D is For Defensemen

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.

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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. 

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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). 



  • Dirty30

    The difference between Sbisa and Garrison is cost. And GMJB did manage to get an asset for Garrison in a trade. That it was spent on Vey is another matter.

    The important question is really how could the Canucks benefit from LVGK’s current situation? Is there a trade opportunity lurking in this logjam?

    That would have been the more interesting story.

  • truthseeker

    When I look at their cap situation I don’t really see a problem. Pretty much all of their D are signed short term. Not a single one of them is signed beyond next season. Seems to me they can easily bury a guy like Garrison, or just let guys go. They can get out of basically every contract they have.

    As for the D market, being “dried up”….what evidence of that is there? It’s the start of the season. Nobody makes trades. Come the deadline, D will once again be on every single team’s wish list. And just like last year it will be expensive.

    Now, maybe their guys aren’t good enough to pull in a lot of value, but I bet they will flip a lot of those guys for some mid round picks or whatever.

    Seems to me they aren’t in that bad shape.

    • Cageyvet

      McPhee did just fine with his moves, he got far more value out of “don’t pick this guy” scenarios than I expected. Too many GM’s in love with their rosters even though damn few teams have won a cup the past decade. They gave up more future assets than they protected.

      The end result is a roster full of depth players and that’s OK. The way the season started is great to build interest, then a long, slow slide to reality will benefit their draft position.

      I agree with truthseeker, it’s not hurting them much this year and who cares if they get a handful of 4th and 5th rounders when they clean house….good scouting staffs pull at least one player out of those picks, and they want to be drafting in volume at this stage of their franchise.

    • crofton

      Same here, and add watching the Habs and Leafs lose. And speaking of the Leafs, Hughson and Simpson have really turned into Leafs homers. So tough to watch . Also tough to take Romanuk doing any games. We are so spoiled by John and John

  • Nuck16

    Speaking of d-men…I was just about to throw in the towel on Olli Juolevi when after 3 games he had zero points and minus 3 for TPS…but he’s since turned things around and has 3 goals and 2 helpers in 7 games and is now even, so obviously he has 5 points in his last 4 games and a +3…go Olli!

  • Roy

    remember when we were trying to trade Hamhuis, and no one cared? We had Sbisa and Gudbranson both having statistically awful consecutive years and then everyone was arguing over which one was going to Vegas (Sbisa, thank heavens). They picked Juolevi, who is still two leagues away from the NHL, and while Stecher has been good, Hutton is a coin flip. No one knows why Edler refuses to waive his NTC, but he’s no longer worthy of a first-round pick, so who cares (plus he’s injured). Tanev is our one good defenceman but he doesn’t do the PP or really tally dependable points. So why am I reading an article about the nascent Golden Knights’ defensive pseudo-woes when this website is dedicated to a rebuilding team with a hilariously mismanaged, harlequin-esque defensive squad…that I would love to read an analytical “how to fix this” article about.

  • acg5151

    Ultimately he got those players for nothing, we knew not all of his players weren’t going to make the team, and he will be able to get value for some of them. He also took some of the players he did as parts of deals for additional picks in the draft. No one expected the VGK to be competitive out the gate and eventually they will fall back to earth. At some point injuries will start to mount and he will be able to get picks for some of his players. I like their young players already and ultimately I think they will be OK.

  • Gregthehockeynut

    My guess is the ratio of Russian players in the NHL has been affected by the KHL free spending / low taxes situation. Now that money woes are creeping in that should change. The plan is to draft and acquire young defencemen and develop them beside a sprinkling of vets. So the impatience with Hutton surprises me. He is gradually progressing and has good size , skill and mobility. Why start over with a raw recruit? Hutton should round into form in 2-3 years as decent second pairing D.