Hockey in Las Vegas.
It still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when I say it out loud, but it’s happening: there will be NHL hockey played in Las Vegas in just a matter of months. GM George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights will announce their expansion selections on June 21 in Vegas, and then it’s off to the races for the league’s 31st club.
McPhee and co. will be hard at work building the roster over the summer, with hopes of building a winner sooner rather than later. He’ll of course acquire 30 players from the expansion draft, but after that he’ll be going the same route as everybody else to round out his roster: free agency and trades.
It’s impossible to say who McPhee will target in trade or free agency, but 48-or-so players will be added to the current two-man roster of Vadim Shipachyov and Reid Duke by the end of summer. One thing he has to keep in mind is that Las Vegas is a place of temptations and vices; not every player has the maturity it takes to resist the devilish provocation of Sin City.
With that in mind, there are players Vegas needs to avoid at all costs. Most of these guys are great hockey players, but they need to stay away from Vegas simply in order to save themselves from… themselves.
Here are 15 players that the Golden Knights need to avoid at all costs:
15 Nazem Kadri
Playing hockey in Toronto isn’t easy for anyone. You’re constantly under media scrutiny, and everything you say/do is put under the microscope. That said, Nazem Kadri has struggled with issues of maturity in the past, and it’s a reputation that should keep McPhee from calling Brendan Shanahan/Lou Lamoriello and asking about Kadri.
Credit where it’s due, Mike Babcock has transformed Kadri into a solid two-way player, and Vegas would be lucky to have a guy of his ilk on their roster. However, would he be able to keep it together with all those tantalizing temptations about? Heck, T-Mobile arena is a short walk to The Strip, and that’s where you can get into a lot of trouble (we all know this from experience, no? Just me?).
14 Jonathan Toews
This is a controversial take, but I believe it: Jonathan Toews is, perhaps, not the greatest leader in the game but rather a benefactor of circumstance. Look, I like Toews just fine, but this saint-like reputation he has is simply overblown. It’s FAKE NEWS. The fact is Toews likes to party, and just because he gets overshadowed by the constant idiocy of teammate Patrick Kane (more on him later, as you've probably guessed), doesn’t mean he’s some sort of angel.
I’d like to go on record and say that there isn’t anything wrong with a little bit of partying here and there, but maybe throwing Toews into the heart of Las Vegas—a city that’s drenched in alcohol 24/7/365—isn’t the brightest of ideas. The best way to avoid your vices is to stay away from them.
13 Zach Kassian
Zach Kassian is a recovering alcoholic who enjoyed a resurgence in 2016-17. Kassian completed the league-mandated substance abuse program after being involved in a one-car collision with two younger women in 2015 (I still say he was driving, but that’s neither here nor there). He became a fan favorite in Edmonton thanks to some strong playoff performances in 2017, so why wouldn’t Vegas want to snag Kassian?
I would argue it would be a risky pick. Kassian has been clean and sober for well over a year now, but he’d be the first to tell you that he’s far from cured. They say there is no cure for the disease of alcoholism, and every day is a struggle for a recovering addict. While I commend Kassian on turning his life around, it’s probably in everybody’s best interest to keep him away from Vegas for… well, the rest of his life.
12 Jordin Tootoo
Jordin Tootoo is another feel good story, as he too is a recovering alcoholic who appears to have pieced his life back together. We here at The Sportster commend Tootoo for the accomplishment, as that can’t be an easy thing to do. However, we’d also like to advise Vegas to not acquire the services of Tootoo, who signed a one-year extension with the Blackhawks and will serve as expansion draft bait.
Tootoo is already playing with house money as far as his hockey career goes, as he’s been a fringe player for its duration. Most fringe players don’t play over 700 league games as Tootoo has, but I’d suggest the 34-year-old is at the end of his rope, and the libation temptations found on the Las Vegas strip are a distraction that Tootoo—or Vegas—simply doesn’t need.
