Prepare for a bumper Vegas Golden Knights update.
From the NHL’s Return To Play Plan to Vegas as a Hub City to the Henderson Silver Knights and the off-season, we covered a bevy of subjects with Jesse.
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If you aren’t aware, and you should be, Jesse is a superb reporter who does an outstanding job of covering the Golden Knights.
You can follow his work here.
So, without further ado, let’s delve right into our in-depth conversation with Jesse Granger of The Athletic…
Hi Jesse! So, we have been treated to a treasure chest of news in recent weeks in the wake of the NHL announcing their Return To Play Plan. What has been your sense of how the Vegas Golden Knights as an organization has reacted to the 24-team format and all that comes with it?
JG: I think they are happy with it and they don’t have any reasons not to be happy with it when you look at the setup they are in. They will get a bye week in the First Round which is good for them, and they also have a chance to get that one seed from St. Louis which would have been unlikely under normal circumstances.
They were behind the Blues but now they have a three-game round-robin with the Blues, Avalanche and the Stars and they have got a chance to take that one seed away from St. Louis, so it’s not surprising that the team is happy with it but, at the same time, I’ve seen a lot of teams complaining and a lot of them do have reason to complain but the Golden Knights from the very beginning said they were not going to complain and they were going to do whatever the league decided on.
I’ll give them credit because they are basically just going with the flow. Now, they’ve been put in a good situation so that does help.
One of the main concerns, along with testing and the health and safety of the players, is the quality of the product the NHL will be putting out on the ice. What sense do you get from the Vegas players about how they feel in regards to regaining sharpness?
JG: I actually asked Nate Schmidt about that exactly and he was very optimistic. He seems to think that it won’t take very long at all. He did say that there might be a couple more mistakes than you are used to seeing in playoff hockey, but he thinks that will be more than made up for with all the healthy players we have.
All these teams are healthier than they’ve ever been entering the Playoffs because normally they are entering the postseason banged up after an 82-game schedule, and you saw with the Golden Knights that they had major injuries to Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone who have now been able to heal, so I think the quality of play is going to be really good.
Like Nate said, the lack of sharpness will pick up as they go in the Playoffs but it will be made up for with energy and with health for these teams, so I expect them to be a really good Playoffs if we get them and Nate even went as far as saying he thinks they could be the best Stanley Cup Playoffs ever.
Building on that, how do the players feel about the prospect of playing without fans in the building for the duration of the postseason?
JG: I’ve talked to a few guys about it and it is going to be weird at first, but I think that sense of weirdness will go away pretty quickly. I’m a big UFC fan, been watching it forever, it’s all I’ve been watching at the moment and the first few fights were weird and strange without any background noise but I don’t really notice it now. So, it is going to be weird in the NHL and everyone is going to crack jokes at the very beginning, but I think we will get used to it faster than maybe people are thinking.
One idea is to mic up all the players. Whether they are going to do that, I doubt it but I think mic them all up and have a separate channel where you can hear everything. Do a warning 18 and over or whatever you have to do, but I think that would just be fantastic entertainment. I don’t know if the players would like it but I know the fans sure would.
You mentioned injuries earlier and that both Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are good to go, how about Alex Tuch?
JG: He’s 100 percent. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and he’s feeling really good. He was injured three times this season, he couldn’t seem to stay healthy and every time he tried to come back he would get hurt again. He was slated to come back right before the pause and he had another setback, so he was rehabbing that in Vegas so it has just been a snakebitten year for him.
I do think that this pause has done him better than everybody else in terms of just giving him a chance to rehab 100 percent and not rushing it. Because, even though this team isn’t rushing guys back from injuries, it is just human nature that you don’t want to miss games so you are going to hurry your rehab along so I think this break was good for him to have a fresh slate, come back 100 percent healthy and hopefully the injuries can subside for him.
He’s an X-factor. Everybody knows that the Golden Knights have one of the best top-six in the NHL, Tampa has got a really good top-six, Toronto has got a really good top-six so they aren’t alone but if Alex Tuch can be the Alex Tuch from the 2018-19 season where he topped 50 points for the first time in his career, and if he can form a dangerous scoring third-line with Chandler Stephenson then it gives the Golden Knights one of the best scoring units in the NHL.
They may not need Alex Tuch to play well to beat some of the First Round teams but if you are going to get past Colorado, St. Louis and eventually Tampa Bay or Boston, you are going to need Alex Tuch at his best.
What team in the postseason picture would scare you the most in terms of a potential matchup for the Golden Knights?
JG: In that First Round Vegas would be the better team regardless of who they play. Now, it doesn’t mean that they will win but I think they are the more talented team. If you are Vegas I think you are probably hoping for someone you are familiar with just because of all of the intangibles surrounding this and it is going to be so different and so new for everyone, so playing a Pacific Division team that you have had success against would probably be a little bit more comfortable.
You think of Vancouver and Calgary, the Golden Knights played really well against both of them this year and they played Calgary three times this year, running them out of the building basically all three times so I think they would be happy to see the Flames.
As far as bad matchups, St. Louis is really, really good and I think we all forgot almost that they had Vladimir Tarasenko injured this whole time. He only played 10 games this year and St. Louis were the one seed in the West and the favorites to defend their cup and that was without Tarasenko, and now they are getting the best player on their team back healthy for this postseason so St. Louis is a tough matchup.
The Golden Knights have never beaten that team in regulation in franchise history, even though they did beat them twice in overtime this year, so that is a tough matchup if you are Vegas. You probably won’t get that matchup until the Western Conference so, at that point, you are going to be playing a good team regardless.
We know there will be expanded rosters for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so what minor league players do you think could come up and make an impact?
JG: Vegas’ NHL roster is so deep that it is going to be tough for any of those guys to break into the lineup. You look at someone like Lucas Elvenes who had a fantastic season and he was one of the best scoring rookies in the AHL, but I just don’t see a path to him making it into the lineup so I think you have to look at defense.
You mentioned Nic Hague and he’s got a chance but, if you are looking for a guy who hasn’t played this year who could come in and make an impact, and this is obviously a long-shot, but if there are a couple of injuries on the blueline to guys like Shea Theodore or Nate Schmidt and they need a defenseman with a good shot who can play on the power play, I can see them giving Dylan Coghlan a look.
I’ve been told that he has the hardest shot in the organization, regardless of team, and he’s done really well for the Chicago Wolves on the power play, he skates really well, he plays the right side and he’s a good fit. If he’s coming in it is probably bad news for the Golden Knights because it means some key guys are hurt, but I think he could be a guy who could have a role on this team if certain guys aren’t available.
Final Playoff-related question, but Vegas is very much in the mix to become an NHL Hub City, so what is the latest you are hearing on that?
JG: The latest I’ve heard is I was told from a source that the Golden Knights have stepped back and they aren’t all that involved in selling themselves, it is more the MGM Resorts International sending the NHL a proposal and an outline with details explaining how they could host the NHL postseason and why they are uniquely equipped to do this.
The MGM makes a lot of good points. They own 42% of T-Mobile Arena, they own all of the hotels around it so they’ve got enough hotel rooms to house all the players and they have a ton of restaurants on their properties right now that are either closed or open at minimal capacity, so they’ve got a lot of man power to feed people and then they can put down a sheet of ice at MGM Grand Garden Arena and at New Orleans Arena down the street.
It looks good and I think it is going to come down to how the COVID-19 climate is here in Vegas when the NHL has to make a decision on a site. Vegas has a lot to offer the NHL.