Mailbag: What's a reasonable expectation for the Golden Knights in 2018-19?

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Though the didn’t end the season raising the Stanley Cup, what the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/vgk" data-ylk="slk:Golden Knights">Golden Knights</a> accomplished this season was nothing short of impressive. (Getty)
Though the didn’t end the season raising the Stanley Cup, what the Golden Knights accomplished this season was nothing short of impressive. (Getty)

Someone pointed out on Twitter yesterday that we’re officially at the “people are writing takes about signing Cody Franson” part of the offseason. Which is not a good place to be.

I guess that means the summer is winding down — we’re about a month from rookie tournaments and five weeks from training camps — and people are more or less settled on their rosters. If you add Cody Franson, who I’m still gonna say is probably a worthwhile No. 6 if you can get him cheap, you’re really putting the finishing touches on any offseason moves you’ve made. He helps, but not much, and if you need to do a whole take about the guy you’re truly out of things to talk about.

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That doesn’t apply to every team obviously (see below), but it’s that time of year. Hateful stuff.

Let’s get into it:

Kyle asks: “What’s a reasonable expectation for Vegas’ inevitable regression this coming season?”

Obviously Fleury going way way way off last season (.927) was a big driver of success for them that isn’t likely to be repeated, but less discussed here is that Fleury has been .920-plus in three of the last four seasons.

I would therefore expect that he won’t take any kind of huge step back (though that’s possible). Even if he’s “only” .920 last season — which is a really good number — the Golden Knights give up like 21 extra goals. That’s seven points in the standings right there. Maybe you say all the other goalies they used in his absence make up a few of those goals if they’re replaced by a competent backup (is Malcolm Subban one of those?), so let’s say it’s five points. That’s still a good chunk.

Plus, this is a team that shot 10 percent versus a league average of 9.2 percent, and with what you’d have to say was a sub-average roster in terms of actual on-ice talent. How much did they outperform their actual quality? It’s tough to quantify, but let’s say they regress to the league average on their 2,686 shots. Their goal total falls by about 21. That’s seven more points, and I’m less inclined to give the team as a whole that kind of benefit of the doubt.

So if this is a team that’s losing 12 or 14 points off its 109 last year, that puts them in the mid- to high-90s. Still playoff contention and maybe they even get in, but that makes them like a 7- or 8-seed, and most people will probably be shocked by that.

Nick asks: “Have the offseason moves finally put the Flames back in playoff contention?”

I don’t really think they’ve improved that much. Still going with Mike Smith in net, right? And counting on Noah Hanifin to turn in a Dougie Hamilton-level performance doesn’t seem like that good of an idea. They’ve certainly improved up front, to the extent that they needed and now have two additional top-six forwards to go with the five they already have.

So let’s go from the net out: No change in goaltending quality (low), a slight downgrade on the blue line (not ideal), and a somewhat strong upgrade among the forwards (pretty poor to begin with). Is that gonna be enough to bridge the 11-point gap between them and the postseason last year?

Well, I dunno. I’m a little pessimistic on that front but also the West is a dumpster fire. There are just so few good teams that if Smith and the backups aren’t total garbage (which is a distinct possibility, mind you) I honestly can’t rule them out of contention, and maybe they even make it if James Neal becomes the kind of trigger man the Gaudreau/Monahan pair have needed, or if Lindholm provides a little more offense for the 3Ms (if that is indeed what they do with him).

But again, I don’t think that speaks as much to the improved quality of the Flames as much as the generally low quality of their competition in the conference.

Chris asks via email: “How far can the Penguins go this year? And why? What is the ‘best’ path in the playoffs for them?”

In theory they can once again be the best team in their division and I don’t think it would be particularly difficult for them to do so. Teams in the Metro have mostly improved or stayed the same, but I’d expect Washington to regress a little bit because there won’t be so many guys having career years.

That, in turn, means they can probably make the Conference Finals with relative ease.

The key to all this is Matt Murray, because the Pens were a 100-point team despite getting .906 goaltending for the season. If Murray can return to being even league average (around .913), let alone his previous career average (.925), this is a team that could be in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy.

There’s just a lot of talent and a full season of Derrick Brassard not being rather poor by his own standards will probably make this a scary club.

As far as the best path to success in the postseason, it would be to finish No. 1 in the division and get what is probably going to be the No. 7 seed. Then you take whoever, Philly or Washington probably, out of the 2/3 divisional matchup. In theory they’re the favorite against whichever of those clubs it is, and you’re really only worried about whoever comes out of the Atlantic bracket being incredibly good.

Scott asks: “What do I want Larkin contract to look like as a Wings fan?”

Ideally you want him to sign for eight years at the league minimum but that’s not gonna happen.

I dunno, the kind of money the Wings have given to guys who can’t carry their own weight in the past several years (Nielsen, Abdelkader, Helm, etc.) means Larkin has plenty of reason to say “pay me a crapload of money.”

Obviously him being an RFA and having no arbitration rights hurts his negotiating position, but if Nielsen can pull $5.25 million as a guy who only has 11 more points in the last 158 games than Larkin had last season, well…

If you’re a Wings fan all you really want is a long-term commitment. The money doesn’t matter. You’re rebuilding anyway. If this is a guy who only wants to go for a year or two, pushing him closer to UFA status, that’s a point of concern. But if he’ll go five, six years, you know he’s locked in with the franchise overall.

Tony asks: “With a noticeable lack of activity this offseason, and with all the moves made in the conference, are the Bruins doomed before the season even begins?”

“Doomed” is overstating things. They’re probably the third-best team in a division that has three of the five best teams in the league, and you could honestly talk me into saying they’re better than Toronto without too much effort.

But they’re always going to be a bit of an underdog to come out of that division, since Tampa is better and Toronto is at least comparable in terms of quality. Definitely fair to say that it isn’t helpful how the playoff format works in stacked divisions (see also: the Central last year), but that’s life.

As long as Tuukka Rask is above average, which is a reasonable ask since he’s quite good, they’re going to be very dangerous for anyone who draws them in the playoffs. Doesn’t mean they’ll win the Cup but they’re probably gonna be good enough that it’s a real possibility.

Josh asks: “All 16 playoff teams as of right now?”

I like this question but you’re not allowed to hold me to any of this. I’m really just going off the top of my head on this one. These teams are presented in alphabetical order so you can’t get mad at me about that either.

And before everyone says “Ah, Chicago, huh? Okay buddy!” I am assuming that Corey Crawford is going to be alive for a good chunk of the season. If he’s not, that’ll change things.

Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vegas, Washington, Winnipeg.

I think that’s 16 and all from the right divisions and everything. I refuse to check. Thanks.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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