In what was the first transaction of a hockey free world, the Vegas Golden Knights gave rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud a richly-deserved contract extension on Sunday.
With the sporting world on hiatus due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the Vegas Golden Knights decided to look to the future by locking up Whitecloud.
The 23-year-old signed a two-year extension which will tie him to the Golden Knights through 2021-22, while carrying a yearly cap hit of $725,000.
It was a home run of a deal by the Knights who have added another key piece to their blueline, while retaining some cap flexibility when it comes to the off-season.
More from Vegas Hockey Knight
- The moment the Vegas Golden Knights have been waiting for
- 3 Golden Knights players deserving of the Conn Smythe Trophy
- If Golden Knights win Stanley Cup, who should Mark Stone pass it to first?
- Why are Vegas Golden Knights fans obsessed with flamingos?
- Just one more game for Golden Knight supremacy
As it stands, the Golden Knights are currently committed to spending $72,625,000 next year, while they are due to have around $11 million in cap space depending on what happens to the salary cap for 2021-22 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
This is the pure definition of a team-friendly deal and the Golden Knights now have nine defenseman under contract for next year at least, including Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff and Dylan Coghlan who are all on the outside looking in.
It could mean the end of the road for both Jon Merrill and Deryk Engelland, with the front office clearly making a move to remodel their blueline and inject it with fresh talent.
And Whitecloud can certainly be considered fresh talent having really burst onto the scene this year.
After battling it out for the final roster spot on the blueline, Whitecloud endured a setback after suffering an injury out of Training Camp.
That forced the 23-year-old to start the year in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, where he posted seven points (two goals, five assists) in 35 games, before earning a call-up to the NHL.
After making his season debut against the Nashville Predators on Feb. 2, Whitecloud went on to really flourish under Head Coach Peter DeBoer, forming a solid partnership with Nick Holden as the Knights’ third defensive pairing.
More of a shutdown defenseman, Whitecloud only had one point (one assist) in 16 NHL games before the season was brought to a halt, but the rookie was incredibly effective in his own zone.
Per Evolving Hockey, Whitecloud placed inside the top 20 of defensemen when it came to takeaways per 60 min.
Also, and all stats are thanks to Jesse Granger of The Athletic, Whitecloud leads all Golden Knights blueliners in goals against per 60 minutes at even-strength (1.43), while he has also allowed the fewest shots against (20.58), the fewest scoring chances against (16.01) and, finally, the fewest high-danger chances against (5.14) of any player on the Vegas roster.
Pretty impressive, hey.
Furthermore, Whitecloud racked up 16 blocked shots, 10 hits and eight takeaways in 16 games, in addition to putting up an impressive CF% of 60.9.
Plus, and this is another huge factor, Whitecloud is only just starting to scratch the surface of his potential which is good news for the Golden Knights.
A late bloomer having been signed by Vegas as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Whitecloud has taken huge strides in learning his craft and improving as a player.
His high hockey IQ enables him to stand out above the crowd, and the rookie is said to boast an insatiable appetite for the game of hockey, which will only stand him in good stead when it comes to taking that next step.
Whitecloud has really benefitted from playing alongside a proven veteran in Nick Holden, and that pairing could be a real strong outlet for the Golden Knights next year.
Let’s consider the business side of this too.
By signing Whitecloud to a team-friendly contract, the Golden Knights have given themselves some valuable cap flexibility when it comes to the off-season.
Of course, none of us know what the salary cap will look like because of the significant impact the coronavirus is having on sports but, as it stands, Vegas will have around $11 million in cap space in the off-season which could allow them to go after a stud defenseman in the ilk of Alex Pietrangelo.
Also, the front office have now locked up another key piece of this blueline which will boast a strong core for the foreseeable future.
So, in a nutshell, the Golden Knights have the bulk of their defense now under contract and they will still be able to add a puck-moving defenseman should they wish to do so.
This was another shrewd move by the Vegas Golden Knights who have made a lot of them in recent weeks.
As they did with both Nick Holden and then William Carrier, the Knights signed Zach Whitecloud to a team-friendly deal which still gives them some much-needed cap flexibility.
And, in doing so, the Golden Knights now have one of their most promising blueliners under control for the next two seasons.
Furthermore, with Zach Whitecloud still having plenty of potential to unlock, this could prove to be a dinger of a home run by the Vegas Golden Knights.