NHL free agency has begun in earnest, and the big players in the sport are already spending like there’s no tomorrow. Almost $700m was spent on the first of July, making it a crazy day even by NHL standards. The New York Rangers captured Artemi Panarin – possibly paying over the odds to do so – and landed most of the headlines by doing so. Elsewhere there were major names moving back and forth, with Minnesota Wild’s $30m investment in Mats Zuccarello prompting raised eyebrows among many sports commentators. One side, however, seems to be happy to stay out of the news.
Everyone in the world knows what Las Vegas is best known for. It’s party city, and a gambler’s paradise. Today, just like every other day, Las Vegas will be full of people playing slot games, roulette, poker, and every other major form of gambling you can think of. The casinos will be busy, and there will be winners and losers left, right, and center. There are even some mobile casino websites which have been launched specifically to appeal to players such as AmigoSlots.com. In fact, the only people in Sin City not doing any gambling at all – or at least, not so far – appear to be the Las Vegas Golden Knights. As Kenny Rogers once sang of casino strategy, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em. It looks like the strategy at the Golden Knights right now is to hold on to what they have.
In truth, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver for the Knights right now. Going into free agency, it was already known that they didn’t have much in the way of cap space, and there were no major names linked with the team by way of rumors or speculation. Their opening gambit has been to tie down Brandon Perri and Tomas Nosek. Perri in particular looks and sounds like a man who’s recently fallen back in love with the sport, and has spoken frequently to the press in recent months of wanting to prove his worth to the team he originally signed with over two years ago. Next season it looks like he’s going to get that chance, so the decision to re-sign is likely to be make or break for him.
Even with those decisions to ‘hold,’ there have also been a few decisions to ‘fold.’ The Knights said goodbye to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare as he packed his bags for Colorado Avalanche, and also sent Ryan Carpenter to Chicago Blackhawks with their best wishes for the future. President of hockey operations George McPhee, who’s still getting his seat warm having recently arrived in the role, confirmed that decisions on who to keep and who to let go had been taken well in advance, meaning that unexpected moves were always unlikely for the Golden Knights as the chaos goes on around them. There seemed to be no hard feelings on the part of either player, with Carpenter being quick to take to social media and thank the team for all the good times.
Although Nosek is being given another chance to impress, from the package that’s been offered to him it would seem that he is, if you’ll pardon the expression, on thin ice. His new deal is only for one year, and at $1m he’s hardly basking in the vast wealth on offer at the upper echelons in the game. Regardless of that, he at least outwardly seems to be happy to be continuing his relationship with the Golden Knights, stating on social media that he and his wife are happy and settled in the area, and that he’s enjoyed his journey with the team so far. As a versatile and adaptable player who can cover both wings, it may be the case that he’s used to plug holes rather than being an integral part of the Golden Knights’ engine.
There were also comings and goings further down the roster. Out went Daniel Carr, Zachary Fucale, and Maxime Legace, and in came Jaycob Megna, Brett Lernout, and Tyrell Goulbourne. Although in theory anybody can come from nowhere and become a breakout star in the NHL with a hot season, at first glance none of those moves look likely to have major implications for the team’s performance in the season to come.
Although it’s not yet been confirmed, it seems almost inevitable that the Golden Knights will also keep hold of defenseman Deryk Engelland, with negotiations ongoing but both sides expecting to be able to announce positive news in the near future. Comments made by McPhee indicate that the basic details of the contract are all agreed upon, with the remaining wrangling being about bonuses and timing.
Elsewhere, the Florida Panthers were upset that Artemi Panarin ended up in New York instead of coming to them, but managed to get over the disappointment by bringing in Sergei Bobrovsky from the Columbus Blue Jackets – although as with the Panarin deal, some have expressed surprise about the figures involved in the deal. Bobrovsky is already 30, plays in a position where careers don’t often last much beyond 35. The Panthers seem so confident that Bobrovsky will buck the trend that they’ve agreed to pay $10m a year for seven years. There’s no doubting his quality, and he’d have been on the ‘wanted’ list for many sides, but it’s doubtful that any other team would have agreed to invest as heavily in him as the Panthers have here. That being said, if they’re to meet their target of getting back into the playoffs, risks have to be taken. Big-money Bobrovsky is a risk worthy of any of those players at Las Vegas’ casino tables, and only in the fullness of time will we know whether it was one worth taking.
The crazy season may have started in the NHL, but it’s a long way from being over. There will doubtless be plenty of unexpected moves, seemingly bizarre financial decisions, and out-of-the-blue deals done in the days to come. As and when those exciting moves happen, we’ll be doing our best to bring you the big news right here.