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Lineup To See Changes Following Free Agency Moves

by Gary Lawless @GoldenKnights /

George McPhee's team won 51 regular season games and three playoff rounds before losing in the Stanley Cup Final. There was a lot to like about the Vegas Golden Knights roster last season and now the question becomes how they'll fare in Season 2.

The big addition in free agency was Paul Stastny while David Perron and James Neal moved out.

Internally, however, the Golden Knights already had a top-six talent in Tomas Tatar waiting for his opportunity.

It's not the parts, as we learned so very clearly with Vegas last season - it's the formula and the sum. How head coach Gerard Gallant employs a new mix of players will be a key story in training camp.

Gallant still has Marc-Andre Fleury to provide elite goaltending and the blueline is almost unchanged with Nick Holden coming in for Luca Sbisa. Up front is where decisions will have to be made.

Expect Gallant to leave William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith together as one of the best 5-vs-5 lines in the NHL.

And on the other end of the spectrum - look for a mix of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Reaves, Will Carrier and Tomas Nosek to combine as an effective fourth line.

It's the middle six which gets interesting. Stastny, Erik Haula and Cody Eakin are all NHL centermen. Wingers Tatar, Alex Tuch and Ryan Carpenter all saw action in the top nine last season at different junctures. Oscar Lindberg, Daniel Carr and Tomas Hyka are also considerations.

Is there a possibility of a forward prospect such as Cody Glass or Nick Suzuki finding a role with the big club? Defensemen Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud could also push for NHL time at some points this season.

That's a question to be answered in training camp.

McPhee, it should be noted, still has cap space and assets to make additions via free agency or trade. He's been judicious to this point, not burning cap space now or in the future with expensive and lengthy deals for older players.

"I think we all know where the boundaries are on what we want to do. Everything is related to everything else," explained McPhee. "We have exhaustive discussions about every single thing that goes on and, every time someone is signed, things change around the league. When you add a guy, it changes for you. We go into great depth and we have our analytics that are telling us 'don't do this' or 'do this.' We have our instincts that kick in, we have our scouting ratings that kick in, but it's quite a process. There are temptations but you really have to take the emotions of the things out and that is hard. We're attached to these guys. Some of the guys that played for us, there's a strong bond there. As a manager, you're going through everything. You're trying to make the right decisions and it's hard sometimes. It's really hard. You make signings and you think you did the right thing and you go home and you try to get some sleep and you don't sleep at all because you starting going through it. You get up in the morning and you're still thinking: did we do the right thing? Or not? Whether you signed a guy or maybe you let a guy go. Sometimes, it's clear, but many times it's not."

Last year's run to the Stanley Cup Final was unexpected and has heightened expectations for the Golden Knights. But McPhee understands he must underpin his organization with young players which will develop into franchise pillars.

Free agents often don't alter a franchise's path. They augment what is already in place. If the Golden Knights are to be a contender this season, it'll be on the strength of players he relied on last season.

"Right now, we're sitting here with a pretty good team and we haven't used any of our draft picks this summer. We have them all. We've been talking trade with some teams, but that requires young players and picks but we haven't moved any of them," said McPhee. "We've added three players though free agency but we still have all of our picks and all of our young prospects. I'd like to think we're in a pretty good place. The inclination is we sit back, see what develops, and if there's anything that comes to us or there's other opportunities, or do we dive into something else? I don't know the answer to that right now."

McPhee kept the bulk of his team intact. The contributions of Neal and Perron shouldn't be underestimated but decisions have to be made when money and term are considerations and Stastny and Tatar were easier fits.

Vegas was the team of opportunity last season. McPhee has jumbled the mix a bit this summer and created hopes to be filled by players continuing their development. And some internal competition has been inserted by virtue of some his moves which is never a bad thing.

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