11 Griffin Reinhart
Pundits are saying there is a good chance that McPhee takes a flier on Griffin Reinhart out of Edmonton at the upcoming expansion draft. I’m here to say that’s probably not the best idea for Vegas, as Reinhart’s development has been slowed and—if you believe the rumors—immaturity has played a part in the stalled progression.
I’m not throwing Reinhart under the bus here; heck, I was 22 too once, too, and if some of the stuff I did back then hit the gossip column, teams would surely steer clear of me as well (also, I’m not great at hockey, but let’s say I’m great in this hypothetical, okay?). That said, if there’s even the slightest hint of maturity issues for a young player, Vegas is probably not a great landing spot.
10 Jeff Carter
Jeff Carter has perhaps matured from his days in Philadelphia, but we all remember that whole “dry island” thing that was instituted by then-head coach Peter Laviolette, no? Well, if you don’t, here’s a refresher: Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were the leaders of a pretty wild party culture in the City of Brotherly love back in 2010-ish. The Flyers would never publicly admit it, but rumor has it this was a major driver as to why these players were traded in the primes of their careers.
Richards has of course fizzled out of the league, whereas Carter has continued to produce goals at an impressive clip. However, if you were George McPhee, would you be trying to acquire the services of Carter at this stage of his career? Not only is he on the wrong side of 30, but he has a history of partying a little too much. I’d steer clear.
9 Alexander Radulov
Alexander Radulov came back into the NHL picture in 2016-17, making good on a one-year deal he signed with the Montreal Canadiens worth $5.75M. He’s in line for a pretty decent raise now, even though the 54 points he scored is right about on par with the $5.75M he made (I will never understand how some players are valued vs. others, but that's for another article).
The Golden Knights have already signed Russian center Vadim Shipachyov to a two-year deal, so they may be tempted to take a run at Radulov as well. This would be a mistake, as Radulov has a reputation of flaking on his team in the past (see: Nashville Predators). On top of that, Radulov’s maturity level has been a question ever since fans knew of the enigmatic forward, so no sense in risking the temptations in Sin City.
8 Dustin Byfuglien
Whether he’s getting arrested on drunk boating charges or simply gorging on food/booze all summer to the point of showing up to camp 50 lbs. overweight, Dustin Byfuglien has always been a bit of a loose cannon. His play on the ice is a reflection of that, which I’m sure the Winnipeg Jets appreciate. However, if Big Buff can find that much trouble playing in perhaps the tamest city in the NHL, who can take a guess at what he’d get up to in Vegas for an extended period of time.
Byfuglien is of course going to be protected by the Jets, and it’s unlikely McPhee tries to target Byfuglien in a trade (he’s on the wrong side of 30 and likely to begin a steady decline in play). On top of that… well, there are a lot of great restaurants in Vegas, and it’s no secret that Byfuglien likes to indulge in that. Plus, the drunken-boating incident doesn’t make you think he’d be great at resisting the Vegas temptations.
7 Claude Giroux
Okay, it’s not like Claude Giroux has a long list of infractions that lead us to believe he’d fully yield to the hedonistic temptations that come with the city of Las Vegas. He does have that one infamous event when he got hammered and groped a police officer, and because of that incident alone, if I'm McPhee I’d definitely avoid trading for Giroux (pictured above, perhaps about to grab someone's ass).
This is a non-starter, because it’s pretty unlikely that Philly chooses to trade its captain and best player to the expansion franchise. But, if the situation ever comes up and McPhee is offered Giroux’s services for a fair price, I’d still walk away in McPhee’s shoes. Giroux is almost 30 as it is, and has certainly plateaued, if not declined a bit in his play. Plus... he gropes police officers.
6 Tyler Seguin
Tyler Seguin’s inclusion on this list should come as no surprise to most, as he has a somewhat long history of liking to party a little too much. Unconfirmed reports allege that former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli traded Seguin in the summer of 2013 because the young center needed to be babysat during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final that year.
