When it comes to a court of law, they say that ignorance is no defense. Well it turns out that on the ice, ignorance can also be too many defensemen.
Despite getting off to the best start of any expansion franchise in NHL history, the Vegas Golden Knights have been handcuffed by GM George McPhee’s roster decisions. And while this early season success is definitely worth celebrating, the self-inflicted roster constraints will affect McPhee’s ability to build a solid NHL team over the long term.
At the heart of the matter is the glut of waiver eligible defensemen on the Golden Knights’ active roster. This all stems back to the expansion draft, when McPhee miscalculated the value and market for expensive, third rate defensemen.
McPhee added 37 players through the expansion draft and associated trades, and 15 of them were defensemen, including plucking Luca Sbisa from the Canucks. The expectation was that he would be able to flip some of them for picks or prospects over the summer. In essence, he was cornering the market on veteran defensemen.
Unfortunately, this was a gross miscalculation on McPhee’s part. While he did manage to move a few blue liners, the market quickly dried up and the Golden Knights came into the season carrying so many defensemen that three of their better players had to start in the minors simply because they were waiver exempt. As a result, highly touted prospects Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore, and KHL free agent Vadim Shipachyov have seen limited NHL playing time through the first month of the season (in fact, no playing time for Theodore).
The situation finally came to a head this earlier this week when McPhee reportedly gave Shipachyov’s agent the go-ahead to try and find a trade out of Vegas, and on Friday alternate captain, Jason Garrison was put on waivers to make room for Eric Haula who was coming off IR.
The former Canuck blue liner has been a healthy scratch in five of the Golden Knights’ nine games, and is the only only defenseman to be seriously under water in on-ice goal differential (-3 G/60 5v5 mins). Though from a shot attempt perspective, there’s not much to separate him from our old friend Luca Sbisa:
But it’s hard to look at that chart and really see much in the way of hope for sustained success from this team. You can argue that stats aren’t everything (and no one argues that they are), but even by the eye test I don’t think any of the 200 hockey men would think this was a blue line you can build around. Well, maybe one of the hockey men does.
Heck, even Nate Schmidt, who was one of the few decent defensemen picked-up in the expansion draft is seriously under water in terms of shot attempt differential. Meanwhile, the other good add, Shea Theodore continues to toil away in the minors even with the moves to dispense of Shipachyov and Garrison.
Now, I’m sure there are plenty of “just win baby” believers out there that think none of this matters given the Golden Knights’ 8-1 start. There’s no arguing with this line of thinking, so all I will say is that PDO plays the long game:
Hot start notwithstanding, it is highly unlikely the winning will continue at this pace in Las Vegas. In the meantime, the roster problems created by miscalculating the market for overpriced defensemen is forcing McPhee to either sell off or bury some of the useful assets he does have. This will only hinder the long term development of the franchise and his ability to amass a solid core around which to build a winner.
You have to wonder how McPhee can get away with such a rookie mistake and basically throw away your prize $4.5 million free agent signing.
How do you give up on a multi-million dollar player after not even a hundred shifts?
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) October 26, 2017
But I guess when the fate of an entire expansion franchise is contingent on you getting the job, you’re going to have a lot of rope to play with with.
I just hope that McPhee realizes that while it’s true that they say defense wins championships, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing:
And sometimes the reason you get a long rope is so that you can hang yourself with it (metaphorically, of course).