The Vegas Golden Knights probably aren't thinking too much about the future beyond the looming Stanley Cup Final. But boy, are they ever set up for it.
With the expansion darlings sitting a mere four wins from completing what was previously unthinkable, it's worth exploring how ideal their situation is this summer, and potentially also in the years ahead.
Yes, that's right: The Golden Knights could win the Cup and then improve dramatically this offseason, becoming a powerhouse that consistently contends for titles.
There are several reasons why Vegas is well-positioned to get significantly better going forward, ensuring their magical run isn't an anomaly.
Golden Knights general manager George McPhee will have some big items on his to-do list this summer. However, he still has enough money to re-sign key contributors while possibly adding a superstar or two.
A franchise entering its second season often has salary cap flexibility. Vegas has even more than usual, with a whopping projected $24.8 million to spend.
Here's one eyebrow-raising but fairly plausible offseason blueprint:
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said he's not going to trade his franchise defenseman during the draft. But a deal before or after the draft wouldn't be shocking because the Golden Knights reportedly made the "hardest push" for Karlsson back in February.
As the hypothetical scenario above shows, Vegas could take on both Karlsson's expiring deal and Bobby Ryan's unsavory contract (the latter being a likely condition of the trade), while still having enough wiggle room to make another major splash.
Tavares hasn't tipped his hand about whether he plans to sign elsewhere on July 1. But if he does, the Golden Knights would have a shot at landing him, especially if they get Karlsson in the fold beforehand.
The minor detail of Karlsson's long-term future would also need to be addressed, and there's been no indication Tavares will ditch the Islanders. Still, this Karlsson-Tavares scenario illustrates just how much room the Golden Knights will have to maneuver under the cap, and there are plenty of other free agents and stars on expiring deals they could target, too.
Meanwhile, retaining their own key contributors shouldn't be an issue. William Karlsson will need to be rewarded for his breakout 43-goal, 78-point campaign, and he should get an extension in the $5 million to $7 million range annually. Shea Theodore and Colin Miller are pending restricted free agents, but McPhee won't have to break the bank to bring them back.
Cap room isn't the only weapon the Golden Knights will wield.
They don't hold first- or third-round picks in next month's draft. But Vegas has stockpiled two second-round picks and three third-round selections in 2019, plus three more second-round choices in 2020, in addition to their two future first-rounders.
Here's a look at their full array of upcoming draft choices:
|2018 Round||Number of Picks|
|2019 Round||Number of Picks|
|2020 Round||Number of Picks|
Those picks could help facilitate a Karlsson trade or a move approaching that magnitude. They give McPhee some extra chips to bring to the table as he looks to further bolster the roster.
A team this new having a surplus of draft picks isn't surprising. But having so much success this fast is stunning, and now the Golden Knights can look to ship some of these future selections to a rebuilding club while acquiring established talent that can help them immediately.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Las Vegas was already an intriguing free-agent destination because of everything the city has to offer. Now, it's arguably the league's most attractive landing spot thanks to the Golden Knights' unexpected run to the final.
The Golden Knights have already proven to pending free agents they're a legitimate threat to claim hockey's ultimate prize. Every talented piece they add is only going to help convince players who might be on the fence.
Given what a tremendous story Vegas' run has been, who wouldn't want to join this team and build on this season, no matter how it ends?
The Golden Knights have a lot of factors in their favor, and they're in a position to get even better on paper next season. If they take advantage of their circumstances they could become championship contenders for years to come.
(Salary and draft pick information courtesy: CapFriendly)