Taking advantage of players on rookie deals in 2020-21 will be instrumental for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It is no secret that the Vegas Golden Knights are currently over the salary cap as we settle into the Halcyon Days of the off-season.
Having had to walk the perilous tightrope of being so close to the cap ceiling for the duration of the 2019-20 season, the Golden Knights were hoping for an increase in the salary cap for 2020-21.
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However, COVID-19 had other ideas and due to the pure devastation this Pandemic has wreaked throughout the world, the NHL will have to deal with a flat cap of $81.5 million for at least the next couple of years.
As a result, the Golden Knights entered this off-season facing a cap crunch even as they pursued the biggest prize of Free Agency in elite defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
In order to capture the absolute horse on the backend they have long craved, the front office pulled the trigger on two tough decisions by trading forward Paul Stastny and popular defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks respectively.
However, even with those moves the Golden Knights are still $974,104 over the cap after re-signing elite goalie Robin Lehner to a five-year, $25 million deal and depth forward Tomas Nosek to a one-year, $1,250,000 contract.
Granted, teams can go over the cap ceiling by 10 percent during the off-season and it is likely that General Manager Kelly McCrimmon will make a minor move in order to get cap compliant before the start of the 2020-21 NHL season, whenever that may be.
But, in saying that, the Golden Knights will be in a tight cap crunch for the duration of the new season and they may be tempted to move some more pieces at the Trade Deadline should a player become available that the front office feel will help push this team over the top.
In the meantime, though, it is clear that utilizing and maximising players currently on their Entry-Level contracts will be huge for the Knights in 2020-21.
Cody Glass, who has two years left on his ELC with a cap hit of $863,333, will get the chance to establish himself as Vegas’ true second-line center, while defenseman Zach Whitecloud will be expected to continue to prove himself as a key piece in the defense corps.
High-end prospects Jack Dugan and Peyton Krebs, who are both on rookie deals less than $950,000, could win a roster job if they impress out of Training Camp with the Golden Knights needing a secondary scoring spark.
And, should the front office look to trade a veteran defenseman in either Alec Martinez or Nick Holden in order to get cap compliant, then the likes of Nic Hague, Dylan Coghlan, Jake Bischoff or Jimmy Schuldt will all be very good cost-effective options on that bottom pairing.
Throw Carl Dahlstrom into the mix, who was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets as part of the Paul Stastny trade and has one year remaining with a $850,000 cap hit, then the Golden Knights boast a nice collection of players who could play a big role on cost-effective contracts.
If the likes of Glass, Whitecloud and maybe even Krebs can step up and provide key contributions for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21, then that will not only ease the pressure on their big-hitters to carry all of the load but also allow the front office some level of cap flexibility.
And, for a franchise who has leveraged a fair chunk of their future by dealing some high-end prospects in order to acquire pieces to help them to win now, it is about time that the Golden Knights really put an onus on developing players and maximising their worth while they are still on rookie deals.
If they can do just that in 2020-21 then it could reap rich rewards when it comes to ultimate success on the ice and managing the salary cap long-term.
After all, building through the draft and player development are staples of any successful team in the NHL and also in any of the major sports, as the Tampa Bay Lightning proved in finally winning the Stanley Cup this year, so that is a lesson the Golden Knights will need to try and learn from heading into the 2020-21 season as they continue to adapt to a flat cap world.