Yes, the story goes that Seguin apparently couldn’t be trusted to stay in his hotel room past curfew when on the road during the 2013 postseason, which is quite frankly shocking if true. You’re competing for a Stanley Cup, and you can’t be bothered to make sure you’re well rested and fully prepared for the next game? In any case, a guy who exhibits that type of behavior is likely not a great fit for Vegas.
5 Patrick Kane
As Patrick Kane struggles to make sure his demons remain in the rearview mirror (it’s been almost two years since his last rape accusation, after all), I think it’s safe to say that Las Vegas won’t be chasing Kane in a trade this summer, or any summer. If a guy can have this much fun in Madison, WI, who’s to say what he might get up to in Vegas if that’s where his permanent address is?
Whether it’s the aforementioned romp he had one summer day in Wisconsin, or the time he punched a cabbie over $1.20 in change, or the multiple women who have accused Kane of sexual deviancy (to put it nicely)—Kane would be an unmitigated disaster in Las Vegas. This is a guy who finds ways to get into trouble in Madison and Buffalo, for God’s sake.
4 Josh Ho-Sang
To be completely honest, I’m not so sure that Brooklyn is much better of a landing spot for Josh Ho-Sang than Vegas, but nonetheless I think it’s safe to say George McPhee should avoid Ho-Sang like the plague. The talented forward showed well in his brief NHL stint late this season, but he’s shown enough signs of immaturity thus far to convince me he’d be a bad fit in Sin City.
He’s just 21 years old, but he’s already struggled with the reputation of immaturity for most of his career. He was rumored to be on several GMs’ “do not draft” lists at the 2014 Entry Draft because of the concerns (he was eventually selected late in the first round by the Islanders). Since joining the system, Ho-Sang has already been cast off by the club for showing up late to camp after an apparent alarm clock mishap.
3 Ryan Kesler
Ryan Kesler is a man who needs to be kept away from temptation. He’s got a wife and kids, yet back in his days playing in Vancouver, his reputation about town (and within his own locker room) really brought the guy’s character into question. I won’t get into any specifics as I can’t technically prove any of them and who the heck am I to be spreading rumors, but I heard enough stories from enough different sources to convince me.
Okay, one story. An unconfirmed rumor stated that Kesler actually slept with wife of goalie Cory Schneider. Now, I’m not saying this happened and I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I am saying that if it happened that’s one of the worst things a hockey player can do. I mean, goaltenders are head-cases as it is. Try playing goal knowing one of your star teammates is hooking up with your wife.
2 Jake Virtanen
I do realize that it’s a stretch to call Jake Virtanen an NHL player, as he played only 10 games in the NHL this season, all during the first month. After being sent down to Utica, he never earned another call-up, despite the club experiencing injury issues throughout most of the season. Still though, if Vegas views him as a possible reclamation project, I’d say that’s a mistake.
Leaving his maturity level aside for a second the fact that Virtanen scored just 9 goals and 19 points in 65 games in Utica this season is indicative of a player who’s perhaps not developing as well as the Canucks had probably hoped for. Now, power forwards like Virtanen sometimes take a few more years to develop, but the arrows aren’t pointing in the right direction.
1 Evander Kane
Will Evander Kane ever grow up? At 25 years old and still ample signs of immaturity and conceit, I think it’s safe to at least doubt that it will happen. Kane, who was acquired from the Jets via trade near the 2015 trade deadline, is already reportedly back on the trading block in Buffalo, meaning they’re already not thrilled with what Kane has brought to the equation.
Yes, injuries have played a large part in Kane’s ineffectiveness to this point in his career, but he’s been in the news more than once for his off-ice antics. So, if you’re in charge of building the Las Vegas roster, do you pick up Kane via trade or otherwise? We all remember what happens when Kane goes to Vegas, right (pictured).