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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

The Wraparound: Vegas’ season crumbling despite salary cap cheat code

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With just four games left to play, the Vegas Golden Knights’ season is teetering on edge. Yes, the same Golden Knights who had the third best odds to win the Stanley Cup at the year’s commencement, and yes, the same Golden Knights who acquired superstar center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres in November.

Fingers can be pointed in different directions. Injuries have gone through the team like wildfire. Backup goaltenders played too often. But the true downfall for Vegas was the moment they tried to cheat their way towards a Stanley Cup. Now, owner Bill Foley’s hockey club hasn’t actually strayed from the rulebook. The shenanigans they’ve pulled off merely resemble the salary cap loophole exploitation that a couple of championship teams have used in the past.

The Chicago Blackhawks started this in 2015, putting Patrick Kane on Long Term Injured Reserve due to a broken collarbone shortly before the regular season’s end. Kane’s entire $10.5 million cap hit was erased from Chicago’s books — allowing the team to stock up for the playoff race and ultimately unleash a postseason roster that’s above the salary cap ceiling.

It’s a clear loophole in an otherwise binding money-managing mechanism that the NHL has refused to address. Last year’s champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, took the procedure a step further, announcing that Nikita Kucherov (and his $9.5 million salary) would require hip surgery and miss the entire season — that is, until game one of the playoffs. Kucherov was back on the ice for Tampa’s entire Stanley Cup campaign, passing pucks to teammates worth $9.5 million more than he should have been.

But back to Vegas, who, this year, have acted like the Lightning and Blackhawks on steroids. In February, the Knights put captain Mark Stone on LTIR, suspiciously not revealing his exact injury. After all, Vegas was in desperate need of cap space after taking on Eichel’s hefty contract. General manager Kelly McCrimmon had a rosy picture of a cap-bloated roster thrashing its way through the playoffs – but Vegas still had to make the playoffs.

And with five games to go, the Knights are three points below the playoff line. Their pursuit of the higher-placed Los Angeles Kings reached code red status, forcing them to elevate Stone from LTIR on April 13 and designating three other players as injured to balance the cap scale. Not having Stone — a six-time 60-point player — for four weeks hurt the team, and Vegas now must face the reality of likely missing the NHL’s prized, invitee-only tournament.

Other thoughts from around the hockey world:

  1. Sixteen-year-old Connor Bedard, playing for the Regina Pats, became the youngest player in WHL history to hit the 50-goal mark in a single season. Bedard, destined to be the first overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft since birth, is posting numbers eerily similar to another Connor at his age…
  2. As an utter non sequitur, what do we make of McDavid’s seventh NHL season? One hundred ten points in 75 games is a mouth-watering total but nonetheless is down from his 1.875 points-per-game pace last year. Maybe it’s unfair to compare McDavid seasons against themselves — and unnecessary too, with the Oilers headed for the playoffs.

Enjoy the action this week!