schmidt, gets traded to the Vancouver Canucks. There is no way Schmidt would have been traded if VGK could have found a way to trade Fleury and remove his contract from the books. VGK would enter the regular season with two elite goalies and be extremely close to the salary cap.

The Pros: VGK would have elite goaltending, three of the NHL’s best defensemen, a group of top-six forwards that are as good or better than anyone else’s top six, and a nice mix of players to fill out their bottom-six forwards. On paper, this is a team that is one of the top Stanley Cup contenders.

The Cons: VGK would have to scramble to make up for injuries if multiple players get hurt at the same time. Players may have to play positions they were not used to, and VGK may not be able to fill a roster of eighteen skaters on a nightly basis.

How Did the Situation Play Out: VGK had at least ten games where they could not field a full roster of eighteen skaters and a handful of other games where defenseman, Dylan Coghlan, played forward. VGK had a very poor record when they could not dress eighteen skaters. On the flipside, VGK gave up a league-best one hundred, twenty – two goals and had a league-best goal differential at plus sixty–seven. Fleury and Lehner combined to win the Jennings Trophy for VGK by allowing the fewest goals against.

Results: VGK was in control of their destiny in the Honda West Division and President’s Trophy through game fifty-five of the fifty-six game shortened regular season. In the end, the Avalanche won games fifty-two through fifty-six to clinch the best record in the NHL on a tie-breaker with VGK.

My Take:  Like many, I was angry when I entered T-Mobile Arena Monday night, knowing VGK was spotting one of the best teams in hockey three skaters in their most important regular-season game in team history. If VGK did not win the division and President’s Trophy, it was because of how the roster was constructed. Now that I have had some time to think about it, I think that perspective is a bit harsh. Can one really question the decision-making of the VGK leadership after having a chance to win the President’s Trophy up to the final two periods of the regular season? Does anyone think that the 2020/21 campaign was a failure because VGK did not win the Honda West Division?

 

2 Minuted with Gawlik
Photo Credit: Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

This team is built to win a Stanley Cup, not compete for a Stanley Cup, WIN a Stanley Cup. Sure, things could have gone worse, and VGK could have finished third or fourth in the Honda West Division. But VGK finished tied for the best record in the NHL. Spotting a team’s roster spots is not a recipe for success, and VGK spotted at least one roster spot in ten or more games due to their salary cap situation. Guess what? There is no salary cap in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs! VGK will roster eighteen skaters every night and have a large stable of reserves to choose from. In short, this was a situation that VGK forced themselves into by not being able to trade Fleury. It played out extremely well, and there should be nothing but optimism heading into the first round against Minnesota.

What if:  For a moment, let us assume Fleury was traded. That would probably have meant that Schmidt would have remained a Golden Knight. Presumably, Oscar Dansk would have backed up Lehner. Does VGK earn just one more point to win the Honda West Division and President’s Trophy?  NO! At least, I do not think so. Lehner had a fine season, but I am not sure he could have carried the mail for thirty-eight or more starts. I also do not believe that having Schmidt would have made up for the talent gap between Fleury and Dansk. Having eighteen skaters a night would have been nice, but things played out just fine for the 2020/21 regular season for VGK. The Golden Knights, at best, would have finished third in the division without Fleury.

 

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs outlook: 

 

Golden Knights vs Sharks
Photo Credit: Knights On Ice

The hope is that VGK can be close to full health when the playoffs start Sunday. We have not seen Max Pacioretty and Tomas Nosek on the ice in a while. Alec Martinez did not play the final two regular-season games as well. Ryan Reaves has been practicing and should be ready come Sunday. The goaltending situation will be controversial for the second season in a row. Last year Lehner started most of the games in the playoffs. Fleury could not start training camp on time due to injury, and Lehner had an amazing run upon being traded to VGKLehner appeared to be in better form. Heading into the 2020/21 playoffs, I would say that Fleury is in better form and has better stats.  I believe Lehner and Fleury reverse roles from last year’s playoffs. Fleury will get the lion’s share of the starts with Lehner ready to step in whenever needed.

Minnesota has been a tough team for VGK to compete with. Let us see what happens when the playoffs start. It is a different game altogether. Rookie Kirill Kaprizov has had an amazing regular season, the playoffs are different. The rookie will have much less time and space to make plays. Plus, he will have to be looking over his shoulder for Reaves.

 

First Round Predictions: 

Golden Knights vs Wild
Photo Credit: NHL

In the Honda West Division, I will take VGK over the Wild in six games. I am going with talent, pedigree, and leadership in this series. VGK checks all three of those boxes over the Wild. Do not sleep on the Blues. Speaking of pedigree, the Blues are recent Stanley Cup Champions. I will take the Avs in a tough seven-game series. In the Central, look for the Hurricanes to make quick work of Nashville in four games. Tampa finds themselves in unchartered waters, not having home ice against the Florida Panthers. Too much talent for Florida to overcome, Tampa sweeps the Panthers. Only six points separated the top seed in the East Division (Pittsburgh) and fourth seed (New York Islanders). I will take the Islanders to upset the Penguins in six games. Washington and Boston will be a great series. I will say two or more games go to overtime, including game seven, where Boston comes away with the win. In the North, I will take the chalk for each series. Toronto over Montreal in six and Edmonton over Winnipeg in seven.

Second Round Predictions: 

Colorado and VGK in the second round, maybe the Stanley Cup final. VGK makes a statement by winning this series in five. Sticking with the pedigree, I am going with the Lightning to upset the Hurricanes in six. The Islanders gave up the second-fewest goals in the NHL, they will beat the Penguins in seven.  Toronto and Edmonton will score early and often in this series. I am predicting seven games, sixty or more total goals scored, and Toronto emerging.

Third Round Predictions: 

FINALLY! Teams will get to compete outside of their division. VGK and the Islanders will meet in a defensive battle that will feature many three or four-goal games. VGK’s offense should find a way to get the job done, VGK in six to make their second Stanley Cup Final in four seasons. Just going off Toronto’s notable struggles, I do not see a path to the Leafs beating the Lightning. Tampa in five.

Stanley Cup Final: 

So much talent on display for both sides. VGK is just a bit deeper and has an edge defensively.  VGK in six! I am looking forward to the parade down Las Vegas Boulevard and an epic celebration!

 

GO KNIGHTS GO!!!

 

 

I look forward to having you back in the box for another “2-Minutes with Gawlik” next week right here on Franchise Sports Media.

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-Chris Gawlik – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Chris on Twitter @TDChrisG

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