The Golden Knights always make a splash. The only question is when it happens.
Max Pacioretty. Mark Stone. Robin Lehner. Alex Pietrangelo. Hardly an NHL transaction window goes by without the Knights shaking up their roster in a major way.
The team might have topped itself again last week. No decision will resonate with the fan base for years to come like trading the face of the franchise, Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago. The move cleared cap space, which was the first part of the three-pronged offseason plan, along with re-signing defenseman Alec Martinez and adding to the forward group.
The Knights accomplished all those goals, so their work on the roster is almost complete. They still must get under the salary cap; they are about $37,000 over the upper limit, with restricted free agent Nolan Patrick unsigned.
As things stand, here’s how each Knights position group has changed this offseason:
Additions/re-signings: Right wing Evgenii Dadonov, center Brett Howden, left wing Mattias Janmark and center Nolan Patrick.
Departures: Centers Cody Glass and Tomas Nosek and right wing Ryan Reaves.
The Knights experienced their most turnover up front.
They swapped the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft (Patrick) for the No. 6 pick (Glass). They let Nosek walk in free agency and acquired a younger, cheaper fourth-line center in Howden. They traded Reaves in the hopes that younger players such as right wing Keegan Kolesar can fill his shoes.
The 32-year-old isn’t considered the most well-rounded player but he immediately becomes one of the best finishers on a team that has struggled to score late in the playoffs. Dadonov has not had a shooting percentage lower than 14.4 percent in the past four seasons. Only right wing Mark Stone and center Chandler Stephenson topped that on the Knights last season.
“For sure a speedy, skilled guy,” Janmark said of Dadonov. “For sure would be fun to play with and a good fit on our team and a really good player.”
Dadonov also could be a useful addition on the power play, a major reason for the Knights’ playoff demise. He has experience in the bumper role and could provide more of a threat for the team in the middle of its setup. General manager Kelly McCrimmon said Dadonov “makes his living in the hard ice,” and he also will be a threat with tips and rebounds.
The addition has McCrimmon excited about the potential of the forward group, though the Knights will have to overcome the loss of Alex Tuch, who had offseason shoulder surgery and is expected to miss six months. They hope they now have enough firepower to score when it matters most.
“I think this is the best top-nine forwards that our organization has had,” McCrimmon said. “And I think this is the best group of forwards collectively that our team has had.”
Re-signing: Alec Martinez.
Departure: Nick Holden.
The blue line stayed largely intact.
Martinez came back on a three-year, $15.75 million contract, meaning the top seven defensemen in terms of total ice time will return. The 34-year-old bypassed the market to try to win his third Stanley Cup.
“Obviously the past couple years we’ve been really, really close, “Martinez said. “I’m excited to get going again and take another crack at this thing.”
The one subtraction was Holden, who played for the Knights for three seasons. The 34-year-old appeared in only 17 regular-season games last season, and McCrimmon said Holden was looking for more playing time in the final year of his contract.
His departure means the Knights will be relying on younger defensemen for depth. McCrimmon said he would like to see Dylan Coghlan, who appeared in 29 games as a rookie, get more playing time.
Addition: Laurent Brossoit.
Departure: Marc-Andre Fleury.
Gone is Fleury, who has started 191 of the Knights’ 281 regular-season games and 47 of their 66 playoff games. The 2021 Vezina Trophy winner was traded to the Blackhawks for minor league forward Mikael Hakkarainen, who will not play for his new organization.
The Knights will make 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner their primary starter and Brossoit their primary backup. Lehner is one of the NHL’s top goaltenders and more than worthy of the No. 1 job. He ranks third in goals saved above average in all situations the past three seasons (42.03), behind Tampa Bay’s Andre Vasilevskiy (58.82) and Dallas’ Ben Bishop (46.64).
Lehner, 30, has four years left on a contract that costs $5 million annually against the salary cap. Fleury, 36, has one year left on his contract that costs $7 million.
Brossoit gives the Knights a far less flashy but cheaper second option after signing a two-year deal as a free agent. He started 45 games in the past three seasons for the Winnipeg Jets, and McCrimmon said the 28-year-old was looking for more of an opportunity. Brossoit sandwiched two good years around a disappointing one in Winnipeg, as he posted save percentages of .925, .895 and .918.
The Knights will gladly take a performance like his first and third seasons with the Jets for his $2.325 million cap hit, which represents $4.675 million in savings over Fleury’s. That money gave them space for Dadonov’s $5 million salary.
A Lehner-Brossoit tandem might not have the security or Jennings-winning upside that the Fleury-Lehner partnership did. But the Knights think they will be better overall by spreading their money out.
“My job is to try to make our team better, and to do that you need cap space to improve,” McCrimmon said. “Those things all tie into the decision.”