With free agency now less than a month away, many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Vegas has most of their core under contract already but a few veterans will be in need of new deals.
Key Restricted Free Agents
F Chandler Stephenson – He was acquired midseason in what amounted to a salary cap dump by Washington and the fit has been terrific. The 26-year-old wound up with 22 points in 41 games with the Golden Knights, an impressive partial-season performance considering his previous career high in scoring was 16 points. He has been a regular for them this postseason as well, averaging nearly 16 minutes per night. Stephenson looked like someone that might be a candidate to not be tendered a qualifying offer at the beginning of the year despite his $1.05MM price tag but now, he should be part of their future plans although salary arbitration eligibility looms large.
F Nick Cousins – He started off the season with Montreal after being non-tendered by the Coyotes last summer and was used from anywhere between the second and fourth lines. However, his role has been a bit more limited since joining the Golden Knights where he has largely been deployed in their bottom six and is currently on the outside looking in at a spot in the lineup. A $1MM qualifying offer doesn’t seem like much but he was non-tendered to avoid arbitration last year and it’s possible that it happens again here.
Key Unestricted Free Agents
G Robin Lehner – This appears to be a situation where ‘if there’s smoke, there’s probably fire’ when it comes to a new deal. Multiple reports have him closing in on a long-term pact with Vegas with a price tag around his current $5MM mark but he has denied that a contract is done. Lehner wasn’t able to get a long-term contract last summer despite his strong season with the Islanders but he played well with Chicago before being brought in as insurance for Marc-Andre Fleury. However, he has outperformed Fleury and taken over the starting job in the process. That has him well-positioned to earn the contract security he has been coveting, whether it’s in Vegas or elsewhere.
F Tomas Nosek – He isn’t going to win any scoring titles but the 28-year-old has been consistent over his three seasons with Vegas, collecting 15, 17, and 15 points over that span while playing multiple positions and contributing defensively. He’s best deployed in a limited role which offsets some of his versatility but he should be able to garner some interest on the open market if he doesn’t stay with Vegas. He made $1MM this season and his next contract should come in around that rate as well.
D Deryk Engelland – While his role this season was lower than his other two, the 38-year-old still managed to hold his own in 47 games while bringing plenty of physicality. However, it wasn’t enough to play a regular role in the playoffs as he has suited up just seven times so far. Nevertheless, there is still a spot for Engelland as a sixth or seventh defenseman on a team if he wants to play beyond this year. He signed for a league minimum base salary to stay with Vegas last summer (though he has hit the majority of his $800K in potential bonuses) and he’ll need to do so again if he wants to remain with them for a fourth year.
Projected Cap Space
At the moment, Vegas has roughly $76.5MM committed to 18 players for next season, per CapFriendly. That amount doesn’t include a $571K bonus overage penalty which could actually increase slightly as one of Engelland’s bonuses is $25K per playoff round won. That doesn’t leave them room to re-sign Lehner and fill out the rest of their roster so there is some work to be done still.
Speculatively speaking, if Lehner re-signs, Marc-Andre Fleury’s days with the team will likely be numbered. However, with a $7MM cap hit for two more years, it’s all but a guarantee that Vegas will have to retain a good chunk of that to move him. However, if they can do that without taking a contract in return, it might be enough to keep Lehner around and round out the roster although they’ll be right at the $81.5MM Upper Limit once again.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.