In just eight month's time, the Las Vegas Golden Knights will be playing in the NHL.
Finally, after years of rumored expansion/relocation, the state of Nevada will have a professional sports team to cheer for. The Golden Knights will have a long way to go before they become a relevant team, however. The Expansion Draft this offseason will help them set up their roster, but all 30 NHL teams will be projecting all of their top players. That means the Golden Knights won't have many attractive options when it comes to selecting their roster.
But there is always free agency and the trade market. The Golden Knights will have some problems early on in convincing top-end superstars to play in Vegas. So I'm expecting them to look for good bargain deals -- veterans who are established that won't be too expensive. So who are some of the big names that could be Golden Knights in the future? Here is how we see it.
15 Luca Sbisa
Despite being a major liability as a bottom-pairing defenceman, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning signed Luca Sbisa to a three-year extension worth $10.8 million two years ago. Sbisa has a career minus-18 rating, and is obviously not well known for his offensive ability.
Sbisa is set to become a free agent in 2018, and it's likely that the Canucks will leave him available in the Vegas Expansion Draft. With very few quality defencemen available, look for the Golden Knights to take Sbisa, since he's really one of the few decent options out there. Even if Sbisa doesn't get drafted by Vegas, he's a free agent in 2018. It's tough to see them winning the bids for major superstars, so Sbisa may just be part of their early bargain shopping. One way or another, it makes sense to see him head there.
14 Mathieu Perreault
The Winnipeg Jets are certainly struggling this season and shouldn't expect to make the playoffs. However, they have so much talent on forward and defence, that it leaves two-time 18-goal scorer Mathieu Perreault as the odd man one. TSN's Craig Button projects Perreault to be the Golden Knights' first line center for next season.
With the likes of Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little to protect, Winnipeg doesn't have a reason to keep Perreault safe from going to Vegas. He' going to be one of the best players available, and it makes sense for the Golden Knights to take him.
Yes, the Golden Knights won't be getting many high-quality players in this expansion draft. Perreault is a third-liner on most playoff teams, but we're confident he'd be thrilled about fronting their first line. That's the opportunity of a lifetime!
13 Francois Beauchemin
The veteran stay-at-home defenceman is slowly seeing the end to what's been a rather successful career. Francois Beauchemin has always been a reliable top-four defenceman and won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. But at 36 years of age and free agency awaiting in 2018, it's easy to see a scenario where Beauchemin heads to Vegas in the near future.
When he's on the free agent market in 2018, Beauchemin will be 38 years of age. It's tough to see most playoff-caliber teams having much interest in a man whose best days are well behind him. Beauchemin won't attract much interest, but the Golden Knights should happily look to bring on the veteran for a season or two.
Without many options, Beauchemin may look to finish out his playing career in Vegas. It would be a nice way to go out and it's easy to see him embrace the chance to work with some of their younger players.
12 Valtteri Filppula
Valtteri Filppula has been a solid top-six forward for much of his career, but it appears that age is catching up to the soon-to-be 33-year-old. Filppula is three years removed from a career-best 25-goal season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and is likely nearing the end of his playing days in the NHL.
He's set to become a free agent in 2018 when his five-year contract expires. Filppula will be 34 years of age by then, and he surely won't be getting big money nor the chance to play for a great team by then. If anything else, a team like the Golden Knights will look to take a chance on him.
As we've said many times, there will not be much talent available to the Golden Knights for a few years. They have to build through the draft and get strong before they attract top-tier talent. Filppula will likely have the choice of going to Vegas or in Europe to finish out his playing days. Expect at least one year in Vegas.
11 Antoine Vermette
Antoine Vermette has been a solid second-line centre for much of his career. He's hit the 20-goal mark four times and was a key part of the Chicago Blackhawks team that won the Stanley Cup in 2015.
However, Vermette is on pace to finish this season with just 32 points. That would be his lowest in an 82-game season since 2005-06, and the second lowest totals of his career. Vermette turns 35 in the offseason and surely is running out of time in the NHL. He's set to become a free agent in 2018, when he'll turn 36.
