One thing that won’t fade for Vegas Golden Knights this season

James O'Brien
NBC Sports

Plenty of smart writers and number-crunchers have tackled the subject of “How good are the Vegas Golden Knights?” or “How long will this last?” Today’s Morning Skate collected some of the best. 

Allow this hot take: while the wins and points are likely to dry up – to at least some extent – there’s one thing that shouldn’t go away for this edition of the Vegas Golden Knights: motivation. For better or worse, we’ve rarely seen an NHL team brimming with so many players fighting for careers, reputations, and millions of dollars.

If the bottom falls out as far as the standings go, it will still be interesting to follow these situations. Contending teams may feel the same way during the trade deadline, at least when it comes to Vegas’ many expiring contracts.

With that in mind, let’s break down this roster to examine the not-so-quiet desperation in Vegas.

Contract years

If you want a quick look at how open-ended the Golden Knights’ future is at the moment, consider their spending this season vs. in the future.

By Cap Friendly’s numbers, the Golden Knights are committed to a $70.87 million cap hit in 2017-18; that number goes down to $36.92M to 14 players in 2018-19 as of this moment.

James Neal: Coming into this season, the narrative felt like a solid power forward who gets a raw deal. Early on in this franchise’s young life, he’s turned into a hero.

He has little reason to stop pushing, at least considering this fork in the road. There are millions on the table for Neal, making him a great source for bad gambling metaphors (if you’re into that kind of thing).

David Perron: In many ways, he’s a lower-profile version of Neal. They both have shown dynamic scoring ability, though sometimes they’ve been frustrating. Each forward has a lot to prove and has also been around the league quite a bit. They’ve even both been traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They both face crucial contract years where they can turn heads with strong seasons.

And, hey, Perron had his own hero moment for the Golden Knights last night:

Jonathan Marchessault – Currently injured, but also in a prominent spot where his next contract could vary wildly.

A slew of defensemen – The Golden Knights’ logjam on D isn’t necessarily going to last long. There are only three notable blueliners – and as you likely know, Vegas has a ton of them – with more than one year on their deals: Nate Schmidt, Griffin Reinhart, and Brad Hunt.

The likes of Jason Garrison and Luca Sbisa have seen better days. Even so, maybe the fear of a dull free agent market and/or getting benched for one of Gerard Gallant’s many other options will push their “compete levels” to new heights?

Something to prove

Speaking of Gallant, there’s little doubt that he likely has a chip on his shoulder stemming from the way things ended with the Florida Panthers.

He has quite the opportunity on his hands: a relatively competent roster for an expansion team, yet he’s also graded on a curve because this is an expansion team. Has Gallant already locked up at least some top-five Jack Adams votes?

Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban – Both being on two-year deals provides some inherent motivation, but even considering their very different careers up to this point (“MAF” has more Stanley Cup rings [3] than Subban has NHL wins [2]), they each likely have some fire in their bellies.

“The Flower” handled the end of his Pittsburgh Penguins days with incredible grace. You have to think that he wants to prove that they made the wrong choice, or at least that he still “has it.”

Subban’s inspiration is even more obvious, as the former first-rounder aims to prove that he’s a true NHL goalie. While his development did slip in the Bruins organization, it’s not as if he was downright awful in the AHL.

Vadim Shipachyov – He didn’t just have to wait until age 30 for his first crack at the NHL. Due to the multitude of defensemen, “The Ship” also had to wait to make an impression in Vegas. Expect him to make up for lost time.

Reilly Smith – There are players who were claimed with things to prove even with relative comfort in Vegas; Cody Eakin probably feels insulted by the Stars exposing him to the expansion draft.

Smith is a rare case of a quality everyday NHL player who was just given away in a trade. The Panthers didn’t need to give up both Smith and Marchessault, but they did. That should give him at least a short-term boost, right?

The weird mascot: You think that “Chance” the Gila Monster hasn’t seen your disparaging tweets?


(Kidding. And also afraid.)

***

Look, ignore the hot takes. Most professional athletes care deeply and work hard. Sidney Crosby‘s future has been set since day one, and yet look at how he attacks a meaningless training moment with Brad Marchand:


Still, human nature plays a role in these things, and you will see many players in “survival mode” in Vegas.

That might not be great for tanking purposes, but it sets the stage for a fascinating season for the Golden Knights.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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