The structure of the off-season is starting to shape up for the Vegas Golden Knights.
While currently fighting for their lives in the Western Conference Final inside The Bubble in Edmonton, the Vegas Golden Knights can now add some important dates to their schedule.
The NHL announced last week, following multiple reports, that the First Round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be held virtually on Oct. 6 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
It is expected that generational talent Alexis Lafreniere will go No.1 overall to the New York Rangers, while the Golden Knights are currently projected to have the 30th overall pick in the Draft.
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Rounds 2-7 will then take place the following day on Oct. 7, with the action beginning at 11:30 am ET.
The full order of the First Round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be determined after a Stanley Cup Champion is crowned.
It was also announced by the National Hockey League that Free Agency will open on Oct. 9 at 12:00 p.m. ET.
However, there will be a flat cap in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all teams having to deal with a $81.5 million cap for the second straight season.
That will cause a plethora of teams some problems, including the Golden Knights and we broke it all down here…
What this means for VGK
Let’s start with the Draft.
As mentioned above, the Golden Knights are projected to have the No.30 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, meaning they will be picking at the end of the First Round.
That could change of course depending on the outcome of the Western Conference Final, with Vegas currently down 3-1 in their series to the Dallas Stars.
However, this year’s Draft is considered a deep one rich with talent so the Golden Knights should still be able to pick up a high-end prospect at the end of the First Round.
We at Vegas Hockey Knight have already profiled a number of prospects, and we will continue to do so between now and Oct. 6.
And we think that two-way center Hendrix Lapierre could be a perfect pick for the Golden Knights, with the forward compared to Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov.
In terms of the later rounds, the Golden Knights currently hold two picks in Round 3 and one selection each in Rounds 6 & 7.
Now, let’s delve into Free Agency…
Big Questions on the Open Market
Free Agency in the NHL will be incredibly interesting this year.
We say that because, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all teams will have to deal with a flat cap with the 2020-21 salary cap frozen at $81.5 million.
That will make life difficult in particular for the Golden Knights, who are already committed to spending $76,559,876 for the 2020-21 season according to CapFriendly.
Engelland is expected to retire while Merrill and Nosek will likely be allowed to hit the open market.
If both players command between $3-$4 million combined, then that will leave the Golden Knights with under $2 million of cap space left to play with.
Then there is the small matter of goalie Robin Lehner, who is a pending UFA as well this coming off-season.
Now, according to our good friend Jesse Granger of The Athletic, there is an agreement between Lehner and the Golden Knights on a deal believed to be five years at $5 million per year.
Lehner has denied that anything is set in stone but it does seem likely that the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist will remain in Sin City beyond this year.
If that is the case then it raises questions about Marc-Andre Fleury‘s future with the team, with the future Hall of Famer set to earn $7,000,000 in 2020-21 and again in 2021-22.
It isn’t feasible in any world for a team to be paying two goalies over $10 million per year, and it’s especially not prudent in a year where the salary cap will be flat, so it is unlikely both Lehner and Fleury will remain in Vegas heading into next season.
The Golden Knights could look to move Paul Stastny, who has a cap hit of $6,500,000 in 2020-21, but they would almost certainly have to retain some salary which defeats the point.
So, it seems feasible that the marriage between the Knights and Fleury, who is the face of the franchise, could be coming to a rapid end.
But, whatever, happens, don’t expect the Golden Knights to be competing for some of the top free agents like St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who will likely command around $9-$11 million on the open market.
Instead, the Golden Knights will have to shop in the bargain bin at Macy’s in order to fill out the rest of their roster, although the likes of Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan, Peyton Krebs, Cody Glass and Jack Dugan will all be competing for roster spots out of Training Camp.
In order to be successful in a hard cap world, you need players on Entry-Level Contracts to play big roles and the Vegas Golden Knights will hope that some of their best prospects step up and become key components of this lineup.
If they can then that will help the Golden Knights in a big way given the cap constraints they will have to live with throughout the 2020-21 season.