As with many veterans we've mentioned, Vermette will be nearing the end of his career and won't be getting much interest. With few options available, the Golden Knights will take a chance on Vermette and sign him to a one-year deal. It'll be a nice way for the veteran to finish out his playing career, too.
10 Patrick Sharp
It has been a nice run for the three-time Stanley Cup champion (all with the Chicago Blackhawks), but father time is undefeated, and Patrick Sharp's 35-year-old body doesn't appear to have much left in the NHL.
After scoring 20 goals and 55 points a season ago to lead the Dallas Stars to a Central Division title, Sharp is on pace for just 23 points. That would be his lowest in a full regular season since 2003-04, when he played in just 41 games. Sharp is a long-time 20-goal and 60-point scorer, but those days are way behind him.
It's tough to see Sharp getting the attention and money on the market (he's a free agent in July), that he would have seen some seasons ago. Sharp could join a long list of past-their-prime veterans that attempts to finish out their playing days in Vegas. He makes a lot of sense for them.
9 Tomas Plekanec
One of the most beloved Montreal Canadiens in recent memory is also seeing his best years slip away. Tomas Plekanec has seven 20-goal seasons under his belt and has reached 50 points in six different seasons. But after posting 54 points a year ago, he's on pace to finish with just 34 this season.
Plekanec is set to become a free agent in 2018, when he'll be on the edge of turning 36 years of age. It's been a nice career for the man who's played his entire career in Montreal, but there's no reason to believe they're interested in keeping him beyond 2018. In fact, one can imagine they'll look to clear his $6 million cap hit in the offseason.
If Plekanec wants to keep playing in the NHL when his contract expires, he's probably going to have very few interested parties. Perhaps he could form a super team of guys over 35 in Vegas and become their number one centre?
8 Kevin Bieksa
One of the best Vancouver Canucks defencemen of all-time, Kevin Bieksa is in his second season with the Anaheim Ducks. The long-time rugged, physical and hard-nosed blueliner is turning 36 this offseason and is unfortunately nearing the end of the finish line.\
Bieksa has battled numerous injuries throughout his career, including battered hips. His stats have unfortunately decreased significantly over the last few seasons, and it's unlikely the Ducks will be interested in keeping him when he becomes a free agent in 17 months time.
But some established blueliners like Bieksa are able to play into their early 40s, so what do I know? Bieksa could be playing in five year's time. That may seem a bit bold, but what's not bold is seeing him wind up in Vegas. He's a great and well-respected leader. I could see Vegas overpaying Bieksa, and he'll happily help out that young team to finish up his career.
7 Mike Fisher
Carrie Underwood's husband is set to turn 37 this offseason. My projections have the pending UFA to re-up with the Nashville Predators for another season. After that, it may be time for Fisher and his wife to settle in beautiful Las Vegas.
Mike Fisher has played a heavy two-way style his entire career, and players of that caliber tend to wear down much more rapidly. With 271 goals and 575 points (as of this writing), as a second/third line centre, Fisher has enjoyed a career that's been overlooked by many. That being said, Vegas won't be overlooking him if he's indeed a free agent in 2018.
With limited time left in his playing career, look for Fisher to play his final golden years of hockey with the Golden Knights.
6 Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan scored 30-plus goals every year from 2008-09 to 2011-12. He has since scored 20 goals just twice with the Ottawa Senators, and his $7.25 million cap hit over the next five seasons is one they would love to get off their hands. With a modified no trade clause, the Senators could approach Ryan about waiving it so that he could be available in the Expansion Draft.
If that doesn't happen, the Senators could still look desperately for a trade partner, and the Golden Knights (since they're in Vegas and all), could gamble and roll the dice on Ryan's services. Perhaps Ryan could rediscover his 25-30 goal days on a new team.
