This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Pacific Division won out and will be featured this week before we close out the series with the Metropolitan.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Golden Knights currently have 10 forwards, six defensemen and one goaltender under contract for next season at a price tag of $74,625,000 and will be on the hook for another $500,000 in retained salary for Tomas Tatar. With a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $6,375,000 in cap space and six spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Both Stephenson and Cousins are worth keeping around and would certainly warrant some additional term but with the salary cap not set to increase until 2022-23, the club is going to be in a cap crunch for a while. Salary arbitration seems inevitable here and could see the pair get paid slightly more, the starting point for both contracts figure to be the qualifying offers, which will be one-year, one-way deals that match their current AAV.
Kyle Riley: Stephenson has played well in a bottom-six role this year, notching 11 goals and 26 points while posting an impressive plus-24 rating in 65 games split between Washington and Vegas. He also contributes as a penalty killer and can fill in on the power play in a pinch, so he's worth keeping around and has earned a raise, but I don't see Vegas committing to him long term at this point. A one-year, $1.75 million deal should do the trick, though. Cousins doesn't see as much ice time as Stephenson and doesn't kill penalties, so he won't be quite as expensive as Stephenson, but he'll still be looking at a raise after totaling 10 goals and 25 points in 65 games split between the Canadiens and Golden Knights. I think a one-year, $1.5 million contract should do the trick for the 26-year-old forward.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Starting with the blue line, the club has both Zach Whitecloud and Jimmy Schuldt pushing for more ice time, so it likely isn't in a position to keep both Merrill and Engelland. If the 38-year-old Engelland is prepared to play another season, he figures to keep taking a veteran minimal deal (one-year, $750,000) and can help provide some veteran experience on defense. Considering Nosek has never reached the 20-point mark, keeping him around would probably only make sense if there is a lingering issue with getting Stephenson or Cousins under contract. The club doesn't really have an heir apparent between the pipes, so keeping Lehner as a 1a option would bolster their options in goal. Unfortunately for the club, Marc-Andre Fleury is racking in $7 million AAV for the next two years, and even without giving big deals to any free agents, the money just isn't there to keep Lehner.
Kyle Riley: Nosek doesn't really bring anything to the table that Stephenson doesn't, so I dont think Vegas will think twice about letting him walk this offseason. Nicolas Hague should be ready for a full-time role with the big club next year and Schuldt will do fine as a depth option at defense, so I think the cash-strapped Golden Knights would be wise to part ways with the veterans Merrill and Engelland after this season. I actually think the Knights are going to do everything they can to keep Lehner in Vegas. The 28-year-old netminder will likely be looking for a multi-year deal with an AAV right around $6 million. Obviously, Vegas isn't currently in a position to offer up a contract like that, but moving Paul Stastny (something the team can afford to do due to the emergence of Cody Glass) would open up $6.5 million in cap space. Stastny will be a prime trade candidate this offseason.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: With the signing of Jiri Patera to go with fellow netminders Oscar Dansk and Dylan Ferguson, the club has a solid core of up and coming blueliners, even if it can't retain Robin Lehner. As such, Sparks will almost certainly be hitting the open market. The 25-year-old Zykov will no doubt be offered a deal by the Knights, but he may not be willing to re-sign if he can't secure a one-way deal, something Vegas likely can't offer him at this point. In the case of Quinney and Kolesar, neither player has showed the organization enough to warrant anything more than their qualifying offers.
Kyle Riley: Quinney and Kolesar combined for four top-level appearances this season, so they won't be getting anything more than their QOs. Zykov bounced between the AHL and NHL this year and only posted four points in 15 games with the big club, so if he's willing to sign a two-way deal, great, if not, see you later. As AJ mentioned, with Lehner re-signed and several other young netminders already in the system the Knights wouldn't have any reason to try and re-sign Sparks.
AJ Scholz: The biggest question mark for the club is no doubt going to be the backup goalie situation heading into Opening Night. Vegas doesn't have any egregiously bad contract it could try to shed via buyout and it would likely have to trade away a top-six forward in order to generate the necessary cap space to sign Lehner. Some more discounted options that could be available on the market include Laurent Brossoit, Louis Domingue or Troy Grosenick, who was named to the AHL Second All-Star Team this past season. None of those options is a long-term fix but would give the club time to allow it's younger goalies to develop.
Kyle Riley: With the plan I outlined above, which involves moving Paul Stastny in order to re-sign Lehner, the Golden Knights would still have around $3 million in cap space to toy with. Obviously losing Stastny, who's notched 38 points in 71 games this campaign, wouldn't be ideal for Vegas, but I think it'd be worth it to keep Lehner in the fold, and Cody Glass should be ready to take over as a top-six center for the club in 2020-21, softening the blow of Stastny's departure.