There’s a way the Vegas Golden Knights could make a reunion with Erik Haula happen.
Haula is one of a handful of high-profile names still available on the open market, and the forward would tick a lot of boxes for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Multiple reports have suggested that the Golden Knights would be interested in bringing back the forward too, with Haula an original Golden Misfit after being selected from the Minnesota Wild in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
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Given Vegas’ lack of depth at center, a reunion with Haula would tick a lot of boxes and would further bolster what is already an elite roster with few flaws.
However, there are a couple of caveats at play here in that Haula has suffered with some significant injuries over the last two years, while the Golden Knights will also have to clear some cap space before they make another move.
Signing Haula is an interesting proposition, though, so we are going to explain why the forward would be a good fit for the Knights (again), and then delve into how a potential reunion could work.
Let’s dive right in…
A Good Fit
First and foremost, General Manager Kelly McCrimmon and President of Hockey Operations know everything they need to now about Erik Haula the player, and Erik Haula the person.
Therefore, the Golden Knights will have to do little homework on the center and what he can bring to the table because they had a front row seat for all of that for two years.
Exposed by the Minnesota Wild in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Haula truly flourished in Sin City and he was a key cog in the famous “Golden Misfits” team that made a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year in 2017-18.
Haula put up 29 goals and 26 assists for a career-high 55 points in 76 regular-season games, averaging 17:22 minutes of ice time while recording a win percentage of 50.5% in the faceoff circle.
He was a force at both ends of the ice for the Golden Knights in 2017-18, recording 42 blocked shots, 85 hits and 44 Takeaways, while the forward also ranked high in a number of possession metrics.
Haula was also a key contributor in the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Playoffs too, putting up 9 points (3 G, 6 A) in 20 games to go along with a 50.8% success rate in the faceoff circle, while averaging 16:39 minutes of ice time.
Able to play in all situations, a very good penalty killer, capable on the power play and boasting a career win percentage of 51.3% inside the dot, Haula would tick a lot of boxes for the Golden Knights and he would automatically bolster the center position on the depth chart.
Following the decision to trade veteran forward Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets on the opening day of Free Agency in order to clear the cap space needed to go and make a run at elite defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights are very light at center.
They have elite two-way pivot William Karlsson but, outside of that, their options are limited with sophomore forward Cody Glass expected to fill the void on the second-line left by Stastny, while Nicolas Roy and Tomas Nosek will be the bottom-six centers.
However, as high a ceiling as Glass possesses, he endured an injury-ravaged rookie season in 2019-20 so the jury will be out on the 21-year-old heading into the 2020-21 NHL season, while an injury to Karlsson would prove disastrous given the lack of depth at center.
Rookies Peyton Krebs or Jack Dugan could be wildcard options but if the Knights could bring in a battle-hardened, proven and experienced pivot in Haula, then that would certainly ease some worries when it comes to their depth up the middle.
After all, and while there’s more than one way to skin a cat and to construct a Stanley Cup contender, the center position is one of the most important in hockey and having very good to elite pivots is conducive and essential to long-term success.
Now, granted, Haula has a few question marks when it comes to his injury history after a serious knee injury ravaged his 2018-19 season with the Golden Knights, limiting him to just 15 games while a knock on the same knee caused Haula to miss some time in 2019-20 while with the Carolina Hurricanes, before he finished the regular season with the Florida Panthers.
Reports have suggested that maybe the Golden Knights would have some reservations over whether or not Haula is the same player, but I personally think he showed enough in his short time with the Panthers that he’s still got a lot left in the tank and can get back to the player he was during his first stint in Vegas.
Let’s now look at what a potential Erik Haula would look like…
What it would take
There is one clear reason why Haula is still a Free Agent and it has nothing to do with his recent injury history. Nothing at all.
No, it is more to do with the new world we now live in with the COVID-19 Pandemic having a significant impact on finances across the National Hockey League.
The cap will remain flat at $81.5 million for at least the next couple of years, and the fact that all 31 teams suffered losses in 2019-20 was reflected in the lack of big money spent across Free Agency and that there are still some notable names available including Mike Hoffman, Mikael Granlund and Zdeno Chara.
We just live in strange times right now and, as such, players in the ilk of Haula still somehow find themselves unsigned nearly two weeks after Free Agency opened.
And, when it comes to the Golden Knights, it is clear that they will have to move a player or two before they make another move and try to manufacture a reunion with Haula if that’s the path they want to head down.
Following the blockbuster signing of Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights are currently $974,104 over the cap according to CapFriendly, although teams can go over the cap by 10 percent during the off-season.
Given that goalie and face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury is no longer being shopped, the front office would have to find another piece to move instead, and what that piece would be is anyone’s guess.
They could move veteran defenseman Alec Martinez who has one-year remaining with a cap hit of $4 million. Now, Martinez formed a good partnership with Shea Theodore but, if you moved Martinez, you could bump Zach Whitecloud up to the second pairing and then have a third pairing of Nick Holden with either Nic Hague or Dylan Coghlan, two prospects with a lot of upside.
If the Golden Knights could clear the necessary cap space, and that’s a big if at this point, it is feasible to think that Haula would probably be willing to accept a two-year deal with maybe a $3 million AAV.
That could work if, again, Vegas could generate some cap space and it would reunite them with a two-way player in Haula who can slot up and down the lineup, provide offense, play in all situations, excel on special teams and, more importantly, give them some-much needed depth at center.
If that’s a move the Vegas Golden Knights really want to make, then there is a path to making it a reality.