If Vegas can hit the jackpot on a couple first-round picks over the next few drafts, Ryan could be a nice first-liner with the right centreman. Vegas may as well try to acquire his big name and big frame, since he's one of the few proven players they'll get the chance to pick up.
5 Mike Green
It doesn't seem that long ago since Mike Green posted consecutive 70-point seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, scoring 31 goals in the former campaign. Though he obviously hasn't been able to come close to those numbers in years, Green is a nice weapon on the Detroit Red Wings blue line. He remains a solid powerplay quarterback and should be an attractive option in free agency next year.
This is the chance for Vegas to sign a big-name talent, and Green fits the bill well. He's good for 40 points a season and will probably chase the top dollar over a Stanley Cup opportunity with an elite team when he's a free agent. The Golden Knights would be smart to pony up the dollars for him immediately.
Even if Green doesn't sign with the Golden Knights in 2018, there's always the possibility of him going near in subsequent seasons. They need a guy like him on their blue line, and perhaps Green will roll the dice on joining them.
4 Dan Hamhuis
The 2014 Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada has been a solid stay-at-home defenceman his entire career, but is struggling to gain his ground on a frustrating Dallas Stars team this season. Dan Hamhuis could be a trade option in the offseason, but he's also set to be a free agent in 2018.
Hamhuis will be 35 years of age when he's a free agent. A scenario where he and Kevin Bieksa reunite together in Vegas makes plenty of sense. But as is the case with Bieksa, it could be three-to-five years until either guy actually lands there. Hamhuis is a well-established veteran who takes pride in mentoring the youth on the club he's playing for.
The Golden Knights may have to open up their wallets to land Hamhuis, but there is no doubting he'd be a great fit for them. He could join Vegas in 2018 or even play his final NHL games with them -- even if we're talking five years down the road.
3 Evander Kane
Evander Kane is on his way to scoring 20-straight goals for the second-straight season after having done so just once in his previous six seasons. But the inconsistent winger has also struggled to keep it clean off the ice. He's been investigated for assault in two different situations and was traded because of his attitude problems in Winnipeg during the 2014-15 season.
So the suitors for Kane will be somewhat limited. He can score 20 goals when he's focused, healthy and keeping it clean. But those are all factors that don't happen consistently, so Kane has already limited his market for 2018.
That being said, Kane makes plenty of sense for the Golden Knights. They should be the team that offers him the most money. They need a guy of his talents desperately, and how many NHLers don't try to max out during their first tenures as a free agent?
2 Jaromir Jagr
The 45-year-old has already stated that he tends to play until he's 50 years of age. Jaromir Jagr is already in his sixth NHL season since returning to North America in 2011-12. He has already played for five teams since then. He previously played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
So that means if Jagr has played for five teams in the last six seasons, he has to play for at least four teams before he turns 50 in five years. Assuming Jagr doesn't return to his old teams, that means 23 teams could look at his services. Let's assume Jagr plays for three teams from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Now there are only 20 teams he can play for. A handful of those 20 teams will either A) Be good enough and not need him or B) Be rebuilding and not feel like bringing a 40-something year old on board.
And according to my calculations, the Golden Knights will probably be good in four years after strong drafting. So that makes them a strong suitor for Jagr, who'll then decide he wants to play for the Golden Knights.
That makes sense, right?
1 Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins are one of the few reasons you can actually look forward to this Expansion Draft. They have two quality number one goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury. However, Murray's the one who helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2016. He's better, cheaper and 10 years younger.
But Fleury has a no-movement clause, so he can choose to stay in Pittsburgh if he wants. The Pens can only protect one goalie, and there's speculation they could make a deal with Vegas by sending them a first-round pick in return for NOT selecting Murray.
However, the Pens will somehow make it work. Fleury may want to be a Penguin, but he doesn't really want to be a number two goalie. The Penguins have many options here, and you know general manager Jim Rutherford will do whatever it takes to keep Murray. If anything else, expect the Penguins to trade Fleury to Vegas this offseason, giving him the number one spot while keeping Murray and making everyone happy.
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