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Golden Knights make roster moves with big picture in mind

Trading away Pickard, sending Shipachyov to AHL part of long-term plan

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- The one position that was supposed to be set was goaltender, with Calvin Pickard backing up Marc-Andre Fleury. Vadim Shipachyov was supposed to be the No. 1 center after signing a two-year, $9 million contract as a free agent in May.


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Forward Alex Tuch and defenseman Shea Theodore were good enough in the preseason to make the team.

So why did the Vegas Golden Knights claim goaltender Malcom Subban off waivers from the Boston Bruins and trade Pickard to the Toronto Maple Leafs last week, even though general manager George McPhee said Subban wasn't ready to play? Why did they assign Shipachyov, Tuch and Theodore to Chicago of the American Hockey League? Why do they still have nine defensemen on the roster?

Because while the coaches and players are focused on the short term and winning games now, management is focused on the long term and winning the Stanley Cup someday.

The Golden Knights feel Subban has a higher ceiling than Pickard does. They could send Shipachyov, Tuch and Theodore to the minors without exposing them to waivers, allowing them to keep nine defensemen on the 23-man roster while management continues to evaluate everyone and McPhee continues to explore trades. In short, they're being patient and trying to maximize their assets.

The amazing thing is that the Golden Knights are 2-0-0 entering their inaugural home opener against the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

"We're two games into the season," McPhee said Monday. "There's no rush to do anything. We're not in a hurry to do anything. We'll do things when it feels right.

"We're an expansion club that has to think long term. If we're going to move people, try to get something that makes sense for the club long term. And also be careful, because you know how this business goes. We might move somebody tomorrow and Wednesday two people are injured, and now you're getting thin.

"I don't mind having a full roster and people that are ready to be called up. It's better than being shorthanded."

Fleury opened the season playing back-to-back games on the road, even though he faced 46 shots in the first. McPhee said Subban needed more time to get to the point where the Golden Knights wanted him to be.

Video: VKG@ARI: Fleury blockers away Domi's wrister

But Fleury likes to play a lot. The Golden Knights' next seven games are at home and spaced out well. Subban will play when coach Gerard Gallant decides to put him in. And McPhee is thinking years ahead.

"You have a five-year plan, you have a one-year plan, you have a month-to-month plan, but it changes every day," McPhee said. "We thought that was the one area where we were set, but this opportunity presented itself. We evaluated it. We were nimble enough, I guess, as an organization to do something about it.

"We made our move hoping that Subban one day down the road can be a very good No. 1 goaltender. If it works out, good for us. If it doesn't work out, it was a good try. But that's how the business works. You're watching the waiver wire and talking to teams every day to try to make the club better."

McPhee said Shipachyov and his agent were upset and didn't understand initially, but they understand now that "this is a roster move and it's not about performance." Shipachyov reported to the AHL and then flew back to Las Vegas to be with his wife because neither of them speak English and it was hard for her. He's working out on his own in Las Vegas and not expected to play in Chicago's upcoming games.

Tuch and Theodore are playing in the AHL. Playing well, in fact. Theodore is tied for the AHL lead with five points (three goals, two assists) in two games. Tuch has four points (three goals, one assists).
This is expected to be temporary for the three of them, though McPhee would not give a timetable.

"The three guys we sent down have all earned the right to be here and we'll get them here at the right time, or as soon as we can," McPhee said.

Video: Rupp and Bylsma discuss the Golden Knights' start

Management will keep evaluating. McPhee will keep working the phones.

"The point is to try to get some sort of a return if we're going to move a player, because we're going to have to draft our way to a championship," McPhee said. "We're going to have to trade our way there as well. Can you get a prospect rather than a pick back?

"Again, I like that we have a real competitive club right now, but we want to build a champion. We're going to do it the best way we know how, and that's what we're doing right now. …

"I have talked about focusing on what and not when. I can't tell you when we're going to make the playoffs, and I can't tell you when we're going to be a team that can be considered a Cup contender. We are going to just sort of grow this organically, and again, the best way we know how.

"We've studied other expansion teams, I've been through a rebuild with a previous club, and we're going to keep working at trying to make this club better every day. And one day -- and I don't know if that's one year, three years, five years -- we're going to wake up, and it's going to be a good hockey club."

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